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VP of Rural Municipalities of Alberta calls out bad behaviour as Calgary mayor booed

The vice-president of Rural Municipalities of Alberta is calling out the booing directed Calgary’s mayor at a Flames game on Saturday night.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek was at the Saddledome to celebrate the Flames’ South Asian Celebration Night. Many in the crowd responded to her presence with a loud chorus of boos. Gondek herself is of South Asian descent.

“Nobody deserves to be treated like that. My heart does go out to the mayor of Calgary,” said Kara Westerlund on Sunday.

Westerlund also said there’s been a decline in civility since she started  working in municipal affairs as a councillor in Brazeau County 15 years ago.

“I absolutely don’t mind constructive criticism, but when people are just downright rude and swearing at you in front of your children it’s quite difficult. It’s hard on your family too,” she said.

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Westerlund said people are often mad at the situation they’re facing, not at her. However, like Gondek, she’s the most visible because she is a municipal politician.

“I just try and do my best and listen and help them navigate the issue they’re facing,” Westerlund said.  “We are the ones grocery shopping. We are at the local areas and at the local recreation facilities so we are the most accessible so we are going to get that type of behavior, unfortunately.”

As for the arena booing, Westerlund says dignity took a back seat.

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“Being a mom I would never, ever let my kids behave like that in public. It’s incredibly disrespectful. I try to teach them the best I can that we may not always like somebody and you might not always agree with them, but there should be a level of respect when you’re dealing with those situations,” Westerlund said.

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Sarah Biggs is a political strategist with Olsen + Biggs who worked on Gondek’s campaign in 2021.

She’s concerned a lack of decorum is driving people away from running for office.

“We are not attacking ideas anymore. We are just straight up attacking human beings now,” Biggs said.

“We have lost the capability of having discussion and respectful discourse and we are at the point now where a lot of people feel like they need to take the hammer to make their point and belittle people.”

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Biggs added the booing is coming from people who disagree with Gondek’s policies and decisions.

Gondek was elected the mayor of Calgary in 2021, gathering 45.13% of the vote. In December, a ThinkHQ poll indicated her approval rating had slipped to 30 per cent, a six per cent drop since compared to the ThinkHQ poll in June 2023.

Gondek is also facing a recall campaign.

“At the end of the day, I don’t agree with some of the policies and decisions that Mayor Gondek has made, and I worked on her campaign and I will disagree with her. Am I going to call her names and show up at the Dome just to boo her? No, because I know better and Calgary at the end of the day, we should’ve known better,” the political strategist said.

“Disagree with them, but in a civic way. Do not humiliate them in the public space.”

Westerlund agrees the drop in decency is making people shy away from local councils, adding that even her own family is questioning her.

“They’ve asked on more than one occasion, ‘Why Mom are you still doing this after the way people treated you?’  I try to teach them, that not everybody is out there to be mean or malicious. If people are upset, they have a right to do so. Sometimes they don’t have the skills to channel that anger in the right direction,” Westerlund said.

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Westerlund’s advice is to be strong but listen to people and understand where they’re coming from.

“If people are unhappy with how things are going, maybe as difficult as this is to say, you might want to sit back and take a look in the mirror and ask yourself ‘what am I doing to get that type of reaction from people,’ ” Westerlund said.

Biggs is also encouraging people to continue to put their names forward to run in municipal politics.

“We need good local leaders. Put your things on social media you need to put (there), and ignore the noise. We need good people at the table. Be as strong as you can and just really try to focus on your campaign,” Biggs said.

Rishi Nagar, news director for multicultural radio station Red FM, told Global News the Flames’ tribute to the South Asian community in Calgary was also ruined by the booing.

“It is very disappointing! What a tribute did the Flames give to the South Asians and look what the Flame supporters did last night! The young Canadian girl who designed the logo, the boy who gave the music…What a proud moment it was for them and what did they get in return?” he said in a statement.

“People flew in from Toronto and Vancouver to watch this historic moment. The mayor herself must be proud of the moment but the treatment they got from the ‘fans’ was dismal and very disappointing! The whole South Asian community was on cloud nine but the booing threw them to the dust!”

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Global News reached out to Mayor Jyoti Gondek and the Calgary Flames with requests for comment but did not receive replies in time for publication. A response will be added once one is received.

&© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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