Former Brandonite elected Calgary’s first woman mayor
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This article was published 20/10/2021 (523 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A former Brandonite has been elected the first woman mayor of Calgary.
Jyoti Gondek was named mayor of Calgary Monday after defeating 26 challengers for the role with 174,649 votes, accounting for 45 per cent of all ballots cast.
Gondek originally hails from London, England, but has close ties to Manitoba. Her family moved to Winnipeg in 1973 and relocated to Neepawa in 1977 before settling in Brandon in 1981.
“I was just really excited by the amount of support that was shown to me from my friends who still live in Brandon or the ones that relocated here,” Gondek said.
Gondek attended Vincent Massey for her junior high and high school years, before later attending the University of British Columbia and the University of Manitoba.
She was living in Winnipeg in 1996 when she married her husband, Todd. They soon moved to Wainwright, Alta. and Calgary a year later.
“It’s been interesting to live in and visit different cities and really understand which ones got city building right and which ones were really struggling with it,” Gondek said. “It’s an interesting contrast between places like Winnipeg and Calgary, where one has a very healthy art scene and maybe more of a depressed economy, whereas Calgary was booming but it just didn’t have that art and creative sector that Winnipeg did.”
Gondek first debated entering the political sphere in 2007 but shied away from the role because it did not feel like the right fit at the time.
She went on to volunteer on a municipal campaign, and the experience helped her embrace the idea of city-building and the role she could play in helping shape Calgary’s future.
Gondek returned to school to earn a degree in urban sociology and was a consultant in the field for many years — her work inspired her to enter the political field.
“It just dawned on me that I’ve been trying to influence change from the outside, and maybe it was time to get a seat at the table instead,” Gondek said.
She was elected City of Calgary Ward 3 Councillor in 2017.
It has been an exciting experience coming from Manitoba, she said, because she appreciates the role strong local connections play in the process of city-building.
“Most people don’t say they’re from Calgary; they’ll tell you which neighbourhood or which community in Calgary they’re from. I found that to be very much like growing up in the small towns that I had been in,” Gondek said. “There’s a very strong co-op network here as well. It just feels like a series of connected communities.”
She was compelled to run for mayor in the 2021 municipal election because she felt it was important to serve as a strong voice for resident safety and security during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We as a city have been fighting for the last 18 months for the public health interest of our citizens in the face of a [provincial] government that wasn’t willing to act to mitigate the pandemic,” Gondek said. “We’re going to need to continue having advocates at the local level, and I felt it was important to be that person.”
The City of Calgary faces a challenging future due to both the pandemic and fluctuating oil prices, she said. It marks a time for Calgary to shift its focus, offering leadership in transitioning the economy and embracing its role as an energy production leader.
“We fell away from that and started focusing on the output being oil and gas. Let’s get focussed again on how we create processes, whether it’s energy production or food security — but let’s use innovation and technology to make those processes more sustainable and greener and cleaner,” Gondek said. “That’s the kind of meaningful work that people really want to do, and that’s what attracts talent here.”
As part of this growth, she said, council will be working to create a more robust arts and creative sector in Calgary.
“We need to get back and connect with the arts and creative sector, as well as our businesses community to see how we can activate those spaces in a different way that draws people in so they can live here, they can work here and they can really touch some really great things,” Gondek said.
Calgary was able to enjoy the oil and gas sector really propping up its creative and art scene, she said. When the money was flowing it provided pivotal philanthropy, but this affected investments made by the municipality.
Calgary now sits in a space where it is playing catch-up to grow arts and culture in the city and keeping up with other major metropolitan areas.
“Winnipeg has always made investments into the ballet, into the symphony, into the theatre, and we just need to keep up with that,” Gondek said.
She added a new stream of revenue is being created in the economy with the tech sector and organizations practising social good while choosing Calgary as their home base. There is a need to keep playing to that strength, the idea of corporate resilience and reflecting the meaningful work people want to do in the city.
“I really hope that what we can continue to do is attract capital to our city. We, for example, made a $45-million investment in office to residential conversions in our downtown vacant areas,” Gondek said. “That program is already fully subscribed, which demonstrates that once we invest in ourselves, others are willing to do the same — any time we are going to be expending capital as a city, we need to look for matching dollars.”
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