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OPINION: Calgary City Council "Disapproval" Is Nuanced

In the intricate world of municipal politics, the recent ThinkHQ poll on the Calgary City Council has raised eyebrows and sparked a crucial conversation about the effectiveness of our local representation.

As we delve into the numbers and sentiments presented, a multifaceted narrative emerges, questioning the reliability of the poll and urging for a more nuanced approach to understanding the dynamics of council performance.

It's no secret that in sprawling urban landscapes like Calgary, the connection between residents and their local councillors can be tenuous. Over the past year, an unsettling trend has surfaced — a growing number of Calgarians seem to be blissfully unaware of who represents them in the hallowed halls of city governance. While smaller communities may foster a more intimate knowledge of local representatives, the larger ones, like Calgary, pose a distinct challenge.

Enter the ThinkHQ poll, a somewhat comprehensive attempt to gauge Calgarians' opinions on their ward councillors' performance since the 2021 election. The aggregate results paint a sobering picture — modestly negative ratings prevail, with 37% approving and 41% disapproving. However, the devil is in the details, or rather, the lack thereof.

The poll's first hiccup arises as it lumps all councillors into a single, amalgamated rating. The omission of a breakdown by ward raises a critical question: which councillors are under scrutiny? In a city as diverse as Calgary, with varying needs and priorities across its numerous wards, a blanket rating obscures the specific concerns and accolades attributed to individual representatives.

Adding a layer of complexity, the poll reveals a noticeable imbalance in the number of respondents across quadrants. The Northeast, encompassing Wards 9, 10, and 5, only managed to secure over 200 responses, while other quadrants hovered closer to 300. This discrepancy introduces doubt about the representativeness of the results, leaving us pondering the true sentiments of Calgarians in these particular areas.

The narrative further unravels as we question the commentary from Marc Henry, President of ThinkHQ Public Affairs Inc. Henry suggests that some councillors find themselves in a position akin to the mayor, attributing dissatisfaction to shared policy stances. However, the lack of specificity regarding which councillors align with the mayor leaves a void in the analysis. Additionally, the absence of a crucial question — "Do you know who your local councillor is?" — highlights a fundamental flaw. In recent conversations with a few residents of Ward 10, I posed a simple yet revealing question: "Who do you think your local councillor is?" To my surprise, the responses reflected a concerning lack of awareness. Astonishingly, many individuals believed that former Councillor Ray Jones still held the position. This revelation raised red flags about the accuracy of public knowledge regarding their current local representation.

This wasn't just a one-off, experiences extended to Ward 5, where I found that residents were under the impression that George Chahal, now a Member of Parliament, continued to serve as their councillor. This confusion is not confined to specific wards; it's a pervasive issue that permeates various communities within Calgary.

In a more informal setting, during gatherings with a group I meet semi-regularly, our discussions often veer into political territory. It was during one such conversation that a startling revelation unfolded. A member of the group, aged 63, still believed that Joe Ceci, an Alberta NDP MLA and former Alberta Finance Minister, was their current sitting councillor for his ward. This underscores a broader challenge — the persistent misconception about local representation among residents, irrespective of age or community.

While the poll may have caused concern among Calgary's City Council members, the numbers alone fail to provide a clear roadmap for improvement. Even in the Northwest, where 40% approve of their councillor, concerns about the equal distribution of respondents across wards cast a shadow over the results. The lack of granularity inhibits our ability to pinpoint the areas where councillors are succeeding or falling short. Consider the vast expanse of the NW quadrant, encapsulating numerous wards such as Ward 1, Ward 2, Ward 3, Ward 4, Ward 6, and Ward 7. Out of the 330 respondents surveyed in the NW, it's essential to approach the data cautiously, as it is uncertain whether all 330 respondents were evenly distributed across these six wards. The distribution might not be uniform, leading to potential variations in the representation of opinions from each specific ward.

It's plausible that certain wards, such as Ward 4, received a higher weighting in the survey due to a greater number of respondents, while others, like Ward 1, might have had a comparatively lower representation. This acknowledgment is critical in interpreting the poll results accurately and avoiding generalizations about the entire NW quadrant.

If we accept the numbers at face value, the call for councillors to enhance their connection with residents becomes more urgent. Yet, a more cautious interpretation suggests the need for a better breakdown of the numbers. Without a nuanced understanding of individual councillor performance, a collective call for improvement lacks precision.

Looking ahead, the looming possibility of a significant turnover in the council demands a more thorough exploration of the factors contributing to dissatisfaction. Is it a city-wide sentiment, or are there specific pockets of concern? The answers lie in a more detailed breakdown of the poll results, showcasing the approval ratings of each ward councillor individually.

A heartfelt plea emerges for future polls to incorporate a fundamental question: "Do you know who your local councillor is?" This inquiry is not just a matter of awareness but a cornerstone for assessing the effectiveness of local representation.

Looking ahead to 2025, there is a genuine concern about engaging in discussions regarding outdated councillors like Alderman Ric McIver, Councillor Joe CeCi, and Councillor Jim Stevenson. This concern underscores the need for any council poll to distinctly identify whether residents approve or disapprove of their specific local councillor by again asking them "Do you know who your local councillor is?"

Because if we don't the personal preferences for one past councillor, such as liking former Ward5/10 Councillor Ray Jones, should not translate into a blanket endorsement for the current Ward 5 Councillor Raj Dhaliwal and Ward 10 Councillor Andre Chabot.

My call for clarity in future polls is not just a desire for transparency but a commitment to fostering an environment where residents can make informed decisions about their municipal governance based on a nuanced understanding of council performance.


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