Zane Novak was born and raised in Western Canada and moved to Calgary in the early 2000’s. He believes his experience running a small business in the oil and gas industry has given him insight into the problems that the city is facing, including poor representation by its councillors.
Novak says he is frustrated that the optimism and vibrancy that Calgary once had has faded away and is worried that young people, aged 18-24, will continue to move away. The city has become divided since the pandemic, causing a falling out between sides. Novak feels that it is the role of the mayor to provide a suitable middle ground for open conversation and debates.
His long-term plans as mayor include the introduction of entrepreneurial programs and support to allow the local economy to grow once more, stating that there could be a Dragon’s Den style event where local businesses can be funded and mentored by the city. He stresses that the small businesses are the backbone of Calgary, as they open up new revenue streams and lift the burden on taxpayers.
“There would be an investment fund for startups not dissimilar to a Dragon’s Den concept, where these businesses would receive mentorship,” Novak says.
The Calgary Journal asked our city’s mayoral candidates five questions about themselves and their campaigns. Here’s what Novak told us:
5 Questions with Zane Novak
Stuart Ferguson: What issue is most important to you as a mayoral candidate and how will you solve it?
Zane Novak: Currently, we have a very divisive city hall that does not work collaboratively with each other or stakeholders. And so that’s really the number one thing we have to do. We have to bring some unification to city hall forward thinking, particularly in aspects of how to get the most of our budget, most of our taxpayers dollars, and find efficiencies that are livable for all parties in city hall. And that is done through getting, you know, people really literally to come into the room, park their egos and agendas at the door, having a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation and start showing some respect.And that is sadly lacking at city hall right now.
OK. How would you solve that?
Well, so much of that, as I kind of just allude to, is about respect and about listening to people. I started my campaign literally four years ago, October of 2017, the night of the last election. Walking home from observing the results of that, realizing I had to stand up and do more for Calgary. And by doing that, I started to engage with Calgarians in every demographic and geographical location in Calgary. And almost every single one said that they felt that they had no voice at city hall and they reached out to their councilors. They were not getting adequate answers, if any answer at all.
So, number one, you have to start by listening, because that’s a form of showing respect and then working with what you learn. And that’s something City City Hall is not doing. So no one, like I said, you have to make sure that people have a voice in the conversation and that it’s rational, reasonable conversation. One of the things is very challenging and not just in Calgary, but literally the world right now as we are living in the most polarized times that we’ve ever experienced. And a lot of people ask me, what do they think some of the biggest concerns and difficulties are? You know, is it the fact that really we’ve had toxic government at every level, whether it’s municipal, provincial or federal.
We’ve had struggles with commodity prices on our major employer, which is oil and gas. I mean, it’s come back a bit now, but that has impacted a lot of things. And since we’ve, you know, been this one trick pony single source for so long, we haven’t pivoted and include other industries. But, you know, out of all those challenges and the pandemic, obviously, and that’s been huge. But to me, the worst thing that we’re experiencing is we’re a society that is polarized and divided right now. It doesn’t matter what the topic is, whether it’s industry, whether it’s oil and gas, whether it’s environment, whether it’s climate change, whether it’s the pandemic and health and safety. Everybody is extremely on one side or the other. And that leaves a lack of communication in the middle. That’s what we have to change. Calgarians are brilliant, amazing people, but we’re better when we’re united.
And right now, we’re divided. And I believe that there’s a way that we can start bringing that dialog back to where we can have common and common sense conversations that are going to move us as a city forward. And that starts at city hall, and that is really led by the mayor, the mayor of city hall, the mayor, the city has to be that unifying individual. So whoever we elect in there, and I think it’s one of my strongest features, we need a collaborative, respectful mayor.
Why should young people vote for you?
So there are many reasons that I joined this race, this mayoral race. The thing of, you know, the economy, all of this unemployment. Businesses going broke, increased service costs, increased taxes, less services rendered. But really, the final final linchpin was something that’s been bothering me for a long time.
And it was really confirmed in this study in 2019 is that Calgary is growing in every age demographic except 20 to 24. Base of 18 to 24, our young adults. We had a four point four negative growth in our young adults. Those are young adults coming out of high school, transitioning either into the workplace or post-secondary. And for decades, Calgary was the place that everybody had to come to. It was a city of opportunity. It was a city of prosperity.
You can come here and you didn’t have to be an engineer in oil and gas. You could come here and you could open a boutique shop. You could be a carpenter, you could be a framer, a drywaller. You could open a bar. You could work at a bar, a restaurant. There were so many opportunities where your potential of success were far higher here than any other city in North America. And that was vibrant. It was brilliant. It was beautiful. We attracted the youth of North America to our city. And we’ve lost that, and that to me, is terrifying because they are our future. They have the long run, we have the short run, we have a plan.
I have an eight year plan to run in politics, be our mayor for eight years and hand the city off in far better shape than it is now. But that group, 18 to 24, that’s our future. And you pull that card out. We’re a house of cards. It will not stand. So that really motivates me to sort of engage with the U of C. MRU, but a lot of the U of C, I’ve been interviewed by the newspaper a couple of times. I’ve been on CJSW radio a couple of times. Last Thursday, a week ago, I was at the debate there, just about a three hour process, which was so wonderfully done by the students union. I’m a huge advocate of our students.
I’m a huge advocate of changing the narrative of this city and the vibrancy of this city so that not only do our youth want to stay here because they see it as a city of opportunity once again, but that we’re a beacon to other communities throughout Canada and North America, in fact, the world, that we should be attracting the youth here because they’re our future. So of all the mayoral candidates with my various platforms supporting entrepreneurial business, participatory budgeting, vibrancy downtown, redoing the vibrancy zone from 17 ave, The Red Mile right to River Walk, this is really, really in tune with what we’re getting, the feedback and information from our youth.
Let’s say that you have some downtime from your campaign. Which local bar, restaurant, coffee shop are you going to go to and why?
Well, I’m very fortunate in some ways. I live right downtown. I have a townhouse just a block off 17th. One of my favorite places to go is Cleaver. I love the food. I love the owner. I love the service. I love the staff. And I love their drinks. Mercato is good, also you can never go wrong at Mercato for Italian food. It’s just spectacular. I also have my favorites for Mexican food. And I just checked out a new place, Flora and Fauna. And it’s up on fourth ave. Amazing, authentic Mexican food. So, I mean, those are some of the places I would go proof for drinks.
I also like The Living Room. There’s just so many great choices. But what I’m looking forward to, in fact, tonight, I think I’m going to a brand new place that just opened up called Porch. And I’m excited as some of my friends work there. And I’m going to go meet them and have a drink at Porch. I think it just opened up like yesterday. So I’m excited about that. I’m always excited to support creative new places with food and drink.
What’s one TV show or movie that helps you get through this pandemic?
Hmm. So many you know, I love things that are kind of informational, there was a fantastic mini series on Chernobyl that I think was so well done. It was incredible. I’ve actually watched the series three times. When someone new comes into my life or a friend come over, I get him to watch that. Chernobyl is definitely, definitely one of my favorite mini-series that have come out. I liked Gambit. I think it was Gambit was it Gambit? The one with chess, with a girl, with chess. That was fantastic. There’s been some great miniseries. Yeah.
And I’m pretty much a fanatic of any style of documentary, one that I recommend to everyone is Kiss the Ground. I think especially us being, you know, agriculture is our second largest natural resource here in Alberta, it covers so much of our land, whether it’s grain, cattle, horses, whatever. Kiss the ground is very visionary as to how we can help our environment sequester CO2 into the ground, create profitable agriculture that respects the land and leaves it preserved well for generations, given the area we live. That would be high on my recommendation list.
Calgary is in a difficult economic spot right now, and many young people are looking elsewhere for opportunities. What would you do to help the city prosper as we eventually emerge from the pandemic?
Well, first of all, a lot of people don’t realize that ninety six percent of registered businesses in Calgary have 40 or less employees. So really, the economic driving engine for taxes and many other things are small business. Calgary has the highest percentage of post-secondary graduates of any urban center in Canada.
Our municipal government should be doing more to reduce the impedance, to start small businesses and startups here. We need to be far more responsive and flexible with permitting, with licensing, with fees. We need to reduce them, because if you’re going to start up a small entrepreneurial business, the two things that come to mind are cost and timeline.
Calgary, under its current city hall administration, are failing on both. We have to reverse those. We have to make the city truly business friendly. It was only business friendly when there was so much prosperity here that people would do anything to just open up a business because oil and gas was rich and there’s so much disposable cash going. The business, you had a good chance of success. That’s all changed. We need to be responsive.
I want to set up a whole vision for supporting, coaching, mentoring, and in many ways even financing small startup businesses where at an arm’s length third party agreement, there would be an investment fund for startups not dissimilar to a Dragon’s Den concept, where these businesses would receive mentorship. Advancement, funding, networking, so they could achieve prosperity much quicker, much sooner. And the city in a third in an arm’s length fashion, would actually have some retained ownership. So we would create new revenue streams for the city.
So we would be doing multiple things. We were filling vacant spaces, which we have, creating prosperous, challenging, satisfying jobs for our youth and that entrepreneurial spirit. And we would be a beacon for that hub, not only in Canada, but North America, and we would create a new revenue stream for the city rather than just continually throwing the burden on taxpayers.