By: Cristina Paolozzi, May 11 2021—
Calgary’s next municipal election takes place on October 18, and five candidates are running for Ward 7 councillor this year.
Heather McRae, one of the candidates running for this position, spoke to the Gauntlet about her connections to the community and some of the changes she thinks would benefit students this upcoming election.
A previous small business owner, McRae has ample public engagement experience connecting Calgarians to the downtown core. As a result of her community engagement, she was asked by members of West Hillhurst if she would consider putting her name forward for public office in Calgary.
“It was a group of West Hillhurst residents who asked me to consider running,” said McRae. “We had become very good friends at the start of the pandemic.”
McRae said that these friendships allowed her to listen to some of the concerns members of her community had, spurring deep conversations that resonated with them.
“I did a lot of research, a lot of community consultation before I made the decision, and then I announced last October,” said McRae.
Civic engagement is something that McRae is passionate about, and one of the things McRae thinks Ward 7 could benefit from. Much of the feedback she received centered around some residents believing that the city did a poor job of engaging citizens.
“I would really like to ensure that that engagement model is one that is meaningful and that people feel that what they’re saying is being heard,” said McRae.
McRae also mentioned that the infrastructure in Ward 7, while good, could still be improved upon. She mentioned that transit accessibility should be a top priority in creating a more livable city, but she also spoke on how infrastructure investment usually goes into communities on the outer edges of the city, instead of reinforcing the existing infrastructure for residents in the downtown area.
“I think we can do lots to still improve transit — it’s good for the climate, it’s a low-cost option for people — so certainly supporting the green line is important to me, but making sure that it works in those communities as well is very important,” said McRae. “There is definitely some lack of investment that’s happened in our inner-city communities. We’ve seen a lot of investment in the edges of the city, so you get new infrastructure into those communities, but the residents in the inner city would really like to see some reinvestment in the existing infrastructure.”
As Ward 7’s boundaries include the University of Calgary, McRae is aware of the large student population that Ward 7 houses and explained that fresh new ideas are formed by engaging with the city’s younger population.
“The student population is very significant in Ward 7,” said McRae. “And, I’m very encouraged to have engagement with young people, because we have to build a Calgary that is going to be the Calgary that [young people] want to live in, not the status quo Calgary that maybe we’re living in right now.”
McRae also mentioned that Calgary, and especially leaders in this municipal election, have a lot to learn from youth in the city. Issues surrounding Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) in the community have been very present in the media largely due to youth movements in Calgary as well as globally.
“We have a lot to learn from our youth in the areas around tolerance and accessibility,” said McRae. “There’s so much learning that we have to do from our youth and that’s probably the most important thing that I think that [young people] can do during this upcoming election, is really keeping a spotlight on that.”
McRae maintains that including young people into the conversation around what the future of the city should look like means taking note of concerns that will directly impact younger populations. Addressing issues like climate change, racism and accessibility are all things McRae believes will contribute to the vitality and vibrancy of the city.
McRae also suggests that travel and the new perspectives and ideas that come with visiting new places can contribute to the positive changes needed in the city and mentioned that this is something she has always tried to promote in her children — one of whom attends the U of C.
“The biggest gift I think we’ve given young people in recent generations is the gift of travel. And I think that that gift of travel has given people a different perspective on the world,” said McRae. “Its made the world feel smaller, and I think that we need to embrace those ideas that young people are bringing back to our province, and we need to allow those to inform our path forward — I just think that those views are enriching our communities.”
There are many issues affecting Calgarians currently, and McRae encourages young people to challenge leadership and engage in local issues to begin the process of bringing a new direction to the city. When speaking about the different ways she plans to include young voices in the community, McRae referenced a youth council, lead by Ward 5 councillor George Chahal, where young people can have a direct voice in the decision making that happens in Ward 5. She said that this is an idea that she would be open to embracing for Ward 7, if elected.
“If you want to influence what’s going to happen and you want to influence change, you need to be engaged,” said McRae. “Engage with leadership, challenge leadership — we need to be challenged. We need to have somebody shining a spotlight for us and helping to provide direction. That’s the biggest reason why we need youth engaged. I think that the reason that sometimes youth aren’t engaged is because [youth] don’t feel heard. I really really am hoping that we can turn the tide on that.”
The municipal general election will take place on October 18, 2021. For more information about Heather McRae or the other Ward 7 candidates, you can find out how to contact them here.