By Cristina Paolozzi, July 16 2021—
Calgary’s next municipal election takes place on October 18, and eight candidates are running for Ward 7 councillor this year.
Matt Lalonde, a fourth generation Calgarian, is entering the race as someone who has always cared deeply about the city and its success.
As an alumnus from the University of Calgary, earning a Masters degree in City Planning and an Bachelors degree in Urban Studies, he was interested in learning how to develop tangible and sustainable policy design solutions to some of the city’s challenges.
As a young professional still living in Calgary, Lalonde said that he has continued to see Calgary face challenge after challenge and felt frustrated watching the municipal government, “overspend and overtax,” without concern for its residents, in his opinion.
Lalonde explained that while he graduated into a tough economic situation, he watched as his friends and colleagues from his Masters program all left town in search of opportunity elsewhere.
“It became my mission to try to help Calgary grow in a positive direction that will actually support families and jobs here instead,” he said.
When talking to some of his colleagues about why they chose to move away from Calgary — despite the fact that it is relatively inexpensive to live here in comparison to other larger Canadian cities — Lalonde said that the lack of employment opportunities was the biggest factor.
Another reason as to why many young people in his community moved, especially with regard to city planning, was that the general consensus that Calgary was too “stuck in its ways” and that city council had a reputation for not accepting new ideas.
“I’ve decided that running for Ward 7 was really the right thing to do,” said Lalonde. “I think representing downtown and all of the communities that form the heart of the city is actually the perfect way to listen and learn from all of the neighbours in the area and put my skills to work for their benefit.”
Lalonde believes that he is the most capable candidate as Ward 7’s next councillor as his principled ideas combined with the pride he holds for his hometown will help come to meaningful solutions for the community.
“Part of the reason I believe I’m the person for the job, is because I’m a principled and proud citizen of Ward 7 and of Calgary,” he said. “The values that I hold and the policies that I believe in, combined with my experience and passion for community-driven governance, will actually deliver some contemporary solutions.”
Lalonde mentioned that during his experiences at the U of C, he noticed that people were generally happy to study in Calgary and happy to be a student in the city. However, when it came time to make those bigger life choices, Lalonde said that cities like Toronto or Los Angeles became a more attractive place for new graduates.
“And that is the part that has always worried me the most — people have almost stopped considering staying [in Calgary] as a valid solution to work, or a valid step forward,” said Lalonde. “The really big problem is obviously our roller-coaster economy, that right now is in the bottom of a trench — it’s not lost on me that people are trying to make the best decisions for themselves.”
Lalonde is inspired to run so that a new generation of well-educated people will continue to choose Calgary and reinvigorate the city.
During this municipal election, the description of Calgary as a vibrant city has been used across many different platforms. When asked about what might make a city like Calgary vibrant, Lalonde mentioned that a vibrant city, to him, means variety. Neighbourhoods like Hillhurst or Parkdale offer a mix of single-family homes and condos, office space, as well as plenty of commercial space to suit different individuals’ needs.
“If you want a place that’s vibrant, that more or less comes across as something that people want to be a part of,” he said. “It should be important for all neighbourhoods, there should be a reason for people to want to be there and a reason for people to want to stay there.”
Lalonde said that to encourage vibrancy, people need to have choice, those choices need to be attainable and they need to be made with community members in mind.
“The healthiest communities are always the ones who are evolving, constantly growing to meet the changing needs of the actual residents,” he said.
Lalonde also acknowledged that engaging with young people in Calgary on city-wide issues such as the Green Line, is extremely important as Ward 7 has a large student population living in its borders. As a former student in Ward 7, Lalonde understands the challenges young people face.
Lalonde mentioned that as a planner, one of the ways he would engage in community consultation was to host open houses that offered anything from quick surveys to colouring sheets. However, usually the person in attendance would be a member of the community over 50 years old. Lalonde said that this was usually the case as this demographic has the time to go and attend an open house on weekdays.
“But at the same time, it speaks volumes to the lack of actually trying to attract younger people who are going to live in these neighbourhoods,” he said. “I don’t necessarily know whether it’s a lack of ability to communicate with [young people], or if it’s just a time constraint — running an open house from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon during the school year is hardly going to help anybody.”
A simple solution, Lalonde said, would be to open later in the day or on weekends, or to create different means of actually engaging with people like a youth council, noting the youth council that Ward 5 councillor George Chahal uses to engage with young people in the city.
Lalonde is hopeful that by altering the way in which municipal governments interact with the youth population in the city, that young voices in post-secondary can be heard and utilized at city council.
On topics like the Green Line and the Entertainment District, he is in favour of them, despite the big spending the city has done in the middle of an economic crisis — specifically with the Entertainment District. Lalonde said that there are lessons to be taken away from these decisions like building a space that serves a bigger community, as was done, in Lalonde’s opinion, with the Entertainment District.
“If we are going to spend the money, the way to do it is to create a community space that services not only a new arena for concerts and sports events, but for new commercial and living spaces.”
Lalonde encourages students to get informed on who is running in your Ward and to read about the individuals planning on making decisions in the future for this city.
“You’re the one who gets to live in the city, you’re the one who gets to grow up and enjoy the resources, you should really be engaged with how those decisions are made,” he said. “I strongly encourage everybody to take a couple minutes out of their day to read about your candidates, learn about what they have to say.”
The municipal general election will take place on October 18, 2021. For more information about Matt Lalonde, or the other Ward 7 candidates, you can find out how to contact them here.