A Final Statement
Hello everyone. It has been almost five months since the Calgary municipal election and I wanted to give a statement and an update. Once again, thank you to everyone who supported me, donated, volunteered, voted, and shared their thoughts with me during my campaign. Despite not winning, I learned so much about our community – and the things Calgarians and Ward 11 residents both want and need.
Over the last five months I have had many phone calls, meetings, email/messaging exchanges with people from all walks of life and from all over our city. Unfortunately, the main message has been one of disappointment and frustration.
I got an email from a mom the other day who said her 16-year-old daughter works at Chinook Mall and takes the LRT to and from work. After her shifts (9:30 p.m.) the LRT is extremely dangerous with people doing drugs, fighting, urinating and being aggressive towards other passengers. Our LRT line is a complete disaster and has been for a while now, but somehow our elected officials are more concerned with issues outside of our own city. Transit should be safe and accessible for everyone. Right now it isn’t. I recently went to a Flames game and I could not believe how full the parking lot was – people are just not taking transit anymore due to the deterioration of it, and I don’t blame them. Yet in the first five months Council was more focused on issues in Quebec, giving themselves a raise in the form of an increased car and security allowance, passing new bylaws already covered by provincial and federal law, arguing over mask bylaws which are a provincial issue, and most ironically, calling a climate emergency. Perhaps we can improve our emissions by ensuring people actually feel safe taking transit?
A common message I am receiving is that Ward 11 Councillor Kourtney Penner is not responding to constituents. See below for messages posted on Nextdoor from the last 24 hours.
It's frustrating to receive messages like this several times per week. Why? Because I can't do anything about it. There has been a clear pattern from Councillor Penner of not responding to those who disagree with her or those who do not share her same views. Some of the emails that she has not responded to have been forwarded on to me and all I can say is that I would have responded to every one of these emails without hesitation. Of the dozens I have received so far, only three had things written that I would say were ‘offside.’ That being said, rather than ignoring them, I would simply reply with: ‘Hi, I would like to help you with your issue, but let's try to keep things respectful here. Thank you.’
Kourtney either does not respond or blocks/deletes them on social media.
Emails about community infrastructure, intersection safety, snow clearing, cell phone tower installations, covid restrictions, etc... ignored.
I think the fundamental job of any Councillor is to listen to and respond to residents. You work for the people. As I predicted, it seems Kourtney is not interested in working for the people. It appears she is interested in working for her supporters and the unions that helped fund and work on her campaign. You need to listen to both supporters, and non-supporters. It is important to remember that this election was won with just 28 per cent of the vote. That means that 72 per cent of people have differing opinions.
The day after the election I received a text message from Kourtney stating that she wanted to meet to discuss things I heard during the campaign (things that are important for residents of Ward 11). Unsurprisingly, I have not received a call, text, or meeting request since then.
I was proud to have responded to every email, every call, every text message, and every social media message during my campaign. Were there people who disagreed with me? YES! Were there people who said things that were completely false? Plenty. But I responded and I would do the same if elected today. My hope from this statement is that our Ward 11 Councillor begins to realize that 28 percent is a very slim minority and there is a majority of differing opinions and priorities in our Ward. It's time to listen and respond to them.
UPDATE ON ME
I have had a lot of people contact me or run into me in public and ask what I am up to. To be honest the answer is relaxing. The campaign took a lot out of me and I have just enjoyed the simple pleasures of being around friends, cooking, and being home for dinner finally. It's amazing what simple things you miss. I have been doing some consulting work to this point and am now open to new opportunities with the right company for the right role. If you are looking for a marketing professional with a strong tech background, lets chat!
Many people have also asked about the campaign and what goes on behind the scenes. Well, there isn't much. This was what I would call a very "skinny" campaign. I designed my website, I wrote almost everything (with my team proofreading it before I sent it out), I did all the flyers and door knocking with typically one other person (usually my family), I ran all of my social media, answered all of my emails, worked with my designer on all of my ads, put out the orders for ads and printing, ran all digital advertising, placed almost all of the signs on public roads, etc. It was A LOT of work. I shared on election night that my distance walked during the campaign was equivalent to walking to Winnipeg (1,300km). Thank you again to everyone who walked those steps with me because it was not possible alone!
Now to address the number one question I get: Will you run again?
I have thought about this a lot. To be honest, I'm not sure. I think the election process in Calgary is broken and several issues would need to be fixed to convince me to do it all again.
1) Election day - hour long lineups mainly due to machines that don't work properly. Elections Calgary went on about how reliable these machines were, yet Election Day proved that to be false. On election day, I received many messages saying how long the lines were, how slow they were moving, and how many issues were being had with voting machines. People simply didn't have the time/patience to wait over an hour to vote. This needs to be fixed. My suggestion would be to get rid of the machines. The old paper ballots worked just fine and removed and sort of doubt on the accuracy of the count (to be clear I don't think the machines are inaccurate, they are just extremely inefficient).
2) Vote splitting. This is a killer in Calgary municipal elections. I don’t think partisan politics should play a role in civil elections. I do my very best to see both sides of any issue and take a more common sense approach than we have typically seen at City Council. That is why I pushed hard on the ‘independent integrity’ angle during my campaign. In fact I think one of the things hurting our city most is the left vs right way our Council is divided. I was aware that many people were trying to push Mike Jamieson, Devin Defraine, and Vance Bertram to withdraw to avoid a vote split. I want to be clear: I was not a part of this and I didn't encourage it, but I knew it was going to be an issue. I knew from about July that it was going to come down to me and Kourtney. So even though the majority voted for a ‘more conservative candidate’ the winner was the opposite.
3) Signage. The City of Calgary has bylaws regarding signage such as how close they can be to an intersection, curb, playground zone, etc. These rules were blatantly broken several times. I had contacted City Bylaw about it several times until finally a supervisor called me back and we discussed it. To her credit, she was excellent. Very informative, transparent, and respectful. She said that they get so many calls about signs that they simply cannot keep up, so most of them are never looked at. Let’s be honest, the week of the election the number of signs up around our city was absolutely ridiculous and definitely an eyesore. My proposal is to just ban signs on public property. This would reduce costs for candidates creating a more equal playing ground, it would eliminate people voting simply by seeing signs (rather than voting based on merit, policy, etc.), it would eliminate some safety issues (signs blocking intersection views), and it would reduce waste. If it is not possible to properly enforce the bylaws in regard to signage, get rid of them.
4) Party politics and third-party advertisers. There is a lot in this topic, but I will try to be somewhat brief. During this election there were two major third party advertisers or groups. The unions (Calgary's Future), and Take Back City Hall (Craig Chandler's slate of candidates). Kourtney was with the unions, Mike Jamieson was with Chandler. Interestingly, I ran into Mike about a week ago when I submitted my financial disclosure. Mike insisted he had separated from Chandler during the campaign; however, just a couple of weeks ago he spoke at a Chandler-run event to speak about ‘municipal conservative unity,’ so that was a lie. To be blunt, anyone associating themselves with Chandler is not wise, just due to his history. If anyone thinks Chandler running another of slate of candidates is going to solve anything, it won't. It never has, it never will.
On the other side, the unions ran an organized and well executed campaign along with having $3 million to support it. I take issue with how third party advertising works and the transparency of it. The union takes money from city employees through union dues and then spends it on their preferred candidates. Put simply, if you work for the city you are forced to give the union money and then they will support candidates of their choosing with it. A great example of how this is wrong is Calgary's Future’s decision to support Jyoti Gondek's campaign when a known trouble maker like Stephen Carter was her campaign manager. Once Jyoti was elected, Stephen began his inappropriate behaviour of threatening and intimidating councillors and city staff. The union supports that? There were several complaints made to the Mayor's office from city staff and nothing was done. It took a much more severe case involving a Councillor for action to finally be taken. Also, how come our Ward 11 Councillor didn't speak out about what was going on? She seems to be strongly opposed to harassment/bullying, but I guess it's ok when people on her side do it? Interesting.
Lastly, I have to disclose all of my donors and what I spent money on. Anyone can access this whenever they like. I think that is fair. The third party advertisers? Well, here is what is stated.
"The Local Authorities Election Act does not provide authority for the Returning Officer to provide for routine public access to third party advertiser disclosure statements. Access to third party advertiser disclosure statements requires an information access request filed under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, or by contacting the third party advertiser directly."
So Kourtney raised about the same amount of money as me, but she also had the backing of $3 million of union money. How was that money spent? We don't know. I will be requesting that information though.
So, will I run again? As I said, I don't know yet. Ward 11 deserves better. Not responding to residents is beyond wrong in my opinion. I had people yell at me, disagree with me, and tell outright lies about me during the campaign, I was still able to calm things down and have a reasonable conversation with them, I think that is a skill that any elected official should possess. Listening is key.
Lastly I want to clear up some falsehoods/rumours out there.
Yes, developers donated to me. Why? They liked what I had to say and I knew them from previous charity work. They also donated to Jyoti Gondek. I want to be clear: this does not mean I am ‘the developers guy.’ I stated clearly during a debate that I would NEVER sell a greenspace to a developer. I also told them when I spoke with them that they had to present a business case just like everyone else and it had to make sense. I am not their puppet. And no, they did not support me because my late grandpa was buddy-buddy with them. This was a fabricated story made up by another candidate. Also, no, I am not pro densification against resident's wishes, despite what Devin Defraine told people. I thought I made that quite clear in my campaign videos...
The developers do a lot for our city and donate millions to causes. I respect them just as I do many other industries in our city, but had I been elected I would NOT be voting to approve things just because they donated. I made that clear to them, and it was a very respectful and understanding conversation (imagine that). My commitment was to the residents of Ward 11, nobody else.
Another group that supported me was Lead Calgary. I had no idea who they were or that I was being endorsed by them. I had to Google them to find out who was part of it. I called the man in charge, Marcel, to discuss the endorsement and asked that he stopped running ads about me. He refused and said, ‘we can spend our money how we want.’ Fair enough. To be clear, I never asked, supported, or wanted that endorsement. That was all them.
I cannot stress enough, I was with nobody, I didn't ask for any endorsements, and I can say that I was TRULY independent. I think my favourite accusation was Kourtney saying I was a "Farkas fanboy" while she was using Jyoti's team and volunteers to push her own campaign. So it's ok when she teams with another candidate, but not when someone else does? Ok. To be clear, I never spoke to Farkas during the campaign. Not once.
Also, I was accused by Kourtney of "scrubbing my social media/internet history clean" because I was "trying to hide something". I have nothing to hide. Anyone who has talked to me knows that I am incredibly honest and forward, perhaps to a fault. My social media history is private. Why? I don't think the world needs to know where I am or whose house I had dinner at last night. Some parts of your life should be private.
If you made it this far, thank you for reading and thanks for your ongoing support. If you have any questions for me, please let me know. As always, I answer every email. If you are looking for a marketing professional with a strong tech background, let’s talk!
- Rob Ward