Jan. 21, 2022

What we learned from interviewing Calgary’s mayor

Politicians struggle to find a balance when it comes to issues of public health, safety, economic growth and diversification — discover Jyoti Gondek’s vision for Calgary
New mayor, new year, new vision

Inheriting a city struggling to find ways out of an economic decline complicated by COVID-19, Calgary’s new mayor answered questions covering topics ranging from record-high downtown office vacancy rates and city council’s declared climate emergency, to future development, vaccinations, property taxes and diversity during an UCalgary webinar earlier this week.

Marking 85 days since she became Calgary’s 37th mayor, two-time alumna Dr. Jyoti Gondek, MA’03, PhD’14, sat down with fellow “city builder” Deborah Yedlin, UCalgary Chancellor, to discuss critical issues impacting all of us.

For example, The City has declared a climate emergency. Gondek explained that, by doing so, The City is placing “table stakes . . .   a ticket to entry.” Joining the leagues of other cities who have declared the same simply makes Calgary accountable, she said. (Watch the 45-minute episode here.)

Take action, be accountable

“We are saying that we have to take action and actually demonstrate that we are achieving results,” said Gondek. “There are things like the Clean Energy Improvement program that is accessible to Calgarians who wish to do their own part in terms of climate action and energy efficiency. And I think it's going to be important for our city to make sure we're taking advantage of federal funds for electrification of our fleet vehicles, that we are taking advantage of provincial opportunities to do energy audits of our buildings. There's a lot of great work that we can do here locally.”

Calgary’s record-high downtown vacancy rate is a growing concern, but Gondek said The City’s downtown revitalization plan aims to attract more businesses and people to the core.

“We have learned how to change land uses downtown in a quicker manner so that different types of businesses can locate in the buildings that were previously only for office space,” she said. “We have a quicker process by which a dentist's office or a lab or a pet-grooming facility can now be located in a downtown space. So, we are learning how to be more nimble and responsive to the market.”

Importance of attraction and retention

The former Haskayne School of Business adjunct assistant professor cited UCalgary’s city centre presence as an example of the types of places that can revitalize the core, describing the university as her “happy place,” having worked at the downtown campus as director of the Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies prior to being elected to city council in 2017.

As for attracting or retaining talent to Calgary, Gondek had this to say: “From a local perspective, I think we've got to be smarter about who we've already got here. In terms of attracting talent from other places, it’s incredibly important to demonstrate that this is a forward-thinking city. This is a city with great amenities. It's a place that's affordable, a place that looks after people in positions of vulnerability.

“Our problem isn't startups; our problem is scale-ups. So, we've got to continue investing in the companies that are here and allowing that tech sector to really get to that critical mass so that we start seeing more talent flowing here.”

Her Calgary sales pitch

When asked to name her biggest surprise since taking office, Gondek turned to a hot-button issue related to the global pandemic.

“I would have to say it’s this continued persistence to not believe that vaccinations are important during this pandemic,” she said. "I'm surprised that people are not seeing that they need to get vaccinated so that we can get into recovery mode.”

Gondek shared her Calgary sales pitch with Yedlin. “The thing that I say the most often is Calgary is an incredibly welcoming place. It is not only beautiful, it is affordable,” she said. “There are many different types of businesses that are successful here. And are incredibly future-focused. We are innovators. We are people that are passionate about making a difference in the world and this is a place you should choose to live.”

You can watch the complete 45-minute webinar here.