Bell: Gondek confident in Calgary water pipe probe but a fight brews

‘Give us the goods. Calgarians deserve to understand what the heck happened for a month of water restrictions,’ says Coun. Sonya Sharp

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Maybe they just don’t want to give a black eye to those big shots running Blue Sky City.

There will be an independent investigation of Calgary’s water crisis, the what, the how and the why.

We’re told over and over and over again how they will get to the bottom of what happened, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

But Sonya Sharp, the councillor heading up the city council committee dealing with this issue Wednesday, has seen what the city higher-ups want from the city’s so-called third-party review and she has staked out her position.

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Not good enough.

“I don’t see we’re getting to the bottom of anything,” says Sharp, who represents Bowness, hit hard in this water pipe fiasco and not pleased with city hall before the pipe punctured.

“Why are you doing this report? What is your game plan here?” says Sharp, of what she will ask city brass.

“My game plan is to go back to Bowness and explain what happened.

“I don’t want another fluffy report.”

Calgary city hall could run classes on how to write fluffy reports. They have elevated fluffy reports to an art form. They could establish a Museum of Fluffy Reports.

It would have to be housed in a big building.

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Sharp is not sugar-coating her concerns.

She feels what the city paper-shufflers have cooked up is “the best way to get the results they want.”

For Sharp, they will have a post-mortem without doing a thorough enough autopsy.

The head of the independent review will be picked by a committee presumably recruited by city hall bosses.

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The head of the review will then set up the review panel.

The review panel will answer to city hall’s boss of bureaucrats.

The panel will do their review and deliver their report to city hall’s boss of bureaucrats and the next month city council will see it.

Stop right there!

Objection from the councillor.

“They’ll have time to massage the report before they present it to council,” says Sharp, who worked for the city for 20 years.

“I’ve been there too long not to know what could happen.”

Sonya Sharp
Calgary Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp speaks to media outside council chambers at the Calgary Municipal Building on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Brent Calver/Postmedia

There are also proposed guidelines for the probe Sharp and other councillors feel do not cover the full extent of the water issue.

“We have to remember what happened June 5. They don’t want to go into too much detail of the why. I feel the why is weak,” says Sharp.

The why of the last month, the confusing and sometimes contradictory answers, the lack of explanation, the wait for a state of local emergency when help could have been brought in earlier, thinking there were no problems when they found five other problem spots after they actually looked at the busted pipe.

“Give us the goods. Calgarians deserve to understand what the heck happened for a month of water restrictions.

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“People say they want no stone unturned. But are they prepared for the findings? I am.”

The city’s water setup is a utility. You pay for water. They have money. Lots of it. They are responsible for maintenance of the city’s main water pipe.

For Sharp, why would city hall bosses not want to see the good, the bad and the ugly?

“I think they’re worried about the findings,” says the councillor with the inside city hall experience.

There will be pushback from some city hall politicians Wednesday. It’s open to the public.

“There are members of council who are not going to let the administration report just get rubber-stamped. There’s going to be a difficult conversation. It’s going to be uncomfortable,” says Sharp.

Damaged water main pipe
A section of the damaged water main pipe rests on 16th Avenue after it was removed at the repair site in Montgomery on Monday, June 10, 2024. Gavin Young/Postmedia

Mayor Jyoti Gondek and this scribbler chatted briefly Tuesday. As always, it was a frank but very civil discussion.

Gondek said the city is already tapping into experts for this investigation and the mayor insists it will be a truly independent probe.

“They have no vested interest in making it look rosy,” she said.

What does the mayor say to Calgarians who are upset? This was not a natural disaster. It was a failure of city infrastructure.

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“That independent review is going to tell us so much more than we know already.”

Gondek adds she is not afraid of a review.

“I’m not concerned if there are criticisms or flaws that are detected.”

Dan McLean, the pull-no-punches councillor, steps into the ring.

Welcome back, councillor.

“This isn’t the time for taking a victory lap,” says McLean.

“Someone dropped the ball. People have a right to be choked.

“We pay our money and we expect our water. We expect the city to maintain the pipes, to inspect the pipes, to repair the pipes.”

Then McLean asks a question of city hall.

What’s next?

We’re going to find out.

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