Calgary councillors able to get help paying for home security

With no sign that protests against COVID-19 policies will subside any time soon, Calgary councillors can get some financial help if they want additional security.

Council voted in favour on Tuesday of a proposal from administration where they could be reimbursed up to $8,000 to pay for professionally-installed home security systems, as well as get a $100 monthly allowance for monitoring.

It follows several recent incidents in Calgary, including a protest happening outside the home of Jyoti Gondek this month.

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While there have been routine protests outside City Hall and in many other public places around Calgary, many have felt the actions directly targeting the private residence of a politician have gone too far.

“Do we want a situation where our elected officials require 24/7 police protection as they do in the United States? It is a disturbing trend, to say the least,” said Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt, following the protest outside Gondek’s home.

Administration brought the proposal forward as an urgent item of business. After a closed meeting on Tuesday morning, councillors emerged to discuss it in public and hold a vote.

Ward 8 Councillor Courtney Walcott said this is in response to the changing dynamic we have seen in politics.

“I think the political landscape has been shifting for a very long time, and it has been increasing on a degree of what I would consider personal attacks,” he said. “Not so much a conversation on whether or not our jobs are changing, but a conversation on how people are starting to cross the lines between the personal and the professional world.”

The proposal passed by a very narrow margin of 8-7, with Sean Chu, Sonya Sharp, Andre Chabot, Raj Dhaliwal, Terry Wong, Jennifer Wyness and Dan McLean voting against.

Critics of the idea said it seemed to come up too quickly and also don’t think it is a good use of public money.

“I respect the concerns my colleagues have about safety, where I take issue is that this is another motion in a trend of motions that are not following procedure through executive committee. We send a message that we are prioritizing ourselves over our community,” said Ward 2 Councillor Wyness. “That was an administrative motion that was slapped together over the weekend.”

Mayor Gondek pushed back on Wyness’ criticism of the item, as she said the word “urgent” being used here is largely technical so as to ensure it could reach council quickly, and would not have gone through other committees anyway.

City Manager David Duckworth also added this was something they have been eyeing for some time and felt it was prudent to bring it forward.

“We try to act as quickly as possible,” he said. “There have been some incidents over the past couple of months that have been reported in the media. I can tell you that these incidents are expected to continue in the future and we felt it was important that time is of the essence. I did not want to wait to have this conversation with council two weeks from now.”

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The issue of using public money for this was also criticized by Ward 13 Councillor McLean.

“If we want to get some extra, added security I guess we would pay for it because we are compensated pretty well. At the end of the day, part of my platform was always just to be a custodian of the taxpayer’s dollars and to make sure they’re spent wisely,” he said.

Earlier in the meeting, council also heard about pay increases for them. The salary for councillors has increased to $115,100 and the mayor’s pay was boosted to $203,800. That is an increase of 1.5 per cent for each.

However, other councillors pushed back on the notion this allowance for security systems was a bonus to them.

“Needing security is not a perk. It is not a benefit,” said Ward 11 Councillor Kourtney Penner. “I think we owe it to each other to say you matter to me, you matter to this city.”

“This is not really about compensation, it’s about integrity of our decisions, integrity of our safety, and the integrity of our democracy from the influences that are coming forward. This is just our reality,” said Walcott.

The allowance for councillors is also completely optional, and will only be doled out if they so request it.

Ward 10 Councillor Andre Chabot said he would not support it even though he understands how homes have become their workplaces during the pandemic and they are exposed to some extra risks.

“Being as this is a place of refuge for us currently, where we’re required to do our work (from home), and I can understand why some members of council feel the need to have increased security. Personally, I don’t think I need that security,” Chabot said, as he also believed this was essentially a way to increase compensation for councillors.

There is some hope this can also assuage some fears people may have about entering public life, and the money can also be accessed quickly if emerging issues arise down the road.

“We are putting something in place for the safety of folks that are near and dear to all of us,” said Ward 12 Councillor Evan Spencer. “This is peace of mind. I foresee no need in my neighbourhood to use this, this is only if a situation arises.”

“I’ve had many discussions with people over the years, as a lot of us have, with those that want to run for office at any order of government,” said Ward 6 Councillor Richard Pootmans. “And the guff they put up with to run is often a discouragement. They worry about their family, they worry about the security of their family, they worry about their reputations. This is just an element that will facilitate to get involved in the public process.”

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