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Recall Gondek group planned to launch its own petition before political novice did

The third-party group helping promote the recall campaign against Mayor Jyoti Gondek had devised plans to launch its own petition drive, as part of a broader mission to make Calgary council more conservative.

Project YYC had planned with other conservative political organizations to gather signatures demanding Calgary’s mayor be removed, says group leader Roy Beyer. But their drive would have begun later in the year, when nicer weather made for easier canvassing for supporters, he said.

Those efforts were stymied when Landon Johnston, an HVAC contractor largely unknown in local politics, applied at city hall to launch his own recall drive in early February. Since provincial recall laws allow only one recall attempt per politician per term, Project YYC chose to lend support to Johnston’s bid.

“Now we have to try to do door-knocking in the winter, and there’s a lot of preparation that you have to contemplate prior to starting. And Landon didn’t do that,” Beyer told CBC News in an interview.

Project YYC has helped gather signatures, created a website and erected large, anti-Gondek signs around town. It has supplied organizational heft that Johnston admits to lacking.

Their task is daunting.

According to provincial law, in order to force a recall plebiscite to oust the mayor before the term is up, they have two months to gather more than 514,000 signatures, an amount equal to 40 per cent of Calgary’s population in 2019.

They have until April 4 to collect that many signatures, and by March 21 had only 42,000.

Beyer criticizes the victory threshold for recall petition as so high that it’s “a joke,” and the province may as well not have politician recall laws.

So if he thinks it’s an impossible pursuit, why is he involved with this?

“You can send a message to the mayor that she should be sitting down and resigning … without achieving those numbers,” Beyer said.

a man talks into his webcam.
Project YYC founder Roy Beyer, from a Take Back Alberta video in 2022. He is no longer with that provincial activist group. (royjbeyer screenshot/Rumble)

He likened it to former premier Jason Kenney getting 52 per cent support in a UCP leadership review — enough to technically continue as leader, but a lousy enough show of confidence that he announced immediately he would step down.

Gondek has given no indication she’ll voluntarily leave before her term is up next year. But she did emerge from a meeting last week with Johnston to admit the petition has resonated with many Calgarians and is a signal she must work harder to listen to public concerns and explain council’s decisions.

The mayor also told the Calgary Sun this week that she’s undecided about running for re-election in 2025. 

“There used to be this thing where if you’re the mayor, of course you’re going to run for another term because there’s unfinished business,” Gondek told the newspaper.

“And yes, there will be unfinished business, but the times are not what they were. You need to make sure you’re the right leader for the times you’re in.”

The last several Calgary mayors have enjoyed multiple terms in office, going back to Ralph Klein in the 1980s. The last one-term mayor was Ross Alger, the man Klein defeated in 1980.

Beyer and fellow conservative organizers launched Project YYC before the recall campaign. The goal was to elect a conservative mayor and councillors — “a common-sense city council, instead of what we currently have,” he said.

Beyer is one of a few former activists with the provincial pressure group Take Back Alberta to have latched themselves to the recall bid and Project YYC, along with some United Conservative Party riding officials in Calgary. 

Beyer’s acknowledgment of his group’s broader mission comes as Premier Danielle Smith and her cabinet ministers have said they want to introduce political party politics in large municipalities — even though most civic politicians have said they don’t want to bring clear partisanship into city halls.

Although Beyer admits Project YYC’s own recall campaign would have been a coalition effort with other conservative groups, he wouldn’t specify which ones. He did insist that Take Back Alberta wasn’t one of them.

A man in a grey baseball cap speaks to reporters.
Calgary business owner Landon Johnston speaks to reporters at City Hall on March 22 following his 15-minute conversation with Mayor Jyoti Gondek. (Laurence Taschereau/CBC)

Johnston says he was approached by Beyer’s group shortly after applying to recall Gondek, and gave them $3,000 from donations he’d raised.

He initially denied any knowledge of Project YYC when documents first emerged about that group’s role in the recall, but later said he didn’t initially realize that was the organizational name of his campaign allies.

“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.

Johnston has said he’s new to politics but simply wants to remove Gondek because of policies he’s disagreed with, like the soon-to-be-ended ban on single-use plastics and bags at restaurant takeouts and drive-thrus.

He’s no steadfast conservative, either. He told CBC’s Calgary Eyeopener that he voted for Rachel Notley’s NDP because one of its green-renovation incentives helped his HVAC business.

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