Bell: Calgary citywide rezoning — and the man who could swing the vote

Does Evan Spencer feel the pressure? ‘Absolutely’

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One person. One person plenty of folks will want to buttonhole in the coming days.

One particular Calgary city councillor, Evan Spencer, who could well be the deciding vote on whether the Trudeau-Gondek citywide rezoning goes ahead as planned.

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Spencer represents a largely blue ward, blue as in conservative, blue as in southeast Calgary, down by Auburn Bay, Cranston, Mahogany and McKenzie Towne where neither the prime minister nor the mayor get a whole lot of love but a place where Premier Danielle Smith kicked off her last election campaign.

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Smith who opposes citywide rezoning though in months past folks like Scott Aitchison, the federal Conservative housing critic, spoke up in favour of the rezoning.

Smith who vows to make sure the likes of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mayor Jyoti Gondek do not go around her and ink side deals like the one where the city gets $228 million from Trudeau and plays ball on citywide rezoning.

“The politics around this are crap,” says Spencer.

“The way the floor is tilted on this issue for somebody who represents a predominantly blue ward is crap.”

Let the councillor who the smart money says is the swing vote on citywide rezoning continue.

“It’s not a great place to be. I have to talk people through a whole variety of issues connected to the federal influence, the unpopularity of the mayor, the way the politics of this conversation has evolved.

“I know I’m in a difficult spot.”

Does Spencer feel the pressure?

“Absolutely,” he replies.

“It has been uncomfortable and I’m sure it will get increasingly more uncomfortable.”

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Spencer has kept a low profile down at city hall’s Big Blue Playpen and often flies under the radar, like when he voted for the last big-tax city budget.

Spencer is also often seen in the ranks of the Gondek-led city council majority, who haven’t been winning any popularity contests of late.

Anyway, Spencer is on the radar now.

Battle lines are being drawn over citywide rezoning, where all neighbourhoods would allow fourplexes, townhouses, rowhouses.

Those on council backing the rezoning are said to be an equal number to those on council opposing the scheme though all of the politicians insist they are open to changing their mind.

Spencer is seen as leaning Yes but still on the fence.

If Spencer votes No then citywide rezoning could be defeated.

Spencer has a big decision to make.

Does the councillor really want to be seen as the Trudeau-Gondek ambassador to southeast Calgary, an unenviable casting his opponents would surely make?

After all, Spencer’s ward was once represented by Ric McIver, Smith’s point man on cities but back in the day he was the councillor nicknamed Dr. No by yours truly because he voted No unless you gave him a good reason to vote Yes.

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A renowned pollster says Spencer would be in a tight race to get re-elected in the fall of next year and a conservative city political party would definitely go all out to beat him.

Home construction in Calgary
Rows of new homes under construction are shown in the new Homestead neighbourhood on the northeast edge of Calgary on Monday, April 15, 2024. Brent Calver/Postmedia

For Spencer, fighting the kind of change you see in citywide rezoning “is not uncommon territory for Calgarians.”

Spencer says people have concerns about parking and safety and the character of their community.

They are “worried about welcoming certain high-density demographics within the neighbourhood.”

Say what?!

Those folks who could “erode the safety of the neighbourhood or the feel of the neighbourhood.”

Spencer says he will bring his concerns as well as community concerns to city council’s public hearing on citywide rezoning April 22, a marathon gabfest where hundreds are expected to say their piece on the issue.

“If administration genuinely has smart ways of dealing with the concerns then I’m likely supporting,” says Spencer.

If not, the councillor hasn’t ruled out voting No.

There’s a question Spencer wants city hall brass to answer.

“Have they considered the unintended ways this could spin out in really terrible ways in neighbourhoods?”

Mayor Gondek insists there’s been “a lot of mischaracterization” on the housing issue.

Unfortunately, despite making a request through the mayor, no city housing deep-thinker has bothered to contact this scribbler and tell the city’s story.

While we’re at it, city hall will be recruiting a Chief Housing Officer with “well-developed political and organizational sensitivity” and “strategic thinking abilities” to quarterback city hall’s housing plans, work 35 hours a week and make up to $213,000 a year.

Good work if you can get it.

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