It's October and the winter winds are starting to blow. Thankfully this year, the bitter cold weather is not only a sign of the changing seasons but also of a potential change in leadership with the Mon., Oct. 15th civic election almost upon us.
In Ward One, encompassing the far-reaching territory from the west boundary of Calgary to the west side of Crowchild trail, down to the corner of 16th and Crowchild, and including the University of Calgary, the race for a spot on city council features Dale Hodges, the incumbent of 24 years, Jennifer Banks, a social worker and Normand Perrault, a retired general contractor.
This is good. Civic politics are dominated by incumbents and any time someone makes a run at them, it's at least a tad democratic--ignoring the major deficits in campaign funding between incumbents and challengers (who are usually self-funded) and the abysmally low voter turnout these elections usually elicit. More often than not, challengers bring new ideas to the table that may actually register more with voters than the safe, running-on-the-record drivel that incumbents usually spew for their campaigns.
This rings true with the race in Ward One. Banks, whose top four goals address community, the environment, affordable housing and integrity in governance, brings more to the table that directly addresses urgent Ward One needs than the incumbent Hodges.
According to his website, Hodges' goals are improving road and transit without increasing the city's debt, managing growth with land-use planning, identifying which infrastructure projects are important, creating sustainable, long-term growth and providing affordable housing as a funding priority with the new money the Government of Alberta gave to the city right before the election started. Though they are all fair goals, when put into perspective with what Hodges himself lists on his website as his major accomplishments over the last term--including two road expansion-related infrastructure projects and the extension of the LRT to Crowfoot--they ring hollow. Tuscany, a neighbourhood on the west end of the city, is the poster child of resource-consuming development sans planning with little-to-no transit service, strange roads and no schools, until the first elementary school opened in 2006. Tuscany was established in 1994, 11 years into Hodges' reign.
As university students, affordable housing is a top priority. Though first-years may be fine in residence this year, as their university career goes on to their second, third or fourth year, they will likely be looking for student-priced accommodation. Hodges is on board with the current bylaw reform that slightly alters the rules with secondary suites, largely providing the opportunities for developers to properly zone new developments with secondary suites in mind while failing to address the problem of illegal secondary suites, but is against bringing secondary suites into established neighbourhoods. The problem with this plan is the lack of urgency it displays. Though they're often quick to bulldoze established and affordable housing centres--like the houses in Victoria Park for the Stampede grounds extension and the York hotel for the new EnCana monstrosity--city officials are too slow in addressing the current need. As students, if anything should mobilize you, it should be the idea that you could either have a voice to determine whether a council member will act on your behalf and in your interest for the next three years, or one who will continue to further a ridiculous NIMBY attitude.
Banks, on the other hand, is in favour of legalizing secondary suites, which could prove an arduous process because of building regulations and other obstacles. But this shows more urgency to address an actual need than supporting the disturbingly slow inching that council has shown so far on the issue.
Without reservation, the Gauntlet fully endorses Jennifer Banks as a Ward One candidate. Though it is unlikely that Hodges will be unseated--last year he won by a 7820 vote margin--a strong showing for Banks will at least send a message. Banks may be inexperienced in the ways of civic politics, but she brings fresh ideas in a city that seems to be grinding to an ineffectual halt on too many key issues.
After eight terms and 24 years of Aldermanic work, it's time for change. The winter winds are blowing and here's hoping they'll blow Dale Hodges out of office.