Evan Woolley has big plans for our city
After arguably the biggest upset of the Oct. 2013 election, creaming incumbent John Mar by 1,600 votes, Evan Woolley is settling into his new job as Calgary’s Ward 8 councillor.
Woolley is the only Calgary councillor to have both lived through the ’80s, and be born in them as well.
At 33-years-old, he’s the city’s youngest councillor, with an age gap of up to 35 years between him and his fellow councillors.
Being younger, Woolley says he brings an “interesting perspective” and a different agenda to the council, jokingly telling a class of Mount Royal University students on Feb. 5 that if there were more young people on city council, MRU would have an LRT station.
A born and raised Calgarian, Woolley made his way back to Calgary after graduating from Carleton University in Ottawa with a degree in political science.
He has an extensive background in the oil and gas sector and different levels of government. Prior to being a councillor, he was involved with a number of Calgary projects, including the launch of the Sled Island music festival. But Woolley says his active involvement and passion for his community is what led him to run for council.
“I wanted to get paid to do what I loved, as opposed to doing it for free on the evenings and weekends,” Woolley says.
But he had an uphill battle to fight for the seat in Ward 8. Incumbent John Mar was running for a third term, and was known for his big budget campaigning. Although he only disclosed $89,000 worth of donations in the 2013 election, Mar was a record-breaking spender in the 2010 election, putting over $250,000 towards his campaign.
Woolley says that meant his team had to figure out how to beat “big money,” and they were able to do it by spending every dime of the $80,000 they raised.
“It was a great case of democracy prevailing. We beat out big dollars,” he says. “And we did that by working really, really hard.”
Amidst a campaign of traditional door knocking and sign placing, Woolley says he made one big mistake — the infamous chalk incident.
He and his team had “Vote Evan Woolley” stencils made up, and the idea was to douse city surfaces with spray chalk on election day, with the understanding that it would wash away naturally. Unfortunately, the mixture stuck a bit better than Woolley had intended, and the Twitter-sphere swirled with allegations of vandalism.
“It really turned into a total shit-show. We spent about $5,000 removing it all,” Woolley says. “But it created a topic that (people were talking about), and no news is bad news.
“On election day, everyone was talking about these ‘assholes’ from the campaign, and all it did was get the chalk out there more. I think we actually got votes from it.”
Taking an opposite approach to our Tweet-happy Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Woolley says he primarily avoided Twitter throughout his campaign, treating it as just one of many “tools” in the campaign.
“People say that Nenshi won because of social media, but I think Nenshi won because of a deep feeling in Calgary of people wanting to shed the perception that other people had of Calgary, and he captured something,” Woolley says.
Despite his young age, Woolley says the youth vote wasn’t his focus during the election, and was not the reason he won.
“Honestly, if you’re a youth voter and you’re engaged, you’re going to take one look at me and you’re voting for me anyway,” Woolley says. “I speak your language, and I’m generally going to share some of your views.”
Instead, his team focused on older, wealthier demographics.
“People say that we won because of the young vote — we actually won because old people liked to see someone from the next generation (getting involved). And that’s the message,” he says.
And now that he’s in, Woolley has big plans. He says he’s already knocked some things off of his agenda, such as condo and apartment recycling, which he says was a “big win.”
Woolley, who doesn’t own a car, and uses cycling and public transit as his primary mode of transportation, has his eye on a new “cycle track network” and an “inner city transit loop.”
“It’s easier for me to get to Cranston than it is for me to get to Inglewood from Mission,” Woolley says. “We’ve built a transportation system that pumps people from the suburbs into downtown, but it’s impossible to get around.”
At the top of his list, Woolley says, is the idea of “reinvesting in our communities.”
“We’ve built a city we can’t afford. Our property taxes in inner city are paying for new roads in Cranston when we have critical infrastructure needs in the inner city,” he says.
Woolley has made all of his work plans public knowledge on his website, and says it’s a risky thing to do.
“We’re going to have some successes, but we’re also going to fail,” he adds. “I want to be able to stand on these failures and have honest conversations about why we failed, and what we need to do to be successful.
“There’s a dishonesty in politicians, there’s so much shit-talking. And I’m really trying to do things a little differently.”
Woolley also addresses Mayor Nenshi’s recent comments on the lack of diversity on city council, and says that we need a more diverse age range, and more women and visible minorities, but that it’s up to Calgarians to run in elections and decide who they want on council.
“It all bothers me, but we live in a democratic society, and it is incumbent for people to participate in the democratic process,” he says. “There are a ton of barriers for women and minorities in the way that our political process operates, but only we (Calgarians) can change that.
“And people who bitch and complain — I always say ‘get politically active and get engaged.’ I implore people to run.”