Earlier this week, first-term Calgary City Councilor, Jeromy Farkas, announced he would be running for mayor in the 2021 Municipal Election. Incumbent Naheed Nenshi has yet to indicate if he will seek a fourth term in office.
"I'm running because I believe in Calgary, and I'm running to give Calgarians something to vote for rather than against," says Farkas. "Now is the time not just because of the challenges that we're facing, but the fact that we need hope, hope for their future." He asserts that voters throughout the City need "an alternative to the usual, tired status-quo."
When asked what factored in on his decision, he cited the need for 'hope and opportunity,' in light of the hardship of COVID-19 and the 2014 collapse in oil prices. That same hopeful outlook inspired his family's journey to Calgary over half a century ago. Yes, as victims of Soviet aggression, his kin were robbed of the hope and opportunity they were later privy to upon immigrating to the City.
In his campaign launch video, Farkas recounts his first job: he waited tables at a Marlborough business and paid his student loans by working on a factory line. Times were tough then, and they certainly are tough now.
"Calgarians are among the most entrepreneurial, hardest working and resilient in this country. This City is filled with opportunity, and I believe if we shift to a model of putting our needs before our wants in local government, we can once again become the economic engine of Canada," says Farkas, a strong advocate for small businesses and for government to cut red tape and get out of the way.
Many know Farkas as the 'grassroots change maker' of Calgary City Council, who brings a body of work characteristic of fiscal conservatism, transparency and accountability. To name a few notable instances, he was among the few city councillors to reject a generous transition allowance given upon their exit from municipal politics. He advocated for a blanketed five percent decrease in councillor wages and has voted against every property tax increase for residences and small businesses since 2017.
While admitting his stances on policy and actions have not always earned him brownie points with the media, who have attempted to ostracize him from Council repeatedly, he responded, "At the end of the day, I don't report to the City Council. I don't report to the media. I don't report to anybody, but the taxpayers who elected me."
"I've had a very clear record of asking the City Council to say yes to responsible spending, yes to transparency, and yes to opportunity. We have an incredibly out of touch establishment, but it's just not accustomed to being challenged. So for my part, I have to stand up for my constituents, and more importantly than anything else, Be true to my work and follow through on what I said I was going to do. And that's what I've done for the past three years. And that's what I'm hoping to do."
According to Save Calgary, a local advocacy organization fighting for Calgary's everyday taxpayers on fiscal issues, property taxes have gone up by 85 percent since Mayor Nenshi's first-term. Annual spending has climbed to more than $4 billion a year, and spending on salaries, wages, pensions, and benefits has increased by more than 40 percent.
"Calgary taxpayers don't have lobbyists or political insiders at City Hall to push their issues or concerns," says William McBeath, lead organizer to Save Calgary. "We hold politicians accountable for their actions while in office - regardless of their political ideology. Many of our City Councillors claim to be fiscally responsible, but their voting records paint a very different picture. We have offered policy options that we believe will benefit Calgarians, and will continue to do so regardless of who wins the next municipal election. We believe that having a group that promotes fiscal responsibility and real accountability at City Hall has helped secure better outcomes for taxpayers on issues like stopping the Olympics bid, pushing for tax cuts, and exposing waste and mismanagement at the City of Calgary."
Farkas chimed in, stating, "I believe that Council needs new leadership to help us not only regain lost ground but the surge ahead to create new frontiers of opportunity for current and future generations."
"We need to be relentless in our pursuit of economic recovery and growth, creating new jobs across every sector. And we need to bring back honesty and integrity down at city hall with the leadership we can trust and count on as we recover from the pandemic."
On the topic of transparency and accountability, Farkas was clear that since his mandate in 2017, he has maintained an open-door policy with constituents, stakeholders and other third-party organizations. "I want to hear from everybody, supporters and non-supporters alike. We all have to contribute to solving our current problems. And we can't have leadership that is keeping a closed mind to solutions that might come from people that otherwise you might disagree with on matters of principles."
A notable departure from Mayor Nenshi's interactions with like organizations, Save Calgary viewed Councillor Farkas' remarks positively. "Our leaders should welcome criticism and dissenting ideas - it's an opportunity for them to correct mistakes and consider new alternatives," says McBeath. "This isn't something the current City Council has done."
He continues, "They've treated all opposition to their policies as a personal attack against them and doubled down on bad decisions until public outrage has forced them to change course. We would welcome a humble enough mayor to acknowledge other points of view and open enough to look at new ideas. We're excited that a competitive race for mayor will shake up the status quo.
Concluding, Farkas stated, "When I ask for support from Calgarians next year, I want to make sure that I've invested the time to listen, learn and truly ensure what I stand for represents every single Calgarian because we all need opportunity dearly. I'm asking Calgarians to make their decision based on my record and how much more we can achieve if we leave behind the old ways of doing things. Now is the time to build a campaign and develop a platform that speaks to the resiliency of this beloved City - the place I am proud to call home."