How many candidates? Yikes! Where Calgary voters are getting municipal election information

Ask a Calgary voter about the upcoming municipal elections, and you’re likely to get a sheepish look.

The vote is just over two weeks away. But COVID is again dominating headlines, the federal vote is just past, and the long list of candidates in some races can be daunting. Many voters still have little idea who they’ll vote for.

That’s what CBC Calgary heard as we talked with voters in the far northwest and east parts of the city this week. So we sought out voters from the breadth of the political spectrum to hear how they’re finding their information.

Peter Breedveld lives in Bowness. He says his favourite technique is to find a candidate forum — but not something in-person or live.

“What I end up doing is I watch the debate after it’s done. Then I fast forward over the candidates I’m not interested in,” says Breedveld with a chuckle.

The retired high school teacher just started searching this week. He says he narrowed his choice to two Ward 1 candidates who he thinks seem fiscally responsible — Chris Blatch and Steve Webb. 

Neither was registered for Monday’s Ward 1 debate so he reached out and suggested they join.

Peter Breedveld narrowed his search to two candidates stressing fiscal responsibility in Ward 2. (Submitted by Peter Breedveld)

Many organizations across the city have been hosting debates for the mayoral race. Fewer focus on the wards.

CBC Calgary is embedding recorded debates on our ward profile pages. If there’s a recording we’re missing, email calgarynewstips@cbc.ca with the details. 

Those pages also have details on the wards, survey results on some top local issues and links to candidate bios. More interviews and analysis is on CBC’s radio shows and TV News at 6.

Checking out endorsements

Another option for voters choosing a candidate is to use one’s networks. Friends talk with friends, and more formally, many industry and non-profit groups try to help members by questioning candidates and sharing the information.

Adrita Haque, a professional engineer who volunteers with Calgary Climate Hub, has been in the thick of that. She’s been helping Calgary Alliance for the Common Good organize ‘coffee with a candidate’ meetings, but mostly in the central wards where most volunteers live.

But Haque lives in the northwest, Ward 2. So after all that work, she still hasn’t met her own candidates. She scanned the websites.

“I don’t feel super confident in any of the candidates,” said Haque. “But I’m not going to throw away a vote. I’ve been looking at endorsements from organizations such as Look Forward Calgary and Calgary’s Future as well as talking with friends in those circles.”

Adrita Haque plans to review endorsements to help her decide. (Elise Stolte/CBC)

Calgary’s Future is supported by local labour organizations; Look Forward Calgary is a membership-based organization led by urban planner Peter Meadows. Both have lists of candidates online.  

If you check the Elections Calgary website, you’ll find more. The other two organizations that are registered with the city and endorse multiple candidates are Lead Calgary and RRPAC (Responsible Representation Political Action Committee).

Lead Calgary says it’s focusing on fiscal responsibility; RRPAC was founded by outgoing councillor Shane Keating. It says endorsements are based on their judgment of a person’s ability to solve problems and build relationships.

There are other organizations offering candidate endorsements that are not registered as a political action committee.

But all of that still requires the computer.

Wine and a candidate

Varsity resident Tara Ramsey’s path was more social. She threw a garden party in August for her favourite mayoral candidate, and says it turned into a good, frank discussion. 

A retiree with a dog-walking business, she connected with Jyoti Gondek’s team, invited 15 book club members and friends, then set up chairs in the shade and made name tags. 

Tara Ramsey hosted a garden party for the mayoral candidate she prefers. (Tara Ramsey)

It was great, she says. “I would do it again. I didn’t feel awkward inviting people; everybody who came was pretty enthusiastic and not necessarily about (the candidate).

“I think it was really, really personal.”

But is it too late to organize something like that if you want to judge a candidate in person? I reached out to strategists with several high-profile campaigns. Two got back to me.

‘Candidates want to engage’

These parties, or Zoom-calls with a candidate, are a new form of old-school politicking that campaign strategists say surged back into popularity about 10 years ago. It was popular again this campaign. 

Stephen Carter, who’s helping with four campaigns including Gondek’s, said most candidates welcome the chance to meet with a small group of neighbours, but they have more time for that early in the campaign.

At this point, candidates need to focus on finding and confirming voters, not spending time with people just “kicking tires,” he says. Candidates are door-knocking, in part because that’s still the best way to find people willing to put up a lawn sign, Carter says, and are also checking to ensure confirmed supporters will head out to vote.

Kelley Charlebois, who is helping Jeff Davidson run for mayor, said they also did garden parties earlier this year. But with COVID now making it difficult to connect in person, the campaign put a priority on replying to individual messages and emails.

“People should know all candidates want to engage and want to share why they’re running and what their positions are,” he said. 

“We know the vast majority of people haven’t made up their minds.… I think everybody should take it upon themselves to get informed and then vote. If they get informed, they’ll make the right choice for them.”

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