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Calgary recall petitioner happy he met mayor, but 'disappointed' she didn't resign

Calgary business owner Landon Johnston speaks to reporters at city hall on Friday following his 15-minute conversation with Mayor Jyoti Gondek. (Laurence Taschereau/CBC - image credit)
Calgary business owner Landon Johnston speaks to reporters at city hall on Friday following his 15-minute conversation with Mayor Jyoti Gondek. (Laurence Taschereau/CBC - image credit)

Landon Johnston got his 15 minutes with the mayor of Calgary, and he came out of the meeting still calling for Jyoti Gondek's resignation.

A local HVAC business owner, Johnston, has been collecting signatures to recall Gondek since early February.

Earlier this month, the mayor agreed to a 15-minute meeting with Johnston to discuss his concerns. That meeting happened at city hall Friday afternoon.

Walking out of that meeting, and into — presumably — his first media scrum, Johnston looked around him at the reporters and microphones and said, seemingly half to himself, "That was interesting."

He said the mayor was very polite and friendly during their conversation.

"She listened to everything I had to say. The dialogue has been opened. It just sucks that it took 50 days and thousands and thousands of man-hours for her to hear my voice," said Johnston.

"I'm happy it happened, but I'm disappointed that she didn't resign."

Main issues accountability, transparency

He said his biggest issues with the mayor remain accountability and transparency, along with concerns about the cost of living, which he believes will only get worse when the federal carbon tax is increased April 1, something he acknowledges the mayor has no control over.

"People are losing their house. People are having to move out of the city because they can't afford it," he said.

One area where he and Gondek have pledged to work together is on changes to the recall legislation itself. Johnston wants it changed because the rules make it next to impossible for a recall petition to be successful.

Under the terms of the provincial legislation that created the recall process, Johnston must collect more than 514,000 signatures by April 4 in order to force the mayor from office.

That number is higher than the number of Calgarians who voted in the last municipal election.

"Her job has always been safe under this petition because the boundaries and regulations and thresholds were always impossible," he said.

For Gondek, the concern is more about the time and cost involved in dealing with petitions like the one Johnston started.

The city has posted job advertisements for as many as 10 clerks who will be paid between $24.96 and $33.38 per hour for four-month positions in order to count and validate the signatures Johnston will be presenting to the city administrator in April.

Following the meeting, Gondek said she would be willing to work with Johnston on drafting a joint communique to Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver.

"So that the minister could see both what it's like to be on the receiving end, as well as what it's like to be frustrated as the petitioner," she said.

Following her meeting with Landon Johnston, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she would be willing to work with him on drafting a joint communique to Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver about the province's recall legislation.
Following her meeting with Landon Johnston, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she would be willing to work with him on drafting a joint communique to Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver about the province's recall legislation.

Following her meeting with Landon Johnston, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she would be willing to work with him on drafting a joint communique to Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver about the province's recall legislation. (Laurence Taschereau/CBC)

She also thanked Johnston for meeting with her, calling him someone who is "compassionate" and concerned with the future of the city.

"He and I may not agree on policies, but I do think that we share a desire to do good things in Calgary," Gondek said.

Connections questioned

Johnston was also asked by reporters about his connections to the group Project YYC.

Earlier this week, the recall petition came under increased scrutiny after a document began circulating on social media suggesting it was being supported by a group with the stated aim of putting more conservatives on city council.

Last month, Project YYC was registered as a trade name with the province by Roy Beyer. A Project YYC Facebook page has also launched, calling itself a non-profit organization it says aims to make Calgary "a better place for all." It includes a link to a Recall Gondek website.

When a document attributed to them began circulating on social media, there was widespread speculation about what it meant. It included a list of names of people known in conservative circles. The document states the goal of Project YYC, in addition to supporting the Recall Gondek campaign, is to support the creation of a "big tent coalition" to elect for a "common-sense conservative mayor and counsel (sic)" in Calgary in 2025.

Beyer is listed as the group's campaign manager. He was a Take Back Alberta Calgary captain and was co-founder of a group called Taking Back Our Freedoms.

Johnston said he was approached by the group, who offered him help with his recall petition. He gave them $3,000 from the donations he had raised, which was used to purchase "Recall Gondek" signs.

Other than that, he said, he has no connection to Project YYC.

"They said they could get me signatures, so I said, 'OK, if you can do it by the book, here's some money.' And it's worked," he said.

In a statement released Friday under a "Recall Gondek" banner, Beyer alleged "partisan interference" in the recall campaign by both City of Calgary employees and members of the Calgary Police Service.

He claims the city has removed "lawfully erected" campaign signs across Calgary.

"The 50 or so four-by-eight signs were placed across the city of Calgary in strict accordance with campaign signage guidelines," Beyer said in the statement.

WATCH | Gondek speaks to Canada Tonight about the recall petition:

He also claims complaints about vandalized signs have not been dealt with properly by Calgary police and that police "intimidated volunteers into moving away from lawful public areas" where they were gathering signatures.

When asked to respond to Beyer's claim about volunteers being moved, Calgary police emailed CBC News to say they were "unable to locate a call matching that description."

Police said the sign vandalism remains an ongoing investigation.

The city's bylaw department responded to the charge that legally placed signs had been removed by saying that temporary roadside signs are subject to the Temporary Signs on Highways bylaw.

"We are aware of a number of signs placed by Project YYC that are not in compliance with the bylaw due to size or location and have either been removed or will be scheduled for removal as they are reported as part of our standard processes," the department wrote to CBC News.

Johnston says he has counted 42,000 signatures on his petition so far. When he was asked what he was planning to do next, after his meeting with the mayor, he said, "I'm just going to keep getting signatures."