Calgarians are urged to vote with their communities in mind on October 18

In what some would consider Calgary’s biggest election to date, many community groups want to see issues surrounding mental health, climate change, and the gender employment gap prioritized.

By Noel Harper | October 6, 2021 |10:00 pm

Many community groups throughout the city have a variety of priorities that they hope are addressed in Calgary's upcoming municipal election.

Photo: Calgary Citizen

Calgary’s next municipal election is less than two weeks away, and advanced voting is already in full swing. As front-runners begin to emerge and begin to get exposure, local community groups are looking intently at the priorities of those who could make up the next city council.

The new council will begin with plenty on its plate from the get-go, including the density and housing variety of communities, continued deliberations on the LRT green line, as well as the more recent issue of the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant health restrictions. With a majority of incumbents choosing not to run again, we will have at least seven entirely new faces leading our city by the end of October 18.

The city’s mental health is at the top of mind for many organizations 

“The average voter, I think, is always looking for things that are … concrete to their lives, like lower taxes,” says Johanna Schwartz, communications manager for The Alex Community Health Centre.

This is in contrast to what Schwartz sees as The Alex’s priority for the current election cycle, which is the city’s mental health and addictions strategy — something she says will impact not only those whose lives are at stake, but those around them as well. 

“It’s one of those platforms where, when you see that the investment isn’t there, it starts to change the scope of your own neighbourhood and your communities, and being able to provide the sort of support that helps and addresses these issues ends up strengthening communities.”

For The Alex, Schwartz sees its role within the election as one of ensuring participation, as well as keeping its ear to the ground of Calgary’s communities.

“I think the role of any, particularly social service non-profit in Calgary … is to just encourage engagement in the process, recognize that people know that they do have a voice, and their voice matters,” Schwartz says.

“As a charitable organization, we have to stay non-partisan, and while we can’t particularly tell people who to vote for … we know the issues that matter to our folks.”

However, there is one issue that The Alex is taking a clear side on is the fluoridation referendum. It supports re-introducing fluoride into Calgary’s water supply, given its dental care programs.

“We believe that fluoride is one of the most equitable, base-level things that we can do to ensure that, regardless of your income level, that you have access to good, strong dental care,” says Schwartz.

Closing the employment gender gap 

A panel discussion with leading mayoral candidates was recently held by Lean In Calgary, a local chapter of a Canada-wide organization invested in gender equality. Candidates spoke to “women’s economic recovery, and their plans to address issues that uniquely impact women,” as Susan Elford, president of the network, described.

These topics included “the she-cession, policies around mental health, affordable choices for child care [and] skills retraining.” Attention was brought to the significant number of women who have dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic and how candidates plan to address societal inequalities. 

“Despite some gains over the last few years, women in Alberta face the largest employment gender gap of any province. They are overrepresented in lower-paying and minimum wage jobs, and experience poverty at a greater rate than men,” said moderator Deborah Yedlin, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. 

“The wage gap is even wider for Indigenous women, and women who are visible minorities, and women with disabilities.”

This sentiment echoes that of the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre, which has been researching candidates without participating in advocacy or lobbying.

“Recent events on anti-racism and policing have sparked interest in many Calgarians,” says Linda McKay-Panos, the executive director, who believes that “some voters” will put human rights top of mind. 

“We believe the priorities should be initiatives that promote respect of human rights and inclusivity.”

Calgary’s climate change policies 

Robert Tremblay, director-at-large with the Calgary Climate Hub, believes that climate change is important to many in this election cycle, but other priorities may have overtaken it as the focus.

“It’s something that, across the board, the vast majority of Calgarians are concerned about. I think, being that we are in a pandemic, in a particularly deadly, preventable fourth wave … climate change might be on the mind of lots of Calgarians, but I don’t know that it’s necessarily top of mind,” he says.

Post-election, Tremblay says the Hub wants to become well acquainted with the new council and continue to push its priorities, which include de-carbonization of industry, a greater focus on electric vehicles, and the full realization of the green line — he believes municipal governments often act on climate-related issues before higher levels of government care to.

“The Hub’s role has really been to connect our members with the candidates and just have the candidates share concerns, and as well … provide local stakeholder platform points of what we’d like to see the city do on climate,” says Tremblay.

“I think what I’d like to see with the next council is not necessarily just to colour in the lines, but really represent the concerns of Calgarians, whether they’re the specific jurisdiction or not.”

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Noel Harper

Reporter at Calgary Citizen

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