Vibrant Calgary forum through my eyes


I don’t feel rich.  I’ve been a lot worse off than I am right now.  Granted I’m also in pretty tough straights for at least the next year.  But I’m not poor. 

It’s a funny question, because this month is tighter than most.  Car insurance came up this month and that’s a nasty hit.  Particularly for how little I drive my car these days.  Oh, and I still have that broken front sprocket on my bike I have to fix.  And curling dues are, well, due.  And the kid’s have their extracurricular stuff they want to do.  But I’m not actually poor. 

I know the stress of being unemployed for a year and not seeing a way out.  I know the lock depression can put on a person.  I’ve flirted with poor, but I don’t think I’ve ever really been there. 

So I’m off to a forum to talk about poverty - why? - because I shot my mouth off and said who I liked best and the guy I chose says, “Come on out and join us at the forum.“  The guy I’m backing is going to have to deal with poverty in a very direct and literal manner.  He better have a plan and some good answers.

So, the event.  Attendees were, in order from house right to house left, Craig Burrows, Bob Hawkesworth, Barb Higgins, Wayne Stewart, Naheed Nenshi, Joe Connelly, Gary Johnson, Ric McIver, Jon Lord and Bonnie Devine.

What did they say?  Go search twitter for the term #vidyyc and read from the bottom up.  I didn’t get everything the candidates said, but I tried to at least express their ideas.  Any mistakes or distortions of their ideas is purely on my behalf.  Don’t read it as gospel.

Instead, at the end I got the question, “Well, what did you think?”

I had to think about it for a while.  On a couple of levels.  Am I partisan now?  I’m not going to stop thinking or listening, and I’m not giving up my opinions.  I’m screwed if people expect me to fully understand the issues - there’s a good reason I’m not running.  On the other hand, I am not running for mayor - I expect those who are to have a handle on the topic.

It’s easy to rip everyone to shreds.  It’s harder to acknowledge the positive.  It’s nigh impossible to be fair and balanced.  I am not, this is my opinion based from my observations and my personal bias.  You have to form your own opinion, this one belongs to me.

There were highlights and low-lights to me, for sure.

I have to say, I liked Joe Connelly talking about integrating a community into a neighbourhood.  It’s a great feel-good story and we need more integration in Calgary.  Then Ric McIver comes in with a “me too” story.  It felt funny.

Jon Lord reminded me of all the things I like about Jon Lord - talk about the people, put the people first, build resilient communities.  Build communities with kids in mind and the rest of the community develops around that.  That jarred me and reminded me from the twibate of “moving to the suburb for the kids, then move back in when they’re gone.“  I feel like he’s talking about Calgary 25 years ago.

All three spoke about improving the economy - a rising tide lifts all boats.  It’s a little too trickle-down for my taste at a forum on poverty.  Purely my bias speaking.  Poverty was here in the boom, it’s here in the bust.  Even with full employment, we have to defend against McJobs that leave you further behind.  If it failed to resonate, perhaps it’s just not their crowd.

It should have been a perfect crowd for Bob Hawkesworth.  To me, he missed the mark talking tunnel.  Wayne Stewart called him on it, it kept coming up.  Making the point that there’s a trade off with building the tunnel is okay.  Saying you’ll apply it towards poverty, fine.  It differentiates him quite well.  But to lead the crowd into shouting out “tunnel” back at you was a little much.  Scratch that, it’s a lot much to me.  If $500 million is going to eliminate poverty forever in this city, we have ALL of our values messed up.  Not that I believe killing the tunnel is going to give us $500 million to spend on the poor.  What I did like about Hawkesworth is that at this forum he most certainly didn’t leave his good points behind in his bag.  He talked about the BRT from downtown to the airport and got out it could be done by 2012 and for much less.

It was my first chance to hear Bonnie Devine and Gary Johnson.  Their passion goes to eleven, sure, but you’re going to need a lot more than passion.  As a side note, I got to spend a lot of time chatting with Gary after the debate.  He’s not going to come up and work the crowd, you have to go make the effort.  He spoke to me about helping people find their pride in themselves.  I understand that well.  Mayoral, probably not, but a very interesting guy.  I’ll make more effort to speak with Bonnie some time.

Ha, before I talk about Craig Burrows I first better mention he gave me a shot about showing up in purple instead of dark blue.  Tonight showed one of the schisms I have with Burrows.  He spoke about sports and arts and libraries and transit, and there are great ideas in the mix.  But working on poverty doesn’t start with sports arenas.  That’s another tier or two down the road.

Wayne Stewart was everything I expected.  He’s consistent to his song book and it was a real pleasure for me to shake his hand.  My gut says it’s not going to happen, my heart says prove me wrong.  Go prove me wrong, Wayne.

Barb Higgins was a joy to hear.  Well, she debated, at least, and it was really nice to hear her thoughts.  She sounded less a mouthpiece and a bit more of her passion came through in person.  I would not call her performance mayoral tonight, she’s got a lot more in her to give.  I know this is an issue she’s worked on and cares about, I want her to not win the debate by being barely good enough but by wiping the floor with everyone else.  This was her debate to shine.  I’m critical because I want her to improve.  I’m not voting for her, but thousands are going to and they deserve a top performer.

So (full disclosure, I endorse Naheed Nenshi) I get to my candidate of choice.  You know, I think (full disclosure…) he has the best policies laid out for livable neighbourhoods.  He’s described the best roadmaps going forward.  I think he really does have better ideas.  He used his time poorly and he sounded like a professor trying to finish his last thought as his students were packing up for their next class.  His ideas are there, his passion is there, he didn’t boil down to soundbites all that well.

I don’t want a soundbite mayor, I want a mayor with great ideas.  Are you okay with that?

The take home message to me is that poverty in this city is much, much bigger than a mayor.  We cannot solve poverty by doing X, no matter what value we substitute as X.  We can, however, stop aggravating the effects of poverty.  We can make Calgary less car-dependent.  We can stop blocking secondary suites and find more affordable housing.  We can make safer, more integrated communities.  We can have better schools and educational opportunities.  We can waste less as we build more and better communities that are not all suburbia.  And Ric McIver pointed out, there are people who we will need to help with their addictions first.

We need an exceptional roadmap.  We need exceptional fortitude to stick to the roadmap.  We do need a strong economy with good jobs.  We have barely tapped into what Calgary as a place and a people have to offer.