Nelson: Calgary council caught in provincial whirlwind's embrace

Mayor Jyoti Gondek, say hello to Premier Danielle Smith. The whirlwind is here

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They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind. It’s an old adage, but one now blowing through city hall with a vengeance.

Maybe because this current Calgary council comprises relative newbies, they couldn’t spot the lurking danger of playing that high and mighty game, one in which the wishes of regular folk can be conveniently dismissed as merely the noisy chatter of the powerless hoi polloi.

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Such ordinary folk wouldn’t like many of the measures that council was relentlessly foisting upon them. But, hey, it was all for Calgarians’ own good, after all, even if many of us had neither the foresight nor the heightened morality to understand the necessary process. But, in time, all would become clear.

Today, something is becoming clear to council. If nature abhors a vacuum, then politicians love one, especially if they’re the bigger dog in any fight for that recently vacated space. Even better if they can strut unopposed into the backyard of those vanquished, after they naively lost the support of their own constituents.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek, say hello to Premier Danielle Smith. The whirlwind is here.

When it comes to the most important matters inside Alberta, the provincial government reigns supreme. It isn’t the feds in faraway Ottawa and it certainly isn’t a local council, even one as full of itself and stuffed with our cash as this current Calgary crop.

Last week, that pecking order was made abundantly clear when the UCP government announced political parties would be OK’d to run in our two biggest cities’ municipal elections. Plus, the province would pass legislation allowing it to fire any local councillor deemed not doing the job and that the political Big Dog in Edmonton could also overrule any civic bylaw it thought was not up to snuff.

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It was bound to happen. You lose support of the ones who brought you to the dance — that being the voters in both Calgary and Edmonton — and someone else will be only too happy to mark future dance cards for those deeply frustrated citizens.

This isn’t a move most Calgarians will cheer: individual independence has long been a respected part of the civic election process in our city. But what has taken place over the past two-and-a-half years in local politics means it’s a change many will accept as the lesser of two evils.

Let’s face it, to suggest a cabal of like-minded politicians doesn’t control our current council — themselves backed by $2 million of civic union cash during the last election — by slavishly voting the same ultra-progressive agenda, is akin to pretending the sun rises in the west.

Why will we reluctantly accept this looming change to our municipal landscape? The reasons are many.

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Let’s start with that “climate emergency city” designation, followed by those massive rate hikes resulting in half a billion dollars more than required being pulled into the civic trough in just two years.

Then there’s that ludicrous paper bag bylaw debate, the silly Blue Sky moniker now foisted upon Calgary simply because energy was deemed a dirty word, and the current zoning shenanigans that risk turning neighbour against neighbour simply because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is holding out a sizable bribe.

Is it a surprise the entire council’s approval rating now mirrors that of the mayor? Or that it was inevitable our current power-hungry provincial government would smell its chance to bring the left-leaning civic outfits in both Calgary and Edmonton to heel?

Yes, there will be a backlash to Smith’s move, but when you’ve annoyed so many people so needlessly as this council has done, then good luck in rallying much public opposition.

Council wanted to remake Calgary into some idealized progressive Nirvana, to stir up the very winds of change. In a weird way, they succeeded.

The whirlwind has blown into town. Hunker down.

Chris Nelson is a regular columnist.

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