Farkas Defends Controversial Decisions

By Kyra Bird

Ward 11 councillor Jeromy Farkas has recently made headlines for voting against motions that would make approving secondary suites easier and decide on a new parental leave policy for councillors. And he wasn’t shy about defending those positions at his most recent town hall event.

The event, held on Thursday at Stanley Park Community Hall, was the third monthly town hall that Farkas has held since taking office. The forums are an opportunity for ward 11 residents to come out and ask the councillor any question they want.

The issue of secondary suites was brought up by Farkas in his opening statements.

This past Monday, council approved a bylaw amendment that stops secondary suite applications from being heard on the floor of city council. Instead the process will go through the city’s planning department.

The amendment passed 9-6. Although Farkas himself called the old process “cruel” and “inhumane,” he was one of the six councillors who voted no to the change. He did this, he says, for a number of reasons, including the fact that the amendment treats above-garage suites in the same way as it treats basement suites, and the two are very different and carry their own concerns.

“When it comes to the above-garage suites,” Farkas said. “They’re essentially second, stand-alone homes and I didn’t feel comfortable granting that discretionary decision-making authority over to city staff rather than having that piece held at council.”

Farkas acknowledged that the amendment is an improvement, however, and especially likes that residents now have the ability to go to the subdivision appeal board to appeal secondary suite decisions, “whereas previously if council had approved that land use you had nobody to go to.”

The councillor promised to continue to work closely with city staff to ensure the criteria that will be used by public servants will be clearly defined and will help the system run smoothly.

On the topic of parental leave, Farkas was challenged by a member of the audience who disagreed with his decision to vote against a proposal that asked council to develop a parental leave policy. The audience member stressed the importance of allowing parents to be with their children, even if those parents are elected officials.

The proposal was brought to council after a parental leave policy that allows councillors to take up to 26 months off was approved in Edmonton in January. Farkas was the sole member of Calgary’s council to vote against the proposal. This ruffled some feathers not only in his own constituency, but among his fellow councillors.

Farkas explained that he voted against the proposal because it was “so very vague and open-ended.” He also feels that councillors shouldn’t be deciding their own pay and benefits. He believes the issue should go to an independent citizens committee, as councillors have a vested interest in the outcome of such a policy.

“Some of the emotions that were illustrated through this discussion,” he said. “Show… I think my point where I don’t think it should be the politicians deciding. We’re so close to this as an issue that I think it should be relatively hands-off.”

Ex-Mayoral Candidate Challenges Current Councillor

By Kyra Bird 

Calgary Nude Recreation, a naturist group in the city, recently caused controversy when they attempted to hold a naked waterslide swim event at the Southland Leisure Center. Although the event had already been cancelled by the City of Calgary, ex-mayoral candidate Larry Heather still wanted to confront his councillor Jeromy Farkas about his stance on the controversy, resulting in a healthy exchange between the two men.

The naked swim event, which was a private, after-hours function that Calgary Nude Recreation had booked the facility for, attracted city-wide attention. The event, which the public could pay a fee to attend, was intended to be all-ages. That prompted a woman named April Parker to start an online petition, which ended up gaining over 20,000 signatures, calling on the City of Calgary to cancel the swim over concerns of children attending.

The swim night was ultimately cancelled by the city due to safety concerns. Calgary Police confirmed that they received a threat against the leisure center in relation to the event.

Following the cancellation of the event, it seemed as though the public conversation around the event and group was over, but Heather decided to attend Farkas’ town hall event to bring up the issue once more.

Heather ran for mayor on a platform of “restoring the Lordship of Christ over the Mayor’s office.” He promised changes such as cutting city staff by one third, reducing the cycle track network on main roads and reversing what he called Calgary’s “current slide into SlumVille.”

Heather is also a ward 11 resident, meaning Farkas currently serves as his councillor. Heather, who said he didn’t vote for Farkas or any of the candidates who ran in the ward, felt it was important for his councillor to “commit to oppose” any future events held by naturist groups like Calgary Nude Recreation.

Farkas didn’t do that, instead re-iterating his view that city staff had made the wrong decision shutting down the nude swim event because of the threats that were made. He believes that the “warranted” concerns surrounding liability and children attending could have been sorted out.

“I think we could have addressed those concerns in a way that the event could proceed.”

In the process of answering the, at first, anonymous question, Farkas was interrupted by Heather shouting comments, saying the naturist group’s public invitation to the event was like “throwing jet fuel on a campfire.” The councillor continued to condemn the resident’s notion that threats against the group were to be expected given, in Heather’s words, their “extreme violations of societal norms.”

The crowd in attendance loudly applauded Farkas throughout the exchange. Ultimately, Heather “was not satisfied with Jeromy’s answer” but said he will continue to attend future town hall events, as well as carefully watch the city’s moves the next time an issue like this arises.

“The city has made it clear, and the mayor has made it clear [the naked swim] shouldn’t have been cancelled. Jeromy made it clear that it shouldn’t be cancelled and so, you know, I know it’s going to go ahead again when the fire dies down a bit but I hope to keep people vigilant.”

More town hall coverage: 

Ward 11’s Jeromy Farkas Holds First Town Hall Event

Farkas Thanks Family

Farkas Faces Ex-Opponents

Ward 11 Town Hall- Full Transcript