Jeromy Farkas, Jyoti Gondek and Calgary’s upside down politics

A lot can change in two years.

Subscribe to Sprawlcast on iTunes, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. A lightly-edited transcript of this episode is below, for those who would rather read than listen.

JYOTI GONDEK (OCTOBER 2021): Your new council will pull together around a common vision that makes us more resilient as a city. We will set the bar high to deliver on your expectations.

JEROMY FARKAS: For me, I think that I deserved to lose that election. I think that my view of the role of mayor was way too myopic. It was too narrow. And I think that I gave a hell of a lot of people a hell of a lot of reasons not to vote for me.

JEREMY KLASZUS (HOST): A lot can change in a couple years. It’s been just over two years since the last municipal election in Calgary. And it’s two years til the next one. In other words, we’re at the halfway point of the current city council.

So it seems like a good time to take stock of the past couple years. And a strange thing has happened since the last election. Calgary politics have been turned a little upside down in some ways.

Two years ago, progressives were rooting for Jyoti Gondek to defeat Jeromy Farkas in the mayoral election. And that’s what happened. But after losing, Farkas left Calgary, went into a kind of self-imposed exile, raised a bunch of money for charity and came back sounding very different than he did on the campaign trail.

I’ve heard from numerous Calgarians who voted for Gondek who have found themselves aligned with Farkas more recently—and disappointed by the mayor on files like the arena deal. More impressed by the candidate they voted against than the one they voted for. That’s a strange place to be in, and more than a few people have wondered aloud: What kind of topsy-turvy alternate reality is this?!

At the same time, some who voted for Farkas are also thrown by his recent statements and positions. There are many examples, but here’s just one. Here’s Farkas on Twitter to Councillor Dan McLean, right before council approved the housing strategy in September: “You gave the Flames affordable housing. Now please do the same for the rest of us.” And then someone quips in reply: “Saint Farkas… enough.”

In this episode, we’re going to hear from Mayor Gondek. We’re going to hear from not-mayor Jeromy Farkas. And we’re going to dig into what’s changed since the last election—and what's taking shape for the next one.

You gave the Flames affordable housing. Now please do the same for the rest of us.

Jeromy Farkas, September 2023

A battle of two contrarians

KLASZUS: Think back to the fall of 2021. I forgot how weird that election was. The pandemic had been grinding on for a year and a half at that point. And that election unfolded at a remove—distant from the warmth of human contact. It was the socially-distanced election. And you could feel it. There was a citywide fatigue. I chatted with former mayor Naheed Nenshi about it on election morning, outside the Bridgeland Market.

NAHEED NENSHI: I don’t know if it’s just me because of where I sit, but I don’t feel a lot of joy. In every other election that I’ve been involved in, there’s been optimism about something. Maybe it’s optimism about lower taxes. Maybe it’s optimism about building a new CTrain. But in this one, I just feel like there’s a lot of nose-holding among voters. I think that’s a shame because there are good people running for councillor, for mayor, for trustee, and we should be excited about the decisions we’re making for the future.

KLASZUS: The mayoral race had come down to two people, both of who had served as councillors the previous term: Gondek and Farkas. In the early going, Farkas was thought to be the frontrunner. He was the conservative, often aligned with the provincial UCP. And he’d forged a narrative of himself as an outsider who was taking on the city hall establishment.

Gondek was the more centrist candidate—a former university professor with a PhD in urban sociology. Gondek spoke often of trusting the experts, and regularly scrapped with the UCP on social media.

Campaign pamphlets from 2021. Photo: Jeremy Klaszus

Both Gondek and Farkas were contrarians. Both caused various headaches for then-mayor Nenshi. But Farkas took his acrimonious approach pretty far, even getting thrown out of council at one point.

LAUREN PULLEN (GLOBAL NEWS): Farkas did not apologize, and did not retract his Facebook post. So, council unanimously voted to eject him from the meeting.

KLASZUS: This all made for exciting fireworks. Farkas knew how to hog a camera and grab a headline. But when it came to being mayor—there were questions, even among conservatives, on whether or not he was up to it.

Before the last election, I asked Preston Manning about this. Manning is an elder statesman in right-wing Canadian politics. He founded the federal Reform Party in the 1980s and, more recently, was hired by Premier Danielle Smith’s government to lead a review of the province’s pandemic response. But when I spoke with Manning two years ago, he was on his way out of the Calgary Petroleum Club, where Farkas had just had a meet and greet with a bunch of the city’s well-heeled elites.

There’s a danger that you become basically a critic of other people’s positions.

Preston Manning, October 2021

KLASZUS TO MANNING: I know you’ve had some concerns about his first term, in terms of the way he approached relationships and administration.

PRESTON MANNING: Well, no, not concern—not just him, but anyone that is in a more opposition role. And for nine years in Parliament, I was always in opposition. There’s a danger that you become basically a critic of other people’s positions, and you find out that even if you put out alternatives, the media are much more interested in the controversy of being a critic than you putting out some new idea. And there’s a danger that you become a 'no' person, an opposition person—that’s your mentality.

And then the challenge is if you’re going to be on the other side, if you’re going to be in the government, if you’re going to head a civic administration, then you’ve got to make that shift to, how can you lead a positive, constructive operation? And I’ve had that discussion with him, and with a number of other kind of opposition-type politicians.

KLASZUS: After speaking with Manning, I waited awhile for Farkas to come out. When he did, he did something unusual for him. I’d never known Farkas to turn down a media interview. Quite the opposite. At city hall, he’d linger around the TV cameras, practically begging to be interviewed. But now, a couple weeks before the election, and with Gondek up in the polls, Farkas wouldn’t talk, and I found myself chasing him down 5th Avenue.

KLASZUS TO FARKAS: Did you get out of that what you wanted?

FARKAS: I would say probably requests about events would be best directed to the organizers.

KLASZUS: You won't talk about it?

FARKAS: I'm happy to talk to anybody.

KLASZUS: Well, how do you think it went in there?

[awkward silence]

KLASZUS: Alright, take care.

Jeromy Farkas leaves the Calgary Petroleum Club on October 4, 2021. Photo: Jeremy Klaszus

KLASZUS: This was something I hadn’t seen in Farkas before: fear. It was a lot different from his bombastic confidence as a councillor. He seemed to know how Election Day was going to go.

TARA NELSON (CTV NEWS): We have some breaking news tonight. CTV is declaring Jyoti Gondek elected as Calgary’s new mayor. She replaces Naheed Nenshi after 11 years, and she is Calgary’s first female mayor.

MAYOR GONDEK: We will set the bar high to deliver on your expectations. And we will remain accountable to all of you. Having listened to you over the last four years on council as well as the last nine months on the campaign trail, you have asked me to lead with a steady hand.

As we emerge from economic turmoil and a pandemic. I will ensure that we stay focused on a recovery that is rooted in economic, social and environmental resiliency.

Gondek gives her victory speech on October 18, 2021. Photo: Farkhod Fayzullaev

KLASZUS: In his concession speech, Farkas struck a very different tone than the one he had governed and campaigned on.

FARKAS: And congratulations to Mayor-Elect Jyoti Gondek. Thank you Jyoti for your tremendous service, and your incredible vision of tremendous potential that you put forward for our city—and that platform that you earned the trust of Calgarians to execute on. Your vision for a community of economic, social and environmental resilience beckons us as a reminder of the city that we’re so proud of, and we want to keep building.

KLASZUS: I heard a number of people say that if we saw that Farkas on the campaign trail, we might have voted for him. Where was that guy when he was on council? But he did get a little speechwriting help, as Nenshi told me on Election Day.

NENSHI: I won’t tell you who, but one of the mayoral candidates, and it would surprise you which one, sent me a note this morning saying, “Can I have a little help with my speeches tonight?” And so I gave him some advice on what he might want to say if he wins, and what he might want to say if he loses.

KLASZUS: Interesting. So he reached out to you.

NENSHI: Yeah, that particular candidate is very good about reaching out, actually, which would surprise most people.

I came into this role having very clearly stated that I wanted to build relationships amongst council.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek

Mayor Gondek on the past two years

KLASZUS: Since winning the election in 2021, Mayor Gondek has suffered from low approval ratings. Not just Gondek but the entire city council.

ADAM MACVICAR (GLOBAL NEWS): Right now, Calgary’s first female mayor sits at 38% support, with just 9% unsure of they feel about her performance. Council as a whole, not much better; just 37% approve of their performance.

KLASZUS: That was in March of 2022. But subsequent polls, including one this past summer, show not much difference. The mayor and council remain unpopular with Calgarians.

I sat down with Mayor Gondek in October, and asked what she considers her biggest accomplishment so far. She identified three policy areas: the housing strategy, the downtown revitalization strategy and council’s declaration of a climate emergency.

MAYOR GONDEK: I think we have proven the fact that by doing the climate declaration, we were able to draw $300 million from the federal government to green our fleet. So to have electric buses running on our streets in the near future. It was about $100 million investment from council, and $300 followed from the federal government.

Those are really the three big projects that I think of immediately that align with our vision and values as a council. So it has been two years of accomplishing some really big and much needed work.

KLASZUS: But the first thing she mentioned before all that was how this council functions.

MAYOR GONDEK: I came into this role having very clearly stated that I wanted to build relationships amongst council, and I wanted this council to be strong and very collaborative. And so some of the decisions that we’ve made have been unanimous. Others have been pretty powerful with a 13-2 or 12-3 vote. So I think we have all worked very hard to build those collaborative relationships.

We’ve tried very hard as well, to have good civil discourse, and we’ve tried to use process and procedure to the benefit of the public, so that we are debating things in a respectful manner, that we are being clear and transparent about what the decision is that we’re making, and that we take the time to explain the steps involved.

KLASZUS: This brought to mind the arena deal, which council approved unanimously. Council is putting up $831 million in cash to build a new arena complex—nearly three times what the previous council committed to in 2019. The Flames are putting up only $40 million to start. And then the Flames will pay back $316 million over the next 35 years. And I asked Gondek about this.

KLASZUS: Why this big an expenditure now?

MAYOR GONDEK: I think one of the significant points with the arena deal this time around is the transparency around how much it’s going to cost, and what the investments actually are. The fact that there’s no downtown community rink, and now we will have one. The fact that there are public realm improvements and public gathering places that are involved in this, and honestly, the infrastructure work that’s going to be required to make this project a go, that was not in the previous deal.

So we were on the hook, as the city, for those $300 million dollars to do the infrastructure improvements, to do the 6th Street underpass, and all of the work that’s needed. So I think what happened in 2019, and then was compounded negatively in 2021 when we had another decision point; there’s a finite amount of money, and we were trying to shoehorn a project into it. And I believe what we would have seen if we had stuck on that path is ballooning costs. And then we would have had to go back and redesign, right? And I think we would have just been in a situation where no one wanted to admit that that deal was not the right deal anymore.

KLASZUS: The transparency point was an interesting one to me, since the way this deal was done was so much less transparent than the last one. In 2019, the last deal was presented by city administration and debated on the floor of council, and then approved. This time it was hashed out behind closed doors. And I asked Gondek about the lack of transparency on this deal.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek, Premier Danielle Smith and Flames CEO John Bean announce agreements in principle for the new arena deal on April 25, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

I think the [arena] deal needed to be done differently to build the trust that was needed between the partners.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek

KLASZUS: The public didn’t get to see any of the discussion that we got to see last time, and see what are the pros and cons, and see the working out of this in public. And then you all emerged with this unanimous vote in favour. And I’m curious how you justify that, given the size of the expenditure, and the significance of it.

MAYOR GONDEK: I appreciate that question. It’s a good question to ask, why the difference in process? The thing that we learned, not only from that deal, but also from the Olympics, if anyone remembers that file—we are not at our best when we are negotiating publicly. And I understand that transparency is important, and we have to be honest with Calgarians about what’s on the table, and what’s being discussed. But there also comes a point in time where the trust that needs to be built between the parties that are at the table is incredibly important.... I think the deal needed to be done differently to build the trust that was needed between the partners.

KLASZUS: I was thinking back to the first term of the last mayor, and the challenges that Nenshi faced. The biggest one, or one of the biggest ones, being the flood, which was a very immediate thing happening. Water is literally rising, people being forced out of their homes. And it’s interesting to compare the state of the world, the state of the city in these two different first terms. You’re dealing with these more kind of slow burning crises that are erupting to the surface—thinking of the housing crisis, opioid crisis, climate crisis, all these things.

I was talking to a friend and he was like, “In a way, Nenshi had it easy,” in the sense that this big calamitous thing happens that requires an immediate response, and you show up and you respond to it—and it's very tangible. What you're dealing with is significantly less tangible. And I’m curious about the differences.

I think the things that we didn’t look at are now exposed to us. They’re laid bare, and it’s on us to deal with them.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek

MAYOR GONDEK: It’s an interesting question, and if I reflect on it... It kind of reminds me of when people who have ever experienced mental health issues, or have ever had to take a loved one into emergency for a mental health issue, people will say this: if you are physically wounded, if you are bleeding or obviously have something broken, it seems like everyone rallies around to help you, and they’ll give you the support they need. But with a mental health issue, no one can see it. And so, you’re not viewed as an emergency, unless you’d physically done something, right?

And so I think it’s the same situation. The flood was a tangible thing. You could see the water. You could understand the science behind it. It rained too much, there was a melt, and water levels were rising, and people were in some very serious and dire conditions. And that kind of tangible, visible thing, is a call to action. It behooves you to do something. And so everyone rose to the occasion.

When it comes to the really big and complicated issues that we’re seeing around public safety, around addiction, around homelessness, the problems are gigantic. Yes, the flood was big. However, there was going to be a point in time when the water dissipated, and then we had to rebuild. We are at a point in time where everything is coming at us all at once. And every agency must work together, every order of government has to work together, every business unit has to work together or we won’t get this right.

But that’s not how the world functions. We’re very good at silos, and we’re very good at specialized behaviour. And so, the things we’re addressing are just more nebulous, they’re more complicated. They’re wicked problems, if I can use that terminology.

So I think that’s what differentiates things that were happening previously at a local level, versus things that are happening now. And I think the other thing that compounds that is, we now have the municipal fiscal gap report that came out that shows us how a series of offloading of responsibilities by federal and provincial governments—now that we see them, and we’ve daylighted them—it shows us why we are in such a tough place as a municipality.

So I think the things that we didn’t look at are now exposed to us. They’re laid bare, and it’s on us to deal with them.

The things we’re addressing are just more nebulous, they’re more complicated. They’re wicked problems, if I can use that terminology.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek

The Jeromy Farkas Redemption Tour

KLASZUS: So that’s what Mayor Gondek has been up to. Jeromy Farkas has had a very different path over the past two years. After the election, he left town—and returned in dramatic fashion.

ADAM MACVICAR (GLOBAL NEWS): Farkas set out to complete the Pacific Crest Trail earlier this year, facing several challenges along the nearly 4,300 kilometer journey. Everything from sandstorms to frostbite, deserts and mountain peaks, all to raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters here in Calgary.

KLASZUS: Farkas ran and hiked from Mexico to Canada, raising over $200,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters. And he wasn’t done. Earlier this year, he set out again, this time closer to home to fundraise for The Alex.

TARA NELSON (CTV NEWS): Jeromy Farkas is halfway through an effort to summit 25 mountains in 25 days for charity.

IAN WHITE (CTV NEWS): He says he has regrets about what he did as a politician, and the trail has helped him learn some difficult lessons.

Jeromy Farkas on the Pacific Crest Trail. (Jeromy Farkas/Facebook)

KLASZUS: There are different perspectives on this. Many Calgarians are enthusiastic about Farkas’s charity endeavours, including many of the progressives who voted against him. It’s almost thrilling to be proven wrong about someone. Others are more skeptical, and don’t buy it. A friend of mine calls it Farkas’s redemption tour—a way to rehabilitate his political image for the next run. If you look at the recent history of Calgary mayors, we actually don’t have a track record of electing die-hard right-wingers, but centrists. Al Duerr. Dave Bronconnier. Naheed Nenshi. Jyoti Gondek.

In any case, Farkas is sounding a lot more like those people these days. He used to rely on conservative talking points; now you’ll hear him using progressive buzzwords. When he tells his story, for example, he talks about how he’s striving to “do the work” and “do better.”

If you’re going to set out on a journey of about 5,000 kilometers with just your backpack as sort of a political stunt, that’s just crazy.

Jeromy Farkas,

Former Councillor and Mayoral Candidate

Farkas recently started a new gig as CEO of the Glenbow Park Ranch Foundation, out at the provincial park between Calgary and Cochrane. And I spoke with him out there on a brisk October morning. Farkas talked about how he had leaned into being a conservative caricature as a councillor and mayoral candidate.

FARKAS: Well, there are a few pieces to that. First is probably youth and inexperience. So I was probably one of the youngest city councillors ever elected, and coming into that with a certain type of life experience, and a lack of life experience. It felt easy in the moment to say, well, I can just use what I learned at the campus conservative club. I can use what I read in these books from these libertarian thinkers to try to be that conservative choice. And that’s what I had campaigned on in my run in Ward 11, basically almost the exact identical colours as Stephen Harper signs, and deep southwest—very conservative parts of the city.

And as I grew more experience, I started to realize that that was a constraint that wasn’t very realistic when you think about just the day-to-day operations—what it actually entails to be a city councillor. A lot of it is municipal land use, it’s planning, it’s housing. It’s all of these things where if you were to sit in a room and start to think, well, if I’m going to do something I want to make sure it’s the conservative thing to do—it doesn’t really work out.

And I think trying to be that conservative voice that I had campaigned on, I felt I was locked into that. I felt that that was what my constituents were demanding of me. That’s what I had campaigned on, and I had to be that conservative guy. And to be clear, I do describe myself as fiscally conservative, socially progressive, live and let live. But there are some issues where I blew them up just from my own lack of experience.

It feels so fucking stupid of me in hindsight—opposing, say, the parental leave policy for Calgary city councillors. With some life experience it’s very clear to me that we want to attract the best quality individuals from a broad cross-section of life. For me, sitting in that room at age 30, not having kids, being able to sort of put my lens of how the world should work, that was not helpful in that situation. It was just lack of experience that ended up exploding that as an issue.

Trying to be that conservative voice that I had campaigned on — I felt I was locked into that. I felt that that was what my constituents were demanding of me.

Jeromy Farkas,

Former Councillor and Mayoral Candidate

But I would say that there’s a lot of what I did on council that I’m proud of. Let me frame it a different way. I think that what this council is demonstrating more than anything else is the need for sober second thought. You need somebody who is willing to question these plans, question the bureaucracy, be some of the conscience of some of these decisions, as we’re seeing play out as it relates to say, the arena, or housing, or other files.

But to your point about sort of the progressive perception of me and whatnot, I think that's why this is so challenging is that no person is either completely bad or completely good. So I think it's challenging for some people that only know me through sort of that conservative caricature, to all of a sudden think, well, all of a sudden I’m agreeing with this person. Is something wrong with me? Is something wrong with him? Is he lying? Am I confused about my own politics? So it's a very uncomfortable position to be in, but I think the reality is that nothing out there is as good as you think, or as bad as you think.

There are pieces to me that I think I’ve been able to tackle around ego, around frankly valuing people around me that think differently from me. And then, as to the question of whether people can change—I think absolutely people learn and they grow, right? There are certain mistakes that you make, things that you did when you’re younger that just absolutely make you cringe. But I think the necessary part of that is, you can’t just say, well that was then, this is now. I made mistakes.

I think you actually have to tackle what the behaviour was. I think you need to acknowledge perhaps the harm that that behaviour caused, either to other people, or to the rhetoric and the debate. And you need to identify how you want to do better going forward.

I think that’s why this is so challenging is that no person is either completely bad or completely good.

Jeromy Farkas,

Former Councillor and Mayoral Candidate

Farkas's self-imposed exile

KLASZUS: Let’s go back in the story. You lose the election in 2021, and then you go into exile, as it were. But a well-publicized exile, and for a cause, where you are fundraising for Big Brothers Big Sisters, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. And I find it very interesting how people interpret that. I have one friend who calls it the Jeromy Farkas Redemption Tour. And others look at it and are like, this is awesome! But I’m curious, after you lost, what led you to do that, and what it changed for you.

FARKAS: Yeah, so after the election, well we had a successful campaign in many parts, despite losing the election. Obviously, that’s the only metric of whether it’s a good campaign or not. But we raised a hell of a lot of money.

After losing the election, I had a lot of folks reach out to me and say, hey, the next time you run for something, I want to be the first to write you a cheque. And this wasn’t just attaboy moral support. It was an actual stack of cheques on my desk already filled out, paid to the order of whatever campaign. And a lightbulb went off in my head, and I said, you know what, it doesn’t necessarily have to be about politics.

Our family struggled with the loss of my grandmother, Elizabeth Ptycia, during the course of COVID and the campaign. I didn’t really feel like I had a great way to be able to recognize her memory, and to do something really big to really honour the type of individual she was. She always wanted to do something like the PCT or the Appalachian Trail, but growing up as a busy teacher with four kids, many, many more grandchildren, she was always very busy. But after her loss I figured, is there some way that I can do what I want to do, which is spend some time in the outdoors?

This was not something that was new to me. I’m a certified wilderness first responder. I had spent, up until the election, probably at least 300 to 400 nights on various backcountry trips and stuff like that. So this is something I love to do. This was not something that was manufactured or fabricated for the sake of a redemption arc. And bluntly, if you’re going to set out on a journey of about 5,000 kilometers with just your backpack as sort of a political stunt, that’s just crazy. That’s absolutely batshit insane! There are so many other easier ways to be able to get public attention.

One of the criticisms I received as well—was that a publicity stunt? Absolutely fucking yes, it was a publicity stunt because that is how you raise money. You don’t go quietly raising money. If you’re wanting to recruit volunteers and small donors, you need to have a public hook.

Was that a publicity stunt? Absolutely fucking yes, it was a publicity stunt because that is how you raise money.

Jeromy Farkas,

Former Councillor and Mayoral Candidate

Right-wing U.S. politics: 'That's not an instruction manual, that’s a cautionary tale'

KLASZUS: It wasn’t just life lessons Farkas was working through on the Pacific Crest Trail in the U.S. He was also thinking about what he was seeing in the political environment around him.

FARKAS: One of my takeaways from spending that time running from Mexico to Canada was spending a lot of time crisscrossing various red and blue counties in the United States, especially at the time of the January 6th hearings. So for me, prior to actually spending a lot of time in America, I looked at sort of these voices, like DeSantis and whatnot, relatively favourably. You think, well, these are people who are standing up for their conservative values and so on, and it’s sort of easy and abstract to think, well, this is what a conservative should be.

Whereas I was starting to realize the end game of some of this rhetoric and damaging politics was not a place that I wanted to be. And just seeing it play out with the uprising on January 6th, the insurrection, seeing some of the other legislation, like don’t say gay and stuff like that, my fear is that there’s a lot of sort of modern conservatives here in Canada and Alberta, who are looking at sort of that Trump-DeSantis playbook as kind of an instruction manual. Whereas, for me on the ground, I really felt a bit of cognitive dissonance. But it was a really good learning experience to realize, that’s not an instruction manual, that’s a cautionary tale.

It feels like we’re so obviously in a backslide around some of the rhetoric around trans rights, around the so-called parental rights movement.

Jeromy Farkas,

Former Councillor and Mayoral Candidate

When I came back from my trip, I was thinking more generally about, alright, given I still have a voice, I still have influence, what can I do to try to—I don’t want to say necessarily moderate conservatism, but I wanted to make a contribution in a way that bluntly was trying to lower the temperature after I’d spent time raising the temperature, and taking advantage of some of the chaos and the frustrations that people were feeling.

KLASZUS: Since he returned from his trail adventures, Farkas has been quite vocal on LGBTQ2S issues, especially when it comes to trans kids and the conservative movement.

When he was a young conservative activist in his 20s, volunteering for the Wildrose Party in 2016, Farkas talked about being bisexual and called on the party to champion LGBTQ issues. But it wasn’t something that he talked about during his mayoral campaign, and he says he regrets that. During the provincial election campaign, he spoke about it more openly—talking about coming out to his best friend as a child and being bullied by them, and even considering suicide.

FARKAS: It feels like we're so obviously in a backslide around some of the rhetoric around trans rights, around the so-called parental rights movement. And I felt that that was the moment to be able to share my story, and to more boldly speak out on stuff like this.

But yes, I am ashamed that I didn’t speak to this issue more during the campaign. I always felt conflicted about it because I didn’t want to be sort of tokenized to say: Vote for me because I’d be the first openly LGBTQ mayor in Calgary’s history. Vote for me because of all these things. Some people on my team said, well, this is going to make uncomfortable our conservative base. And that was a consideration, as stupid as that sounds. But for me, all I can say is, now that I know better, I try to do better.

And if I can speak to a more conservative audience and challenge them through commentary like this, through op-eds and stuff like that, I’m going to use that platform to try to pull the discourse into a more reasonable direction. One that, frankly, points us away from what we’re seeing right now in the United States.

KLASZUS: And how would you say that challenge has been received by that conservative base that was the engine of your campaign? You're kind of provoking that base in a way, challenging them. How's that been received?

FARKAS: Well, I’m trying to learn from my time in council, in that I’m probably a shit disturber by nature. I like throwing out ideas, hashing that out, having that debate. But I think that it’s important to pick your hills to die on, so to speak, pick your battles.

I wanted to make a contribution in a way that bluntly was trying to lower the temperature after I’d spent time raising the temperature.

Jeromy Farkas,

Former Councillor and Mayoral Candidate

For me, I’m trying to be a little smarter around it, around saying don’t just identify a problem, identify a solution here, right? Part of the problem with my behaviour as a city councillor is it’s so easy to poke holes. It’s so easy to be a detractor. It’s so easy to be a critic when the purpose is just to criticize. It’s so much harder to actually come up with constructive solutions. And that’s what I’m trying to do in my own personal and my own professional conduct. Sure, take shots every once in a while, but be prepared to come to the table with a solution. What can we do together to be able to make this situation better? And be willing to lead, and to take the hits.

But I would still describe myself as generally conservative, socially live and let live. And if it makes some folks out there uncomfortable for me to say “every single child should grow up with a family that loves them and a curriculum that supports them”—bluntly, I don’t have a lot of time for you. If this is something that’s going to cause you discomfort, the fact that anybody everywhere in Calgary should be able to live a great life, to be able to do what they want, to be who they want to be—if that makes you uncomfortable, then we might have to just part ways, right?

Is this all pointing to a 2025 mayoral run?

KLASZUS: You’ve talked about how you’re a shit disturber, which I think goes with the name Jeremy. No, I’m just joking. [laughs]

FARKAS: [laughs] Try to be constructive, right?

KLASZUS: Exactly—constructive shit disturber. But you love the political game. And so where is this all leading? You haven’t ruled it out, to my knowledge. So I’m curious how you look at the future. And we are two years from the next civic election, and that is a question—are you going to jump back into the arena?

FARKAS: Yeah, that’s always the flipside, right? It’s two years since the election, and it’s only two years until the election. Look, every politician is going to give you the boilerplate: haven’t made a decision, would be honoured to serve, will consult with my family and the community. Let me just be blunt with you. I felt that during the election and the results, I felt the message to me was not never. I think it was not now. But I also felt that it came with a hell of a lot of homework to do.

I think that I deserved to lose that election. I think that my view of the role of mayor was way too myopic. It was too narrow.

Jeromy Farkas,

Former Councillor and Mayoral Candidate

There are certain things about me, there are certain things about the timing of the moment, sure. There are certain things where we fell short in our campaign and our ability to speak to a number of issues. For me, I think that I deserved to lose that election. I think that my view of the role of mayor was way too myopic. It was too narrow, and I think that I gave a hell of a lot of people a hell of a lot of reasons not to vote for me.

Second, when I came back from the Pacific Crest Trail, I had a number of very—I’m not going to say easy, because campaigning is always tough. But if you’re parachuted in as a federal conservative candidate in southwest Calgary, you’re probably going to win. If you’re parachuted into a safe provincial conservative riding in Calgary, you’re probably going to win, even if the UCP was at a low-water support mark. Those would have been relatively easy political comebacks for me, and I know many people have taken that opportunity to springboard their services as municipal councillor to run for MLA or to MP quite successfully.

But for me, as dumb as this sounds, the trail taught me there are not many shortcuts worth taking. What would I have learned? How would I have improved, and what homework would I have done, if I had just said, alright, I’m going to run for provincial MLA, and then I’m going to contribute to some of these problems that I felt were plaguing us generally in our politics.

I need to show people that I can build teams, that I can paint a vision of a world, of a city they want to live in. I’m not at that place now. I haven’t had that track record of success where I can feel with confidence—going to the people and say, I’m going to bring you something different, and I’m going to bring you something better. Obviously I still have a ton of passion and interest in the political game. I have a huge social media and email following. I want to use that for, again, positive critiques. I want to engage in the debates and conversation in a way that actually makes a positive difference.

I don’t think you build a city on criticisms. I think you build a city on constructive criticisms, and a vision for how to solve those problems.

Jeromy Farkas,

Former Councillor and Mayoral Candidate

But I would say that I’d love to run again. I would run again in a heartbeat. But I feel that if I were to run again based on the same skills, the same vision or lack of vision in campaign, I’d lose again for the same reasons.

I’m still very interested, but I genuinely want to bring something better, something different, that people want to be a part of, rather than just again, I don’t think you build a city on 'no.' I don’t think you build a city on criticisms. I think you build a city on constructive criticisms, and a vision for how to solve those problems, right? And that’s what I’m trying to work through in terms of my political advocacy, through some of my professional work and volunteer work.

KLASZUS: And is it the municipal level that holds the most appeal for you? I find that interesting. Both you and Naheed—people said for years, Naheed is going to go federal, or go provincial. And it’s like, no, at bottom, he is a municipal politics nerd. He loves that stuff. Not that he doesn’t love the other stuff, but I just find it interesting that certain people gravitate toward that. I’m one of those people when it comes to journalism. I couldn’t care less about federal politics. Provincial politics is kind of interesting. But what’s really interesting is city hall. And I hear you saying that. You’re talking about having a vision for the city. So, is that where the gravitational pull is for you?

I need to show people that I can build teams, that I can paint a vision of a world, of a city they want to live in.

Jeromy Farkas,

Former Councillor and Mayoral Candidate

FARKAS: [pause] A hundred times yes. I think it’s a place where you can work together with folks, you can actually get things done. My critics or detractors will say that I never got anything done in council. I’m able to, just in my course of my daily walk or drive around the city, see things that I had a hand in, that I contributed to. That’s an incredible feeling, especially just seeing some of the work around community associations, work that they do, other projects within my former ward.

Also, just the fact that I don’t like being frustrated and angry all the time. We’re sitting here on a park bench looking out at a just fantastic viewscape of the Rocky Mountains. We see the sweeping hills of the Glenbow Ranch. I just feel so much more at peace in settings like this. I feel like I like myself more in settings like this than the partisan environment.

There’s still so much I have to learn and contribute to, and ultimately persuade some of even my progressive friends to give a little bit more of a care about the finances, and stuff like that—I think maybe sometimes meet in the middle. But these conversations are only the kind that you can actually have around a council table, ideally.

Jeremy Klaszus is editor-in-chief of The Sprawl.

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