Braid: On a dubious technicality, city hall says every ballot against Gondek is invalid

The recall vote against Calgary Mayor Gondek not only fails, every ballot is ruled invalid. The typically callous response of city hall

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

Article content

Drama turned to farce when the petition to recall Mayor Jyoti Gondek finally hit city hall.

That’s the way of our civic government. It has a thousand ways to bury a clear intention in verbal sludge.

Article content

The controversial petition, which many conservatives loved and the other side derided, never had a serious chance of success.

It fell roughly 440,000 ballots short of the total required to force out Gondek.

Advertisement 2

Article content

But the city also informed us Monday that every signature supporting recall — 69,000 of them — was invalid.

That’s because a random sample of 369 did not include a copy of the “notice of recall petition.”

Not a single one arrived with the required notice.

(A recall rule, set by the province, lets the city assume that the 369 signatures tell the story of all 69,000.)

City clerk Kate Martin said the requirement to include the petition notice is outlined in the provincial Municipal Government Act.

It is in there — I think.

“A recall petition must consist of one or more pages, each of which must contain the notice of recall petition referred to in section 240.2(2),” the act says.

There doesn’t seem to be a clear statement that every signature requires a copy of the recall petition.

A Supreme Court judge might get what that section implies. I’m not sure a civilian like Landon Johnston, who started the petition, could be expected to pick it out of an MGA recall section with 96 subsections and literally hundreds more defining points.

The petition couldn’t meet the impossible numerical standard; then it was rendered ridiculous by an opaque rule buried in a mass of jargon.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

Whether you agreed with Johnston or not, he did something remarkable that required a lot of work and energy.

Then he got to city hall and it all turned to mush.

Gondek blamed the province for the signatures being deemed invalid.

Jyoti Gondek
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek. Brent Calver/Postmedia/File

“It’s up to the provincial government to understand how to make this process a little bit more user-friendly for folks,” she said.

“I think when we’ve expended a little over $30,000 to verify a process where the sample size tells us every submission was missing information, that’s something we need to reflect on as well.

“The provincial government needs to think about what it just cost us to verify that none of those signatures was valid.”

But her own officials share the blame. The technical hitch is so vague they could easily have ignored it without anybody caring, since the petition was never going to succeed.

But they didn’t, and that felt like a slap in the face to the recall organizers and the people who supported it.

After the petition was filed forever in some dark city hall closet, council turned to the final stages of debate over the blanket zoning bylaw.

Advertisement 4

Article content

This is about changing the fundamental character of more than half the city’s neighbourhoods where single-family detached homes have seemed like a sacred right.

The end is predestined. To many young people, the dream of home ownership has been killed by scarcity and high prices.

Recommended from Editorial

All over North America, cities and even U.S. states are opening neighbourhoods to multi-family housing.

The debate in Calgary has been unusually fierce, and once again that comes down to city hall.

The policy came as a surprise to many. The city seemed secretive and arrogant.

A battalion of city officials champion the cause, turning aside questions from councillors. They seem little affected by weeks of public hearings where more than 700 people spoke.

A newcomer watching this would assume the officials are in charge of the politicians. Maybe they are.

Asked Monday what the city could have done better, the overlords suddenly looked uncomfortable.

“We may perceive ourselves as communicating with clear language,” one official conceded. “This isn’t always the case.”

Actually, it’s hardly ever the case.

Another said: “Humans don’t like change. People didn’t understand what was being proposed.”

You see, it’s our fault for not knowing what they’re thinking.

But at least Calgarians are still considered human at city hall. That’s something.

Don Braid’s column appear regularly in the Herald

X: @DonBraid

Article content