For the last 20 years The City of Calgary has done an annual Citizen Satisfaction Survey. The survey asks Calgarians how they feel about The City’s performance, programs, services and overall quality of life in Calgary.
I’ll be breaking this particular blog article up into two different parts. First I want to talk about the Ward 12 results and how they compare to the rest of Calgary. Second I want to talk about how to make sense of this data while weighing it against some of the regular feedback my office hears from residents.
Ward 12 Results
As a whole, Ward 12 had a number of metrics that scored significantly higher than the city wide trends:
It should come as no surprise to Ward 12 residents that “Transit” emerged as the key issue:
The trend that Council needs to take note of is the views on taxation. In years past there was a higher proportion of Calgarians that would support tax increases to maintain or expand services. The 2017 results show a statistical split between supporting tax increases to maintain/expand services and cutting services to maintain/reduce taxes The Ward 12 results mirror those results:
Very few of these results should be a surprise. We have seen considerable investments made in Ward 12 communities over the last 8 years. These investments are setting apart Ward 12 as one of the best places in Calgary to live. The results also show the progress that needs to be made with regards to transportation infrastructure. Changing perceptions on taxation are directly related to Calgary’s economic performance over the last number of years. A lot of Calgarians have seen a few lean years in a row and are looking to all orders of government to effectively manage their tax burdens.
A few weeks ago I sat down with Jamie Duncan from Ipsos who conducted the survey. We specifically discussed the Ward 12 results and Jamie pointed out that many of the priorities that I have talked about during my 8 years on Council are clearly reflected in the survey responses. That was certainly encouraging to hear as I believe that understanding the needs of your Ward are one of the biggest aspects of being an effective Councillor.
You can view the full Ward 12 results HERE.
How do the results line up with the feedback my office receives?
My office has contact with dozens of Calgarians on any given week. I call these folks “callers” but contact can come in the form of an email, Tweet, Facebook message or a phone call. From my 8 years of experience, I can divide callers into 3 categories:
Concerned Community Advocates:
These callers generally have a very specific concern in their community. They may have exhausted other official channels and are looking to the Councillor for assistance. These callers aren’t generally looking to share their opinion on the newsworthy topic of the day. They want to see steps taken to make their communities safer, improve levels of service or resolve a specific issue. My staff work with these callers to try and find a satisfactory resolution to their concerns. These calls make up a significant percentage of the volume we receive.
These are some of my favorite callers because they mirror a lot of the discussions I have with people out in the community. They generally have an opinion on an issue, but they are looking to expand their own knowledge of the issue and understand why I voted the way that I did. These callers appreciate that many of the decisions Council makes have nuance and context that needs to be properly explained. These callers have a legitimate impact on how I make decisions in Council. By talking through the issues with this category of caller I often gain important context on an issue. I also like to think that the caller leaves the conversation with a greater appreciation of how the decision was made, even if they disagree with the outcome.
The Vocal Minority
These callers tend to be lacking in true understanding of the issue at hand. These folks generally don’t want to know my take on the issue, they are just mad as hell and won’t take it anymore. These calls often include some kind of ultimatum like “if you don’t do X, you’ll never get my vote again”. I respect their right to vent their frustrations, but loud voices should not be given disproportional weighting when it comes time for Council to make a decision. Being the loudest shouldn’t guarantee that you get your way; that’s not how a democracy should work. Often times these callers are repeated, and they make up the smallest percentage of volume that we receive.
One of the biggest challenges for any elected body is understanding the perspectives of the silent majority. The overwhelming majority of Calgarians may never send their Councillor a Tweet, a Facebook message, a phone call or an email. But these are the people who ultimately decide elections. So how do we ensure that the views of those people are effectively represented?
Council needs to keep things in perspective. If Council made decisions based on feedback we received through Twitter, we’d probably make some pretty unfortunate choices. Even a Citizen Satisfaction Survey need to be taken with a grain of salt. There is no replacement for getting out into the community and talking to the people who live there. That is why my team and I make every effort to get out to monthly community association meetings and attend as many community events as possible – that is the way you build a true understanding of how the majority feel about the issues within a community.
I’ll point to my last election campaign as a great example. 9 out of 10 people that I spoke to wanted me to find ways to increase funding to the Green Line LRT. But they weren’t as loud and as boisterous as the 1 who didn’t want to see that investment. So who do I listen to? Do I represent the majority view, or do I take advice from that vocal minority? And that is the real challenge of this job. I don’t believe I’m going to make every resident in Ward 12 happy with every decision that I make. But in every decision I make I do my very best to inform myself and make a decision that I believe resonates with a clear majority of the folks that have elected me as their representative. That’s an approach that I believe has served Ward 12 well for the last 8 years and will hopefully lead to more meaningful progress over the course of the next term.