Braid: Mayor Gondek deflects water crisis blame, Premier Smith snaps back

Calgary’s mayor already has scapegoats: any government but hers. This isn’t great crisis leadership. This is garbage political deflection.

Get the latest from Don Braid, Calgary Herald straight to your inbox

Article content

Mayor Jyoti Gondek says she doesn’t know what caused the giant water main break, but then suggests she does.

And, of course, it’s not the city’s fault. With this mayor, nothing is ever city hall’s fault.

She blames the province and Ottawa for lack of funding — not “in this situation,” she says, but the pipes are very old because of those other guys.

“I have to say that without a strong partnership from the provincial and the federal governments, the city takes on the full cost of maintenance work,” she told Global News.

Advertisement 2

Article content

The city actually did maintenance on that very pipe in April. Less than two months later, it burst.

Did the crews fail to spot an ominous sign of trouble? Did they neglect a repair that might have averted a “catastrophic” main break now threatening the whole city’s supply of drinking water?

We don’t know. When Gondek spoke, crews hadn’t yet been able to get to the pipe. But she already has the scapegoats — any government but hers.

This isn’t great crisis leadership. This is garbage political deflection.

Premier Danielle Smith responded quickly, and calmly in the circumstances.

“Mayor Jyoti Gondek has never asked us for funding to repair their water supply infrastructure,” Smith said in a statement.

“This year, we’re providing $223.8 million to the City of Calgary for Local Government Fiscal Framework funding, with no strings attached.

“If anything, I would encourage the mayor and city to immediately review and assess all water supply infrastructure, especially given the increased density that will come from implementing blanket rezoning.

“Calgarians need access to clean water. My hope is that this issue gets resolved rapidly, and we’re pleased to see how quickly the city has responded.”

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

Instead of provoking a barbed response like that, Gondek should be begging senior orders of government for all the goodwill, funding and expertise they can bring to this problem.

She told Global: “They have not paid enough attention to the infrastructure needs, as municipalities across the country, Alberta municipalities, have pointed out.”

Water main break
City of Calgary workers dig away at the site of a water main break in Montgomery on Friday, June 7, 2024. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

A good point in general, but don’t link it to an immediate crisis unless you can prove your case. Otherwise, you’re just hurting your city for your own political interests.

Calgary has seen magnificent leadership in past crises. Ex-mayor Dave Bronconnier was a rock in the 2005 flood that caused enormous damage.

Former mayor Naheed Nenshi was often inspirational when an even greater flood hit in 2013.

Nenshi only blamed people who deserved it — such as Canadian Pacific, which nearly collapsed a railway bridge by putting a train across during the flooding.

“How is it we don’t have regulatory authority over this, but it’s my guys down there risking their lives to fix it?” Nenshi thundered, as city crews struggled to keep toxic products out of the water.

Advertisement 4

Article content

CP apologized, a rare event.

Nobody was going to blame those mayors for natural disasters. They were judged purely on their crisis leadership.

But this bizarre water crisis is strictly a city matter — city workers, a city pipe, the city’s water supply, city neighbourhood Bowness with limited water, the rest of the city on restrictions, Airdrie, Chestermere and Strathmore hit by the city’s problem, and worse predicted.

“Calgary’s water supply is in a critical state,” the city tweeted Friday. “If we do not reduce our water use, we are at risk of running out.”

This one is on city hall and nobody else. Therefore, it can’t possibly be city hall’s fault.

The crisis may end quickly, or it could escalate. We have remarkably little information after two days.

Wild conspiracy theories are spreading. There’s some resistance to the water restrictions. Bottled water is flying off supermarket shelves.

Whether it’s over soon or much later, there must be a full, independent inquiry into what went wrong, with all details of a report released to the public — no “redactions” allowed.

This can’t be left to the city itself. The mayor and her masters of deflection would just wiggle off the hook.

She’s at it already.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

X: @DonBraid

Recommended from Editorial

Article content