3 top-polling mayoral candidates debate Calgary's biggest issues
Watch Jyoti Gondek, Jeromy Farkas and Jeff Davison face off
After three terms and more than a decade in the chair, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is not running for re-election. Twenty-seven candidates are vying to take his place come election day, Oct. 18.
Jyoti Gondek, Jeromy Farkas and Jeff Davison — three of the top candidates according to polling conducted exclusively for CBC Calgary — faced off Thursday in a mayoral debate on CBC Radio and online moderated by Calgary Eyeopener host David Gray.
- WATCH | The full and fiery debate in the video at the top of this story
Farkas said he's running on a platform to bring economic opportunity to Calgary.
"My focus is on jobs, the economy, lowering taxes and strong support for essential services such as police, firefighters," he said.
Farkas also said his plan includes a four-year property tax freeze.
"After 10 years of lack of opportunity, closed door meetings, over spending, I think Calgarians cannot afford four more years of the same," he said.
Gondek opened by saying this year's municipal election is one of the most important in a generation.
"It reminds us that vision without leadership lacks hope, and that leadership without vision lacks meaning," she said.
Gondek said in the next four years there will be issues emerging that will impact all Calgarians.
- Calgary Votes 2021Here's a full list of all mayoral and councillor hopefuls, with details on their platforms and backgrounds
"I am offering you the comfort and the confidence that placing your support behind me means that you will have a mayor who can answer every call and rise to any occasion, no matter what is before us."
Davison opened by talking about his record in council, and working with various levels of government and the private sector to deliver on projects.
He also took shots at his fellow candidates. He said Farkas has the backing of the wealthy elite, and Gondek has funding from union bosses, neither of which he says value the needs of the average Calgarian.
Policing in Calgary
Farkas referenced support for the police in his opening statement. Later in the debate, he said the Calgary Police Service is not a racist organization.
Police Chief Mark Neufeld has said systemic racism exists in the ranks.
"I think taking such extreme positions to assume that the foundation [of policing] is racist. I think that completely loses the plot," Farkas said.
Farkas supports not cutting the police budget, which he believes has hurt the service.
"What was cut during that defund the police debate was new hiring that could have been Indigenous liaison officers," Farkas said.
But he added that he supports investing in preventative programs and social supports around mental health and addiction as a way to be able to reduce demand on police.
Gondek said CPS is not being defunded and Farkas is misleading voters.
Calgary police proposed reallocating eight million dollars to fund agencies that assist people with mental health or addictions issues — which allows the police to focus on criminal activity.
"It is also a mistruth that any budget cuts during this supposed defund the police debate impacted Indigenous relations officers, that it impacted the body worn camera program," Gondek said.
"It did not. These are not facts, these are mistruths."
Davison took aim at Farkas for what he said was a failure to support public health measures enacted by city council.
Gondek, Farkas and Davison are all sitting city councillors.
During the pandemic, Calgary City Council brought in its own bylaw requiring proof of vaccination to be shown at some types of businesses.
Farkas did not support those measures, being the sole vote against the bylaw. He said then that those decisions should be left to the provincial government.
Davison said his daughter has had a surgery delayed because of the fourth wave of the pandemic.
"Every parent who has had a child's care delayed, every person who has had to cross a picket line to go to cancer treatment, every person who has a friend who has passed away because they couldn't get the critical care they needed should point directly at Jeromy Farkas," Davison said.
"His inability to make a decision on a critical matter that affects the majority of people in our city in some way, some form, is deplorable."
Farkas said he supports vaccinations against COVID-19 but he doesn't support council stepping in to do the provincial government's job.
Gondek said during council meetings in the summer she held her ground against lifting restrictions.
"It feels like we're jumping off a cliff. It is simply not responsible. Not only did I stand my ground, I asked to keep the mask mandate in place longer than what the provincial government wanted," she said.
"I expressed concern that we were having a major event where we needed to protect Calgarians and visitors to our city. Unfortunately, my two colleagues on the stage with me today did not agree.
"They were more interested in attending events at that festival than taking care of people's public health."
Former mayors on what it takes
Outgoing mayor Naheed Nenshi and former mayor Al Duerr also joined Gray to talk about the position.
Duerr said as mayor you need to learn how to work with people.
"It's very different from provincial or federal government. As mayor, you're one vote," he said.
"You don't choose the people. It's not like it's not like a corporate boardroom. You don't choose the people around that boardroom table."
Nenshi said because of the nonpartisan nature of city council, people are surprised at how much stuff can get done.
"Sometimes it's a bit kicking and screaming, and sometimes it's a bit feisty," he said. "But ultimately, council generally comes together to do the right thing."
Nenshi said the next mayor will be the face that attracts people to Calgary or turns them away.
"I'm profoundly worried when I hear that young people are not seeing a future for themselves in Calgary, that we're having trouble not just attracting young people but retaining them," he said.
"I really do encourage people to imagine their mayors standing ... on these national and international stages, trying to attract people to come to Calgary and make sure that they're up to that task."
With files from Scott Dippel