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Meet your mayoral candidates: Jyoti Gondek

By Cristina Paolozzi, August 10 2021—

Calgary’s next municipal general election takes place on October 18, and 23 candidates are running for mayor this year. 

Jyoti Gondek, current councillor for Ward 3, plans to use the experience she’s gained over her time in city politics to bring the necessary changes she believes are needed for Calgary. Gondek is looking forward to using the skillset she’s acquired over the past four years as Ward 3 councillor, and being able to carry on the work she’s started understanding municipal administration and collaborating with stakeholders. 

Gondek said she decided to run for mayor as she believed that after her work on the city’s budget in November 2020, there was still a role for her to play to facilitate the internal changes that needed to happen — like evaluating the way the city assesses property, as well as looking at the revenue side of the city’s finances in a stronger way. 

Another consideration Gondek had when deciding to run for mayor was tackling the recovery effort to support Calgarians coming out of the pandemic. 

“We have heard from the experts that there are going to be mental health concerns that come up, there are going to be issues of employment, we are already seeing that the pandemic impacted women disproportionately,” said Gondek. “I really want to make sure that our civic government is supporting Calgarians wherever we can.” 

But the tipping point for Gondek’s decision was the first big anti-mask rally which occurred at the end of December of last year. 

“That was crushing,” she said. “And it was after receiving hundreds of people’s comments about how we can defeat this kind of thing together, that was it — that’s where I decided not only am I going to run again for council, but I’ll run for mayor.” 

Gondek spoke about the consultation she’s had with students both on the campaign trail and during her time as councillor, mentioning that to make Calgary a city where people want to stay, including students in this vision is critical. 

“Students are probably the most active and engaged members of the city if you think about the number of things they do,” she said. “But we don’t often give them a voice — we like to talk at students, we don’t like to speak with them and I think that’s been an incredible downfall.” 

Although many of the issues faced by post-secondary students concerns the provincial government, Gondek said that there are still things the municipal government can do to advocate and ensure students are supported in the city. 

Gondek mentioned that the cuts to post-secondary funding have been massive, and the recent hike in tuition has further alienated students from attending university. She also mentioned that the provincial government’s decision to stop COVID tracing and isolation measures also impacts international students who are looking to study at the U of C. Further, Gondek spoke about how the transit system in the city isn’t as effective as it could be. 

“I think we need to be stronger in our commitment to students,” she said. “I think we need to look at [students’ lives] and we need to look at the things that [they] were faced against and see what we can do quickly as a local government and what we need to do to influence others.” 

Gondek spoke about the recovery effort Calgary must undertake in order to bounce back from the pandemic, and she mentioned that one of the ways the city can support its young people is by reevaluating what a students’ education can give them. Currently, Gondek believes that post-secondary education in the city is defined and rigid, giving no room for exploration with the skills gained at the undergraduate level. 

“We need to do a better job at understanding how students can — for lack of a better word — sell their skills.” 

Taking inspiration from her own experiences, Gondek explained that there are many different uses for a social sciences degree, for example, but it’s important to now consider how all paths of education can lead to exciting opportunities, as well as listening to what students want — from the structure of their work weeks, to the kinds of benefits that they feel are important. 

“We have to get away from the traditional models of what professional education is versus a liberal arts education,” she said. “All education trains you to be a critical thinker and I have heard overwhelmingly that [students] wish to do a job where [they] feel like [they’re] but giving back. What we need to do as a city, is really embrace our past and bring it into the future.” 

Gondek is also passionate about public transportation in the city, being an advocate for the Red Line back in 2017. Initially unhappy when the decision was made to start the line to the south as she felt the ridership was more pertinent in the north, Gondek learned that a functional plan is needed to get the proper investments for important city-wide projects. 

“It’s little things like that that you learn once you get into this job and it allows you to crack the door open and fix problems because you understand how the system let you down in the past,” she said. “The Green Line for me is just a way to make the city more equitable and accessible.” 

In terms of student consultation, Gondek said she is in support of meeting with student leaders at the post-secondary level, to ensure that there is proper communication between the city and its young people. Gondek wishes to change the relationship government leaders have with students and have a more authentic view of who students are in the city. 

“We seem to treat [students] as a subset of people that are going to school and we forget that [students] are emerging from an experience that allows [them] to be a participating member of the economy,” she said.

As many post-graduates are moving away from the city searching for opportunities elsewhere, Gondek says that as one of the biggest employers in the city, the municipal government should make more of an effort to reach out to young people. However, Gondek also mentioned that the issue of getting young people to stay in Calgary might be a little deeper than just employment opportunities. 

“I think as one of the biggest employers in the city, we have a responsibility to reach out to [students] and figure out the types of skill sets we could be employing,” she said. “But I think the issue is a little deeper — if we don’t start to go into recovery and demonstrate that this city is a place to invest in, then it’s going to be hard to revitalize anything. We need to give students the feeling that this is the type of city that you would be proud to call home.” 

Gondek is excited about the work that student leaders have done in the city and said that she appreciates students who are advocating for “big, bold change” in the city. 

“I have to say, I’m very proud of local student groups for coming to the table and speaking up,” she said. “And that’s the kind of people I want voting in an election — I’m definitely about making sure I hear your voices and then show you that I’ve heard.” 

The municipal general election will take place on October 18, 2021. For more information on Jyoti Gondek or the other mayoral candidates, you can find their contact information here.

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