Candidate for Ward 2
Jennifer Wyness ran in the 2017 civic election for ward 2 placing second, only a few thousand votes away from being your councillor for the last four years
She is always looking for ways to reach out and help others. She has extensive experience working with non-profits, public health and safety, and in public organizations. Having worked in public services, she has seen firsthand areas for improvement and efficiencies; and ways to provide taxpayers better services at lower costs. Jennifer looks forward to working collaboratively with the community to amplify concerned voices in ward 2 and Calgary.
Jennifer leads her life looking for ways to help others, whether it be through supporting mediation and conflict resolution in Calgary and area schools or helping manage facilities so families have access to essential services. She is passionate about public health and safety and takes an in depth approach to the opioid epidemic. Jennifer believes that strong management, creativity, and hard work can increase services and reduce costs.
Question 1: What work experience do you have that’s relevant to the role of a Councillor and how do you feel the skills and perspective you have gained will help you in your role as a Councillor?
I am a public relations and mediation professional. I have more than a decade of experience working with corporations, non-profits, and government organizations. Much of my work has focused on outreach programs and conflict mediation. Before working in communications and mediation, I worked in and managed public recreation facilities for almost 15 years. All of this has prepared me to serve as a City Councillor. Calgary needs—and Calgarians deserve— a City Council whose members work together to bring change. Councillors each bring differences of opinion and experience to the table. I think that’s good. Our City faces some major challenges and Council benefits from new ideas and a Council-wide commitment to working together.
Question 2: What do you think are the biggest issues affecting your ward are, and how would you approach being their local representative?
1. Community spaces. Ward 2 has fewer community spaces than most other wards in the City of Calgary. To develop and strengthen our communities, we need community centres, recreational amenities and other innovative spaces. Some of these can offer services and recreational opportunities that residents pay for. Others, like parks, can support arts and cultural events as well as free recreation. 2. Councillors’ office. Ward 2 often feels very far removed from the City’s core operations. A ward office would be responsive to residents’ needs. It would improve ward communications between the Councillor and Ward 2 residents. It would help connect residents to City Hall staff and issues. 3. Connected communities. Ward 2 needs to offer its residents more “complete” communities. Flexible zoning could welcome light manufacturing into our communities. Textile, technology and micro-brewery companies, for example, would provide close-to-home employment while strengthening the Ward 2 tax base. This would encourage the development of other retail businesses. To make this happen, Ward 2’s Councillor should be able to facilitate honest conversations with residents about where and how these zoning changes should occur. Those discussions must include a plan for transit and infrastructure.
Question 3: What do you think is the role of a municipal government? Do you think the City does too many things, not enough, or just the right amount?
I think the role of the municipal government is to operate a functional city[J1] . This includes finding a balance between too little and too many rules and regulations. This also includes providing a high standard of City services and the responsibility to implement a vision of Calgary’s identity that is supported by residents. I think the City has historically done a fairly good job of balancing these issues. I have some concerns that some projects were recently pushed ahead due to concerns about how the Council might change after Oct. 18. I am also concerned that the City tends to do a poor job communicating about—and improving on—the everyday issues that impact Calgarians. Transit, snow removal, waste management and faster turnaround times for applications and paperwork at City Hall have direct effects on residents’ lives. What I mean here is that first and foremost, City services need to be effectively delivered. Residents want bang for their buck—and reliable delivery of quality services. I think the next Council will need to spend some time refocusing on City services even as they manage the large infrastructure projects that were approved by the previous Council.
Question 4: Do you think property taxes are too high, too low, or just about right?
I understand that property taxes are difficult for people to manage when our economy is suffering. I also believe it’s important to look past property tax grievances and understand that lower City taxes often lead to higher service fees OR fewer services (police, fire, road and sidewalk maintenance, for example). I do see benefits to reviewing how money is spent at City Hall. I also see opportunities to review how the City spends money and how it can find value. Innovative budgeting, for example, could incentivize departments to save money that could be used to lower taxes or service fees.
Question 5: Over the next four years, should the City spend less in absolute terms, increase spending but by less than the rate of inflation and population growth, increase by the rate of inflation and population growth, or increase faster than the rate of inflation and population growth?
The difficult issue here is inflation, which is very difficult to predict over the span of a four-year budget. I think it’s valuable to harken back to what the City can control: a) how money is spent and b) how the City calculates value for dollars spent. Overall, the City needs to be adaptable, flexible, and have an ability to leverage partner investments. There may be areas where spending more money attracts additional revenues from other partners, including private and public investments. Leveraging our tax dollars to bring more outside investment to Calgary will help create jobs, improve Calgary’s economy and strengthen the tax base. The City should also explore ways to improve the value and return to taxpayers.
Question 6: During the introduction of City Charters a few years ago there was a lot of debate about new taxation powers for the big cities. Would you support the City being given any additional taxation powers by the Province? If so, what taxation powers should the City have?
I would support this change, in part because Calgary is a popular destination for tourists. The opportunity to charge a hotel tax or tourist levy would bring in additional revenues and not put added burdens on Calgarians. Tourists are charged PST in other provinces. Here, they could pay a similar tax, but with the funds staying in Calgary. This would bring in more City revenue without being a deterrent to tourists.
Question 7: The City often claims that they’ve found savings in various budgets, but instead of actually cutting spending, they just put the savings into a reserve account and then spend that money on other things. If there’s money left over at the end of a financial year, do you think that money should be saved up by the City to spend in future years? Or should it be returned automatically to taxpayers the following year through some kind of rebate?
Saving for a rainy day to provide tax rebates to small businesses and homeowners has been effective. Over the past four years, the City has drawn on these reserves to keep tax rates lower. I do think there are areas of the city, such as Ward 2, that could benefit from those dollars being invested into community spaces. This would improve our communities and help create jobs. That said, I think it’s important to acknowledge where the surplus revenues come from. Some come from fees, corporate dividends, reserve interest earnings, increased government transfers, etc., and not from taxes. I am not prepared to say that taxes should be reduced at the expense of increased user fees. That might not be the best outcome.
Question 8: Everyone says they support affordable housing, but what does that term mean for you? Do you think the City should be subsidizing housing for lower-income residents? Or focused on keeping the cost of all housing from getting out of control? Or perhaps some combination of the two? If so, how?
It comes down to balance. The City needs to make sure people have a roof over their heads. Homeless shelters are more expensive than affordable housing. Calgary has a legacy of trying to make progress on this issue—and I see value in continuing to leverage City partnerships on this issue. Initiatives to provide affordable housing need not compromise the ability developers need to provide the homes the market demands. Calgary has a national reputation for reasonable market housing prices and there is great value in that. The bottom line is that healthy cities support a range of income earners. We need to make sure people can get the homes they want to live in, without creating a situation where taxes get out of hand. In addition to looking at density in the inner city, Calgary needs to make sure its new and existing communities have affordable access to City services. There are a lot of tradeoffs when it comes to development—and my goal, once elected, is to work for balance.
Question 9: The Calgary Metropolitan Region Board is currently debating their Growth Plan for the Calgary region. What do you think about the plan? Do you think we should be limiting development in certain parts of the region? If so, are you worried about how that will affect housing affordability?
I think planning is critical—and complicated. This is a difficult area to strike a balance. Too much emphasis on new development can lead to the under-servicing of existing communities; too little new development can push up housing prices across Calgary. Overall, I think Calgary wants to encourage industrial and residential development. Without it, people will move to bedroom communities and commute to Calgary jobs. They will use Calgary services without paying to support them. I think the best idea is to allow new Greenfield developments to be approved at a more consistent and slower pace. Instead of 14 communities all at once, we should be able to approve one or two at a time, perhaps over more frequent intervals. This will be more sustainable over longer periods. Consistency and reliability of city hall would benefit everyone.
Question 10: There’s been a lot of debate about the City’s new “Guidebook for Great Communities”. What do you think about the Guidebook? What do you think should be the split between greenfield and established community growth for new housing? Should the City have a specific target? Should this be determined by market demand?
New communities already follow the principals outlined in “The Guidebook.” It is not an issue for Ward 2. I do think we need to look at providing more flexibility when zoning and allowing more mixed-use zoning. If we develop more complete communities, this will reduce the cost of managing our City and services, and improve delivery. At the moment new communities are not providing an environment where people can do the things they want close to home.
Question 11: When the City voted to approve four projects - the Event Centre, the BMO Centre expansion, the Arts Commons transformation, and the Foothills Fieldhouse - they did so against the advice of the City’s own CFO, who said the City could only afford one of them. Do you think that was the right move? Why? If, as the City continues through the process with each of these projects, it becomes obvious that the City’s CFO was correct, and Calgarians can only afford one of these projects, which would you choose?
I think that was the wrong move. I think the Art’s commons renovation came with additional Federal funding, so I would support that. Building on my support for that project, I think that the opportunity to leverage federal funds would allow Calgary to take on another project. The other project I would look at completing would be the Fieldhouse. These two projects will get the most use and are not easily substituted. The Events Centre and BMO expansion already have substitutes in the Saddledome and BMO centre. Further to that, the BMO Centre would be at the bottom of my list. Climate change and more than a year’s experience with a global pandemic leads me to believe that the world is moving away from travel-based conventions. Calgary already have two convention centres.
Question 12: Do you support the construction of the Green Line LRT as currently envisioned by the City, would you prefer changes be made to the plan (and if so, what changes), or would you prefer to cancel the project entirely? If, as a Councillor, you find out that - despite all the previous assurances - there has in fact been another cost overrun on the Green Line, what would you do?
I support the Greenline. If I were to make any change it would be to utilize the existing Centre Street Bridge and turn it back into a train bridge. This would save City money and expedite the Greenline North. I also think it would improve opportunities to develop Calgary’s Chinatown as a destination area. Obviously, Calgary would lose a car bridge. There are two reasons why I this is okay. First, the Greenline would greatly reduce car traffic down Centre Street. Secondly, building a car bridge elsewhere or expanding an existing car bridge might be more beneficial to the flow of traffic. As I don’t have access to all of the engineering details, I’m not sure my idea is possible. The path through downtown might have utilities or tunnelling implications that made this unfeasible. If it could be done, it would save a lot of money and retain green space near downtown. I see value in moving ahead with the Greenline plan as quickly as possible. Project delays have already proven costly. The City needs to build what it can. I suspect the City will likely need to go to its project partners and negotiate additional investments. This is the unfortunate result of delaying action.
Question 13: What do you think is the best approach to attract businesses to Calgary? Direct incentives to specific businesses, paid for by slightly higher taxes, or lower tax rates for all businesses?
The cost of doing business includes taxes, but I do not agree with an either-or approach. Businesses go where they can make money. They also go where they find talent. Lower taxes for all businesses is not a foundational attraction. If it was, Calgary wouldn’t be fighting for business investment with higher-tax jurisdictions. The City needs to listen to the needs of the businesses it wants to attract and design our City to provide an environment where businesses thrive.
Question 14: Should the City be in the business of operating golf courses, or should they privatize or sell them off? How about garbage collection or other services?
Again, this requires more than an either-or response. The City needs to figure out what Calgarians expect in terms of City services and amenities—and then work to deliver those services in cost-effective ways. In some instances, the City might learn that its residents no longer value certain services or amenities, or are open to having those services or amenities managed by an private contractor. It’s clear that people don’t want highly-fluctuating bills or dramatic shifts in the level of service offered. Where private contractors can provide public service, it makes sense of the City to pursue its options.
Question 15: Should we defund the police? If yes, what exactly does defunding the police mean to you? If not, what should the City do to address both historical and ongoing injustices?
We should look to take non-police work away from police. If the police are responding to calls that require a person with different training (mental health, for example), the City should look at other options. This might require reallocation from the police budget, or other budgets. When it comes to issues related to historical injustices, the City should educate staff and contractors. (Reconciliation, for example, is not possible without truth and education first.) If people don’t know about the issues or historical context, they will not be skilled in managing the issues. This goes across the entire organization of the City of Calgary.
Question 16: Do you support the City’s mandatory vaccination policy for City employees?
Yes. We live in a unique time characterized by a global pandemic. People all over the world need to come together to fight COVID-19. The City of Calgary must be part of that effort. If people are uncomfortable with getting a vaccine or unable to, they can get frequent testing and proof. Those are appropriate accommodations.
Question 17: Council recently dropped residential speed limits to 40km/h, do you agree with that decision, and what do you think about the proposal by some to go further and drop it to 30km/h in the future?
I don’t think most people don’t mind the 40km/h limit on residential streets. I think the City should stay here for a bit and see the impact, collect data, and review the decision before proceeding further. I understand that other jurisdictions are enacting similar speed laws rooted in their response to climate change. I think those experiences should also be factored into future decisions by the City of Calgary.
Question 18: For years there has been an ongoing debate about the City’s public art spending. Some say that the problem is the selection process for what art is commissioned, while others are opposed to any use of public funds for art. What do you think?
Art makes a city livable and goes beyond what we see as “public art.” Art includes music, movies, design, and architecture. If we want to attract businesses to Calgary, we need to be an attractive city for the arts. Moving forward, I do see advantages to focusing public art spending on local artists.
Question 19: Serving as a Councillor you are responsible to both your local constituents and every Calgarian. How would you deal with a situation where you feel that the best interests of your local constituents in your ward conflict with what you feel is the best interests of the City as a whole?
My voice is primarily for the constituents of Ward 2. If there is conflict, we will need to open up communications and find a way for constituents and the City to open up dialogue around the issue. There will always be conflict for the Councillor’s office to manage. Making sure lines of communication are open is key to successfully navigating the issues.
Question 20: While the concept of a secret ballot is essential, many of our supporters have told us that they’d like to know the political alignment of their candidates. So, if - and only if - you feel comfortable saying so, who are you voting for for Mayor and why, and if you are affiliated with any provincial or federal political parties, which ones and why?
I am not affiliated with any political parties. I am not endorsing a mayoral candidate as I want to make sure we avoid partisanship and conflict in City Hall. I will look to work with the elected mayor and 13 other Councillors to improve our City, regardless of political affiliations. My campaign has focused on Connection. It’s something I take very seriously—and look forward to promoting at the City Council level. You talk, I listen. We talk, we learn.