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The growing effort behind the Recall Gondek campaign — and who's involved

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek is facing a recall petition which is due to land at the city's election office on or before April 4. (CBC News - image credit)
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek is facing a recall petition which is due to land at the city's election office on or before April 4. (CBC News - image credit)

A citizen's effort to recall Calgary's mayor is facing increased political scrutiny after a document began circulating on social media this week suggesting the endeavour is being supported by a group with the stated aim of putting more conservatives on city council.

Landon Johnston, a local HVAC business owner, began an official bid last month to collect 514,000 signatures from Calgarians who want to remove Mayor Jyoti Gondek from office. When he launched the petition, he said he did it because he wasn't satisfied with Calgary's leadership.

Since the effort began, signs promoting the petition have sprung up across the city while volunteers have been collecting signatures in store parking lots and coffee shops. Johnston told CBC News he believes there are a number of parallel efforts underway to help him reach his goal, including his own and another group, which he knows as Project YYC.

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.

Tuesday, 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.

It lists 11 individuals as part of a "recall campaign core team." It includes two constituency board members with the United Conservative Party (UCP) and two Calgary "captains" with Take Back Alberta, a conservative political action group. There are also four people listed as "project advisors," two of whom are current UCP board of directors.

The group's campaign manager is listed as Roy Beyer, who was a Take Back Alberta Calgary captain and was co-founder of a group called Taking Back Our Freedoms. He said he didn't have time for a phone interview on Wednesday.

"The leaked doc has no semblance to the reality of our efforts, all of it volunteer based and 100% in support of [Johnston's] petition," Beyer wrote in a text to CBC News.

Beyer said the document being circulated was a draft produced for discussion purposes and included a list of names that "our team had spoken to and/or intended to reach out to for collaboration purposes."

"Since this document was produced, many things have changed. As the Recall Gondek campaign was poised to begin, some people said yes to involvement and others said no," reads a statement released by Beyer.

However, the document caught the attention of Gondek, who said the document has changed how she views the effort to recall her from office.

"I can't say that this is a solo effort anymore until I know for sure what's happening with the information that's happening today," Gondek told reporters on Tuesday.

"If you start as a solo act and you want to keep things in your control and you want to have your message delivered, you have to understand when you're inviting other people to the table and asking people to participate with you, especially when you're accepting donations, what you're trying to achieve on your own becomes compromised."

Laurence Taschereau/Radio-Canada
Laurence Taschereau/Radio-Canada

The one-page document that circulated Tuesday states that Project YYC was in the process of being incorporated as a Part 9, not-for-profit organization.

Various members of the team would be "paid, full-time" commitments, the document states, ranging from 50 to 60 hours a week, with some receiving part-time compensation.

Some say they're not involved

How accurate that document is, however, is in question. Some of the individuals listed on it have said they are not involved.

Cam Davies is listed as a "project advisor," but said he wasn't involved in a post on X on Tuesday. Alexandra Carlile, a Calgary-based political strategist who was part of the Conservative Party war room during the 2015 election, is also listed as a "project advisor." She said she met with the group in January but declined to work with them. Irma Roberts, who is on the UCP's board of directors, said her being listed on the document was news to her.

Steve Chapman, a long-term political strategist and campaign manager who has previously ran for council, confirmed his involvement in the campaign in an interview with Radio-Canada. Greg Hartzler, a two-term executive assistant for former Ward 2 Coun. Joe Magliocca, also confirmed his participation.

CBC News has requested comment from the other individuals named in the document.

Calgarians will have likely noticed billboards that have popped up around the city in recent weeks with the campaign's slogan, "Recall Gondek." Visiting the website on those signs brings a user to a website that lists petition signing locations and calls for volunteers. At the bottom of the page a statement reads, "Paid for by Project YYC."

Up until now, the public face of the effort has been Johnston, the local business owner, who has been collecting signatures to recall Gondek since early February. On Tuesday, Gondek asked how an "individual on a solo journey" could have the money to fund the number of billboards and other advertising that has been popping up around Calgary.

"We have no idea where this money is coming from because it doesn't need to be reported," Gondek said, referring to the fact that if a recall of a provincial MLA takes place, a petitioner has to disclose their funding. That rule isn't used for municipal recalls.

Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver has agreed that there are flaws with the new recall legislation.

Johnston says his efforts run separate

Contacted for comment by CBC News on Tuesday, Johnston said he's personally counted 26,500 signatures for the petition. However, that's less than a 60,000 figure he told Radio-Canada last week, and far less than a 100,000 figure he estimated in a March 7 Postmedia column.

"Twenty-six thousand five hundred is how many I've counted. But that means there's still so many more to count. It's just I get home at 10, 11, 12 o'clock at night, and then count them for like half an hour before I pass out," he said.

"I'm just the only person I trust with these … We're hoping to get between 100,000, 200,000 with one big final push here, but I mean, you know, we're gonna do our best."

More than 514,000 people have to sign the petition in person and it must be validated to result in a successful recall. That's higher than the number of Calgarians who voted in the last municipal election.

There are a number of websites associated with the effort to recall the mayor. There's a website that Johnston said is the only "official" website. There's a website that is printed on the billboards across the city, with the statement that it is paid for by Project YYC. And there's another website with a note that reads that the effort is "a non-partisan community organization dedicated to responsible local government."

X/Landon Johnston
X/Landon Johnston

According to Johnston, the diverging efforts represent one of the challenges with the recall legislation — under the province's legislation, a politician can face only one recall petition per term, meaning that parties interested in leading similar efforts piggyback on the lone effort available.

He claimed that Project YYC, already considering a similar effort, offered their support to gather signatures.

"They asked for money. And I said, 'How many signatures can you get?' And they said, 'We're gonna get so many signatures,'" Johnston said.

"And I said, 'Well here's so much money,' and I basically gave them a big portion of the funds I got, because that's not my skill-set. My skill-set's never been organizing anything."

Johnston said he gave Project YYC $3,000 out of the donations he's raised.

"When they said they could help, I said, 'Well, get me signatures, and bring them in to me.' The hardest part has been getting them back, I'll tell you that," Johnston said.

"That's part of the recall process that's been the hardest part, is that it can be tainted by anybody … it can be tainted by anybody who wishes to put my name on the petition, and do whatever they want with it."

Municipal political parties being considered

The Recall Gondek campaign is running at the same time as the province looks at introducing legislation to establish political parties at the municipal level.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has said she believes smaller municipalities may be exempt from those rules, but has stated her belief that large cities such as Calgary and Edmonton are already partisan. Such legislation would formalize what's already in place, she has contended.

A spokesperson for McIver declined to comment on the leaked document. A spokesperson with the UCP said constituency and board positions are volunteer roles, and volunteers are free to pursue their interests independently.

"The party is not involved," the spokesperson said.

Beyer, Project YYC's campaign manager, did not immediately respond to a text Wednesday requesting more information on the group's ultimate goals, its sources of funding, Johnston's characterization of his relationship with Project YYC, and to confirm the list of individuals currently working on the campaign.

Lori Williams, a political science professor at Calgary's Mount Royal University, said there could be concerns at play for those individuals who signed the petition, unbeknownst to them at the time.

"The information of those who signed the petition could be used politically in ways that some people might not be onside with," Williams said.

"The important thing here is that when people signed the petition, they probably weren't aware of this link. They probably weren't aware that this amounted to getting information to a group that they may or may not have any affinity for."

The petition is due to land at the city's election office on or before April 4.