By Amanda Stephenson, Calgary Herald
October 22, 2013
Featured image: Christina Ryan, Calgary Herald
With fewer than 100 votes separating the two leaders in Ward 1, candidate Chris Harper stated Monday night he would be filing for a recount.
With all polls reporting, Ward Sutherland was ahead of Harper by 85 votes in the tightest race of the election.
Harper said in addition to the closeness of the race, he has heard from voters in Tuscany who said they lost the chance to vote when they went to the wrong polling station and were turned away.
“So we have until Oct. 23 to file an application for recount, and we’re going to do that — absolutely,” Harper said.
That means the final word on the successor to Dale Hodges, who served this northwest ward as councillor for 30 years, will have to wait.
Before the final city-wide poll came in and with a lead of 82 votes, Sutherland declined to speculate about what it would be like to go through a recount after enduring such a nail-biting election night.
“I’m going to stay positive,” Sutherland said. “We’re still waiting for that last poll to come in.”
The race was shaping up to be a dogfight between Chris Harper and Ward Sutherland early on. Shortly after 11 p.m., Harper — who had been holed up with family most of the night — appeared in front of a supportive crowd at Hotel Alma, on the University of Calgary campus.
“We don’t yet have final results,” Harper said. “Clearly, it’s going to be a tight race . . . But I’m confident we’re going to pull it off.”
Sutherland, the 52-year-old former president of the Royal Oak Rocky Ridge Community Association, said the night was “quite the ride.”
“There’s a lot of tension,” Sutherland said. “We’ve said what we had to say to our volunteers and given our speeches thanking them, so that people can go home. Some people have to work tomorrow.”
For most of the evening, the lead flip-flopped back and forth between Harper, a 32-year-old business advisor, and Sutherland.
The closeness of the race surprised some observers — Harper placed second to the incumbent Hodges in the 2010 election, and has been preparing for this race ever since. He is an avid city hall watcher, and has strong name recognition.
“I care deeply about Calgary and making it a better place for everybody,” Harper said. “I absolutely love my community.”
But even though this was his first campaign, Sutherland said the race was “uncharted waters” for everyone. When 30-year council veteran Dale Hodges announced his retirement in August, it blew the battle for this northwest ward wide open and turned it into one of the races to watch.
Sutherland, who received the outgoing councillor’s endorsement, said Hodges’ support helped his campaign a lot.
“I got a huge reception from the Dale voters,” he said. “People said, ‘If you’re good enough for Hodges, you’re good enough for me.”
Sutherland said he believes voters have responded to his years of community and business experience. He said Ward 1 has a large senior population, and he has tried to listen to their concerns.
“Part of campaigning is knowing who your residents are,” Sutherland said.
Sutherland said older Ward 1 residents like his commitment to low taxes and his belief that there should be at least some restrictions on secondary suites. But he acknowledged he has struggled to match his opponent’s appeal for younger voters.
“They look at me and make their opinion without even finding out what I stand for. . . They will just automatically gravitate to him because Chris is young,” he said.
That viewpoint was rejected by Harper.
“I don’t think connecting to individuals has anything to do with age,” Harper said. “It has to do with, ‘Do you understand their needs and are they comfortable that you’re going to defend their priorities?’”
Whoever wins in Ward 1 will have to be willing to address some of the challenges and tensions that have arisen lately as the result of redevelopment in the area. In July, council approved a major mixed-use plan at Stadium Shopping Centre that left many residents sour. The West Campus redevelopment plan, headed to council in 2014, envisions a full new community on university-controlled lands around Alberta Children’s Hospital. At 6,500 residential units at full build-out, West Campus would have more homes than all of Varsity or Bowness have now.
These kind of projects have raised questions about traffic, the importance of public consultation, and how redevelopment can be blended with the existing fabric of the community.