Breakenridge: Failed recall petition not necessarily end of the drama

There’s now talk that future recall campaigns could be in the offing, especially if the Alberta government agrees to amend the legislation

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By all accounts — including, most notably, from the petition organizer himself — the recall campaign targeting Calgary’s mayor has fallen well short.

The petition deadline arrived last week and the signatures were submitted to city officials late Thursday. It will take a few weeks to formally count and verify them, but there’s really no drama as to whether Jyoti Gondek’s job is in jeopardy. Arguably, there never was.

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Inevitably, the path to defeating this mayor was going to be at the ballot box — whether that was later this year or next year. There’s one overlooked quirk in the recall process that means a successful petition is not necessarily the end of the story.

As it stands, the ridiculously high bar set by the province’s recall legislation means that more than 514,000 signatures would be required to remove this mayor from office. That’s well above the total number of votes cast for all the mayoral candidates in the 2021 election.

According to the petition organizer, around 72,000 signatures were gathered. That’s not a small number, to be sure. To put it in context, 72,000 votes would have been a solid third-place finish in the last mayoral race. Yet, it represents less than 15 per cent of the total number necessary to trigger a recall.

Supporters of the petition effort will have to decide for themselves whether this was all worth it. This process has certainly brought to light the concerns many voters have with the mayor, and it’s also helped to expose some of the shortcomings of the recall process itself. However, the mayor and her supporters could also spin this as a victory of sorts for her.

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There’s now talk that future recall campaigns could be in the offing, especially if the Alberta government agrees to amend the legislation and lower the petition requirements. That’s problematic for a combination of reasons: the time it would take to table and pass amended legislation, and the stipulation that no municipal recall campaign can occur in an election year.

Given all of that, the focus for those wishing to bring about an end to Gondek’s tenure as mayor should now be on figuring out how to defeat her. Because that was probably going to be necessary one way or another.

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Under Alberta’s rules, a successful recall campaign removes the individual from office and the position becomes vacant. That, in turn, necessitates a byelection. But there’s nothing forbidding that recalled politician from standing as a candidate in that byelection.

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It might seem unlikely that if half a million Calgarians had signed a petition calling on the mayor to resign that she’d somehow be able to win the subsequent byelection. But keep in mind that she faced more than two dozen other challengers in the last election. That’s potentially a lot of vote-splitting between a lot of hastily thrown-together campaigns going up against a candidate with name recognition and motivated supporters. But, of course, that didn’t happen.

It’s possible that a more successful petition drive, one in the hundreds of thousands of signatures range, might have simply shamed Gondek into walking away. Perhaps even this recall campaign, coupled with lousy poll numbers and the recent icy reception at a Flames game, might convince her to abandon the idea of pursuing re-election.

But then again, all of this might just make her more determined to contest the next election. Despite her missteps, controversies and low approval rating, Gondek’s opponents would be foolish to think that her defeat is a slam dunk at this point.

There does appear to be an appetite for change, though, especially with the right candidate and the right vision. The good news for disappointed recall supporters is that there’s more than a year to organize and plan for that.

Afternoons with Rob Breckenridge airs weekdays from 12:30 to 3 p.m. on QR Calgary (770AM / 107.3FM)

[email protected]

Twitter: @RobBreakenridge

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