I have always been a strong supporter of direct-democracy through citizen-initiated referenda and accountability through citizen-led recall initiatives.
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek is the worst mayor in living memory and she is only a little over halfway through her first term in office. She is a prime candidate for recall as voters have realized Gondek was not who she purported to be when she ran for the job. There is buyers' remorse as Gondek lurches from one disaster to another while taxes continue to rise. Polls reflect a strong majority of Calgarians want the chance to fire Gondek as soon as possible.
With all that said, the current recall initiative launched against Jyoti Gondek is doomed to fail and may even actually help her.
To begin with, the bar to recall a civic politician is impossibly high.
More than 514,000 signatures from eligible Calgarian voters need to be collected in 60 days to invoke the recall. Anybody who thinks this is possible has never actually done real petitioning. It’s a slow process and takes a lot of work. To garner half a million signatures in two months would take a massive organizational machine that doesn’t exist.
The signatures required are not digital. They must be handwritten and witnessed on an official petition sheet with the name, address, and phone number of the signatory so the signature can be verified later. Many people won’t be comfortable sharing that information with a petitioner even if they support the cause. Many signatures garnered will be rejected later as well if the name or address isn’t legible, or the person’s residency couldn’t be confirmed. The petitions are checked when submitted. That means the real number required would be more like 560,000 signatures.
A hardworking, effective petitioner going door to door could gather perhaps 100 signatures a day. It would take nearly 100 people working full time hours, seven days a week for two months to round up the required signatures in time. Coordinating that many workers would require management personnel, transportation and some kind of office to ensure they aren’t overlapping territory. They would need to track where they have been to do second and third rounds in neighbourhoods to catch people who weren’t home. Petitioning in public places like malls, events and transit stations can be effective but it won’t be enough. It must be door-to-door.
To put it in perspective, only 390,000 voted in the mayoral race in the last election. Even if 100% of them were now opposed to Gondek, well over 100,000 more people need to be found on top of that number and coaxed into signing a petition.
It just isn't going to happen.
The legislation guiding citizen-initiated referenda isn’t much better.
The creation of the Recall Act was the final straw for me when it came to supporting former premier Jason Kenney. It was a cynical nod to those who voted for him based on his campaign of accountability and citizen empowerment. Kenney promised recall and referendum legislation to Albertans, then purposely crafted it to make it useless and impossible to invoke. He misled people when he promised the legislation. He had no interest in letting citizens hold their elected officials to account but didn’t hesitate to promise as much to win their votes.
The people behind the petition to recall Gondek are well meaning and I don’t doubt I agree with them on most things. Their efforts would be better spent putting pressure on UCP MLAs to fix the broken recall legislation. Once that is done, they can get to work. Otherwise, they are just wasting time and energy.
Further, when the petition fails, Gondek and her few supporters will claim it’s because Calgarians support her. It will be a public relations win for a mayor that hasn’t earned it.
Also, those who signed or worked on gathering signatures for the petition will have cynicism and apathy entrenched. It will have felt like a wasted effort and they will be less inclined to participate in the future, even if the legislation is fixed.
I hate crapping on good grassroots efforts made by citizens. We need to see more of it and I admire the gumption among those who have gotten the petition to recall Gondek rolling.
I must call it as I see it however, and this is an initiative that won’t lead to a productive outcome. I hope the folks involved redirect their efforts to helping Albertans getting the legislation they need. Then I can and will get fully behind recall efforts against politicians who have earned it.
Until then, they are just wasting good shoe leather.