Bell: Gondek speaks and Calgary mayor gets earful on blanket rezoning

On April 22 there will a hearing at council where Calgarians get a chance to tell the city politicians what they think of blanket rezoning

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You couldn’t see it but there was an elephant in the room and it only made its presence known when Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek stopped talking.

It is Gondek’s State of the City speech Tuesday in front of a group of Rotarians and a nicer bunch you would never meet.

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It is her big opportunity. The mayor controls the podium.

At an event once seen as a pretty big deal on the city political calendar all the city’s newshounds, except Postmedia, don’t show up.

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Gondek could defend her leadership before the group, knowing there’s an election next year and her poll numbers need to do a U-turn sooner rather than later.

And so the mayor speaks.

At one point, she speaks personally.

“I’ve done my best to be real with you in my time as mayor,” says Gondek.

“I’ve always been my authentic self.

“I don’t subscribe to the practice of having a public face that’s different from the private face. I don’t think anyone has the time or energy for that.

“So what you see is me, all of the time.”

She also uncorks a statement you could use as an essay question on a philosophy exam.

Explain the following Gondek quotation.

“Especially in a leadership position, it’s important to embrace the underestimated power of vulnerability when speaking of the large and daunting issues before us.”

As for large and daunting issues, Gondek talks about how she believes the downtown is on the way back after so much gloom and doom.

She talks about how city council declared a climate emergency shortly after this mayor and council got elected.

Gondek tells the Rotarians it was “a pre-emptive strike against further climate-related damage.”

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She said it allowed Calgary to not only “be taken seriously in geopolitical arenas globally” but also “position our city to leverage capital earmarked for climate-conscious initiatives.”

Remember the vote on the climate emergency that got so many folks hot under the collar was approved by city council with only two votes against.

That’s Dan McLean and Sean Chu.

Gondek also points to city council’s housing strategy, including rezoning allowing duplexes, row houses, townhouses throughout the city without a public hearing.

That housing strategy was approved with three votes against, including McLean and Chu.

At the time McLean said a lot of Calgarians were “vehemently opposed.”

Gondek also talked about trains and Canada-Mexico trade and you could feel the attention of some in the room wandering, including to their phone.

The speech over, the mayor got a standing ovation from the polite gathering of Rotarians.

Some stood up, others did not.

Questions. The first one and it is about what’s happening at city council in less than a month.

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On April 22 there will a hearing at council where Calgarians get a chance to tell the city politicians what they think of blanket rezoning.

The man pitching the puzzler says what council is doing is undemocratic and having council by itself making the decision on blanket rezoning is wrong.

Put it to a vote of Calgarians or, at the very least, make it an election issue next year and have candidates run on where they stand.

The plebiscite is a dog that won’t hunt. City council gave the thumbs-down to that brainwave.

The second question is on the same issue.

Gondek promises council will listen to Calgarians.

She points out some sorts think this rezoning will make housing more affordable. She points out there are thriving neighbourhoods with mixed housing.

She says the fear out there is stoked by misinformation.

She adds at the federal level there are the opposition Conservatives and the governing Liberals talking about housing.

One says stop being gatekeepers when it comes to building housing and the other says make sure there’s mixed housing in all neighbourhoods.

The mayor, who was on the city’s planning commission back in the day, knows there is a lot of emotion going to be brought to city hall on April 22 and a public hearing that could go on and on and on.

“We’ve developed a society where housing isn’t a right, housing is an asset,” says Gondek.

“For that reason people feel their savings are tied up in their home and therefore their quality of life is tied up in there as well.”

Right now, the smart money bets council will vote narrowly for the blanket rezoning.

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