Only 37 per cent satisfied with city council’s performance: survey

A new survey shows Calgarians aren’t particularly pleased with city council’s performance, though scores for individual council members are relatively positive.

A survey commissioned by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy and the Canadian Municipal Election Survey says just 37 per cent of Calgarians report being satisfied with city council’s general performance.

“There’s a real gap between their satisfaction with the performance of these individuals and their satisfaction with the performance of the institution, city council in general,” said Jack Lucas, the author behind the report and a professor of political science at the U of C.

“It may be that people think that the institution is kind of dysfunctional, but their own councillor is probably doing his or her best to make it better, not worse.”

Around 2,000 people were surveyed through a combination of random digit dialing and online surveys across all 14 municipal wards.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi received a satisfaction score of 56 per cent — a figure that is on par with his approval ratings in the lead-up to the 2017 municipal election.

Scores for individual councillors span a range from a low of 44 per cent for Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart, to a high of 70 per cent for Coun. Peter Demong.

The report was part of a larger survey carried out by Forum Research between Nov. 14 and Dec. 13, immediately following the plebiscite on the Olympics and during a period when fall budget deliberations were underway.

The average score was 60 per cent overall, but three of council’s longest serving members actually saw scores below 50 per cent: Colley-Urquhart, Druh Farrell (49 per cent) and Ray Jones (48 per cent).

“People are reasonably satisfied with how their city councillor performs,” said Lucas. “And the people on that list who have slightly lower scores, in general it has to do with the fact that opinion is a little more divided in their ward.”

Lucas said while survey respondents weren’t asked why they were satisfied or dissatisfied with their councillor, the reasons behind the low scores are likely a little different in each case.

Farrell’s case in particular, Lucas said, may illustrate the difficulty with a divided ward: Ward 7 is ideologically diverse with plenty of progressive and conservative voters — a characteristic that has borne out in some close election finishes for the seven-term inner-city councillor.

Lucas suggested Jones’ low score could be attributable to the fact the nine-term councillor was forced to run in a whole new district in the 2017 election following a redrawing of municipal boundaries.

Colley-Urquhart is more puzzling, Lucas said, particularly without more information from survey respondents.

Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart.

“There have been some events in the past year, most notably the trip to Antarctica and her absence from council during that period, which at least potentially could contribute to lower satisfaction scores among her constituents,” Lucas said.

Colley-Urquhart also staked out a pro-Olympic position ahead of the plebiscite that was decisively contradicted by her own residents on vote day. Around 62 per cent of voters in Ward 13 rejected a bid.

“If somebody has a really firm view on the Olympics issue and they found out that their councillor held the opposite view, I think it’s safe to expect that would have had an effect on their satisfaction with the councillor’s performance,” Lucas said. “They’d have a feeling like their view is not being adequately represented.”

Lucas said he believes overall satisfaction scores were based on three things: how a respondent voted in the 2017 election, what immediately came to mind when they thought of their city councillor and how they feel life and the economy is going in general.

Six councillors saw satisfaction scores above 60 per cent, including three of the four freshman councillors elected in 2017: Jeff Davison (69 per cent), Jeromy Farkas (64 per cent) and Jyoti Gondek (64 per cent).

Lucas cautioned that there isn’t a clear trend among councillors who received positive performance scores.

“It’s an enormously diverse group of councillors who have very good satisfaction scores. People who are known as real conservative councillors, people who are known as more progressive voices on city council,” he said.

Rounding out the top six were councillors Demong, Sean Chu (66 per cent) and Evan Woolley (63 per cent).

The margins of error for overall satisfaction are +/- 2.2 per cent for the mayor, and +/-2.3 per cent for council. The margins of error for individual councillor satisfaction scores are higher.

mpotkins@postmedia.com
Twitter: @mpotkins

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