Mayoral candidate Teddy Ogbonna hopes to boost the economy by reducing taxes. (PHOTO: SUPPLIED)

Teddy Ogbonna is originally from Nigeria but has lived in Calgary since 2008. He completed a double major in law and society and political science in 2019 at the University of Calgary. Ogbonna participated in the World Youth Centre pilot project at the University of Toronto and worked as an intern in the office of former City of Toronto councillor Adam Giambrone. 

He has co-owned a small business, is a published author, and volunteers in his free time. Ogbonna is also the founder of an organization that helps engage young people in civic and policy decision-making called Youth for Transparency International. He has further served as a board member of the Calgary-McCall UCP constituency association.

Ogbonna’s primary focus as a candidate is to boost the economy by reducing taxes and providing tax incentives for businesses and homeowners. He wants to see all levels of government working together to achieve this. Ogbonna believes Calgary is a great city already and hopes businesses will thrive here.

He wants to bring back oil and gas firms while also recognizing the importance of supporting renewable science and technology. Ogbonna also strongly believes that youth should be involved in government leadership and policy making, so he has pledged to introduce a shadow youth cabinet. He strives to model social inclusion and participation by engaging Calgarians of all races, genders and faith.

The Calgary Journal asked our city’s mayoral candidates five questions about themselves and their campaigns. Here’s what Ogbonna told us:

5 Questions with Teddy Ogbonna

Erica Johnson: What issue is most important to you as a mayoral candidate and how will you solve it?

Teddy Ogbonna: The most important issue for me is our taxes. And, you know, this is a very tough question because the one big issue that is important to me is social inequality, you know, but taxes is the vision of the campaign. And so I’ve been very clear, front and center on this, the vision of the campaign – the statement we have, is to reduce taxes and provide tax incentives for businesses and small businesses are the core but businesses in general and homeowners. And the reason is that we want them to stay here. There has been a trend of so many small businesses shutting down prior to the pandemic and during the pandemic and businesses, big businesses moving away from this city, prior to the pandemic and during this pandemic. So you might be sad with why, you know, I came up with this talking to expand on that and that was what I came up with. I would say we finally agreed on this concept that we need to cut down on taxes and provide – stabilize our tax policies here and provincially. 

Provincially, we’ve got to engage the provincial government because they are taking way too much from our taxes. People do not realize this. They take about thirty seven per cent plus. It’s an entirely different per cent from our taxes. So it’s way too much. It’s part of the thing – It’s not being done – in the history of this great city. So I have way more political experience, more than any of these people in council, but behind the scenes in my lifetime of dealing with big governments, small governments, and what I do, from a not-for-profit perspective. Behind the scenes are the stakes of every level in government, in these global systems even within the United Nations. So I know how politics works. I have this cane, but I think we cannot continue on the path of “you scratch my back and I scratch your back”. I think it’s a very destructive phenomenon, especially for the younger generation.

 If you go to my profile, I’m 51 years old this year. So I think we’ve got to change the path and the way things are going for the sake of the younger generations who are just shying away from the electoral process, not realizing that they are the foundation of the future of this great classic city that we got. So that’s one of the things, to keep businesses here and provide whatever we can provide to boost – get the economy going. And to – you asked, how am I going to go around it? Going around it – and what I have read my agenda is – I need to get the votes in council. So I got to set up the right tone in council. Let it – first of all building that confidence and trust for Calgarians to know that we have a new council. And we are here to work for the people, for the people first and not the one per cent, for the 99 per cent, not the one per cent. We’re not driving the one per cent away, we need them. But we’re not focused on making deliveries and services more important to Calgarians first, than developers or the lobbies or you know where they have caused special interest groups in the city. So when we set the right tone, Calgarians have that confidence now and the trust you have built legitimacy in council, and I set up the right tone in agenda. 

Letting them know why we are here, is a different project. And we have a different course of setting the right conversations, respectful conversations in council And of course, I’ll make the case why we need to stabilize our tax, over four years we are all going to be in office keeping its debt and reasons why these concern economies, the impacts of reducing our taxes it’s going to impact businesses here. Employees, entrepreneurs are going to be happy and probably going to be hiring more people when they add it up. And of course, it affects the entire resilience strategy that we have got good economics, the environmental and the social aspect of our learning in this great classic city that I have called home. And I’ve made this argument, if you have watched my debates all the candidates always think, “oh, I’m going to make this city a world class city, I want to reduce tax, I’m going to do this”. No. My argument is this: that this city is the world class city. It is a classic city. I don’t know how widely they have travelled, but I’ve been privileged to travel around the world. I’ve seen it all. And I’ll tell you that Calgary is.

 I’m the last of 10 in my family. I’m the only one here in this country. I chose to be here. So most of my family are all in the states, all over the states, So Europe and Africa are my relatives, but my family, almost all of them are in the states. And I’ll tell you, this city is a world class city, period. It is a classic city. I just don’t want to be seeing a lot of young folks like you after graduation leaving here, going somewhere else thinking it’s more vibrant. No. It’s a vibrant city. You can make it more vibrant when you guys participate in the municipal politics. We can create it, and be more creative, and more vibrant of what you want to see. And you guys will be here, right.

Why should young people vote for you?

Because I’m speaking up for themselves. My campaign is for young folks. I have not been hiding it. My campaign is for not just the millennials, the Gen Z’s, but the young, the teenagers who are not even – they are not even up to the age of voting. Who are about 15, 16. I wish that the voting age comes from 16 years up, But I have spoken to a lot of grade 12 students and throughout the course of this campaign who heard what I am doing and I’m the only candidate that has put up a shadow youth cabinet at the city hall. Reason being that, I don’t want to be seeing a lot of young folks just protesting and just you know – because I used to be a student president. I’m an activist. I want to see, you know, I have moved up, because of my experience in life, no matter how we talk on the sidelines or picketing lines, if you are not inside where the policy is being, participants in the policy making process, it does not cut it. So I’m bringing up a shadow youth cabinet at the city hall. This is historic. It’s never been done. With the experience I did, with helping shape the Ontario youth curriculum, what I’m going to do is bring it up in this shadow cabinet where they’re going to have a voice. 

You and I may not agree on everything, but with the youth cabinet we give you a platform to speak on agendas or issues that is so passionate to you Erica. To speak, and begin to push it to the city council. So you are – you have got access to power I’m giving them access to municipal power, access to governance, municipal governance, to be part of the decision making process, just like any other one, any other group in this city. So when those young folks know that they have got the power to shape any agenda at the city hall before council votes on it.

 Let’s say you have some downtime from your campaign. Which local bar, restaurant, coffee shop are you going to and why?

You know, to be honest with you, because I’m not into the politics out there, I usually try to go, I don’t have any particular one in mind. I usually like to support small businesses. And just so you know, I drove a Uber for a year and a few months when I got laid off in 2019. 

So I did Uber Eats and Skip the Dishes and I was going around everywhere. It was very inspiring. It was a platform for me to meet people. This great classic word city as it is. As I went driving Uber, doing Skip the Dish, and delivering UberEats at the height of this pandemic that I’ve never been in this city, I’ve been living here since 2008. So I go – I usually – I meet these guys once in a while. I get an appointment in Starbucks and Second Cup,  you know, I go to a different, you know, ethnic coffee shops on 17th Ave. And both SE and SW in downtown core people promoting such entrepreneurial spirit of some kind, you know,  to have developed their own brand, now try to go in there sometimes to have a chat. So I support every business in this city. 

What’s one TV show or movie that helped you get through the pandemic?

It’s not that I know this – To be honest with you I’m a little bit addicted to a movie that’s called I don’t know if you know – probably not from your generation, but Coronation Street is an episode. Coronation Street. I’m so addicted. I was watching it as a kid when I was in England. And of course, I love to –  just so you know when I moved over here I picked up so many jobs. And part of them was part time at the City of Calgary I was coaching basketball and soccer […] and once in a while, my boss, she would call me to go and coach outside craft because she knew I had experience, I used to be an artist. 

And then I would go to sometimes break dancing, because she knew my history with that I used to break dance in the U.K. so I would go teach break dancing you know, so Coronation Street is my favourite thing that I watched, I listen more – I’m a music guy. I listen to different types of genres & music and all that old school,  hip hop I try to flex –  you know I just listen to music a lot.

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?

Great question, Erica. I strongly believe that when we stabilize our tax policies, as I just said, which is the vision of the campaign, it’s going to help to boost this economy. You’re gonna see a lot of companies coming back here because most – unfortunately, people don’t realize most rich guys, the one percent, they don’t like to pay taxes, you know, so you’re going to be seeing them move away where they think they are not paying a lot, they think they have so much employees. So the most important thing is to get this economy on the right, sustainable track for the young folks, too. And we’ve got to be diversified and not just relying on the oil and gas, extractive industry that built this city. I worked in the oil and gas. I have got their back. And when I was walking last in a real estate investment trusts firm, as soon as oil and gas companies have the strength of subleased from 10 floors that came to two, three floors. And if you subleased some of those parts, laid off employees. I don’t want to see that happening again. So that’s one of the reasons why at the core of this whole package for my campaign, we want to stabilize the taxes.

The reason being that we want to keep companies here, attract more investments in this great city, both in science and technology. And, of course, the most of the young folks are more into, you know, renewable energy and environmental and green projects. So and that’s where the tax credits is, where I’m going to be looking at, and making a case for where it’s going to be very useful, you know, asking for tax credits to support some of these initiatives in order – different – I just want to innovate every aspect of our economy, you know, not just the oil and gas. I have got their back but I want to innovate every aspect of our economy, and think out of the box. 

But one thing as well that I need to speak boldly so, you know. The Calgary economic development, you know, it’s not the Chamber of Commerce, they are both separate entities. I was on a webinar with them recently And I realize, of course, I’m doing this, but I asked them a question because the core funding to support the Calgary economic development comes from the city of Calgary – almost 80 per cent of their funding. And I asked them one question, And I said, can you guys do without government city funding? And the reason why I asked this as a development expert – what we do – I’ve been involved in multilateral, million dollar dispersion of grants of funds to so many big organizations, multilateral organizations. I’ve consulted with – And some of the things we ask is a critical question we asked the recipients of these governments of this funding is what are you going to do when the funding dries up, if we stop this funding? What are your plans? Do you have any contingency plan in place? So these are for sustainable reasons. 

So I do know, unfortunately, the way funding works in this great country, everything, everyone relies on government for everything, every damn thing. And that’s not the way to go. I hope it’s going to change. So, of course, that’s why I’m going to build up a more tight, better relationships and setting the right tone with the provincial government and with the federal government to attract huge investments here in this city that a lot of young folks would like, if it’s in science and technology and the green projects. I’m all for it to keep them here.

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