Leong: Calgary city council’s unpopularity mostly mess of own making

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Is anyone really surprised Calgary city council has found itself in the doghouse?

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A recent public opinion poll shows high levels of disapproval for Mayor Jyoti Gondek and for ward councillors — more unpopular than in previous polling.

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Good news has been sparse for the current batch at city hall, most of them newbies to political life.

Working with other levels of government on various programs to make the economy more resilient to swings in the oilpatch has been one of the top achievements of this council and the one immediately preceding it.

That might be it. It’s been mostly bad news, mostly of council members’ own making.

There have been bizarre turns of events regarding the previously planned replacement for the Saddledome.

Political scandals involving councillors Sean Chu and Dan McLean can’t have helped.

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But one very visible problem has been crime and disorder.

Shootings have spiked to levels unheard of in years. There have been people stabbed and beaten. In some instances, those assaults were random or have turned deadly.

Parts of the public transit system have occasionally become stand-ins for homeless shelters and supervised drug sites.

And all the while, our leaders have been trying to reform how we perform law enforcement.

It is quite true police can’t be depended upon to do everything when things go wrong, but they certainly have a role to play in maintaining a sense of order and safety.

On this file, it seems as if our civic politicians have found a way to get everyone mad at them.

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As it happens, the rise in public disorder due to the pandemic and the opioid crisis collided with the conversation about how much funding police should receive, sparked by the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by law enforcement while under arrest in Minneapolis.

That fatal, seminal event in 2020 reopened old wounds closer to home and launched a wave of introspection over how policing should be funded and performed.

Some believed strongly it was necessary to move funds from the police toward social services. Seeing how police had been pressed into service as social workers anyway, it was argued we might as well pay people who were actually specialized in those types of jobs.

Calgary police investigate a suspicious death in the east end of the Beltline. Officers found a woman in her 30s unconscious and injured at the scene. She died a short time later from her injuries.
Calgary police investigate a suspicious death in the east end of the Beltline. Officers found a woman in her 30s unconscious and injured at the scene. She died a short time later from her injuries. Photo by Azin Ghaffari /Postmedia

This line of thought was going to be a non-starter for a good chunk of the electorate. The focus of their displeasure would end up being the mayor and three other city councillors — Courtney Walcott, Kourtney Penner and Gian-Carlo Carra — who voted against boosting the Calgary police budget by $6 million last year.

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Ultimately, council as a whole agreed to spend more on the police, likely angering the group I described earlier.

And now, one would be hard-pressed to find anyone of any political persuasion who believes the current state of affairs, even if somewhat improved, is acceptable.

It is possible to want law and order while also wanting proper, humane resources for those facing mental health, addictions and homelessness challenges but either way, people see only an uncaring municipal government appearing to do nothing.

At least the city can’t be blamed for a large part of the drugs-related mess. That particular dishonour goes to the province.

Alberta’s endless dithering on how to replace the supervised drug site at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre should be considered a main driver for our seemingly continual stream of social disorder.

You can’t revive people going through an overdose or help the drug-addicted get into rehab if there isn’t a good first point of contact.

Still, there remains much under the city’s control and council has wasted its first year in office by not figuring it out.

For everyone’s sake, including their own, they have to get it together sooner rather than later.
On Twitter: @RickyLeongYYC

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