The first thing you’ll notice about Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley is that there isn’t entirely anything to notice. It sounds weird, but it is the definitive description. Woolley, who requested his interview be done at The Palomino, walked in with a swagger of a recently-elected official. That being said, it was really only the suit that gave him away otherwise.
Woolley, 33, is at ease at the Palomino, tipping back a pint of beer. It’s not hard to see how he won the young vote in Ward 8. The product of both Carleton University (Political Sciences) and University of Lethbridge (Anthropology), he is also the youngest member on council by a long shot. After temporary gigs working for former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor and the City of Calgary’s Public Art Program (Community Cultural Development), Woolley finally decided to pursue his path on the campaign trail.
“The final clutch was actually reading Jack Layton’s farewell letter to Canadians,” says Woolley.
“And at the end of it he said, and I can’t remember verbatim what it was, but basically that young people have to step up and step into the political process if they want to make change.”
It was a long and gruelling journey that pit Woolley against incumbent John Mar and fellow newcomer Ian Newman. It was a surprise victory to most, but not Woolley himself, who spent the days leading up to his victory knocking on doors and spreading his views to potential supporters.
“It’s a pretty gnarly process. I lost 17 pounds in three months,” says Woolley with a chuckle.
“We knocked on 14,000 doors and some of the frustrations that I heard were around a four-way stop that they were trying to get for years, and you talk about that cynicism and apathy, when you can’t get a four-way stop after someone has been hit by a car by your house.”
It’s those kind of frustrations that led to Woolley basing his campaign around the slogan of “Neighbourhoods First,” something that he plans to keep an emphasis on during his time in council. For the 20 neighbourhoods that are a geographical representation of Ward 8, they can look forward to immediate and sudden change with those kinds of pothole issues.
“It’s not sexy for a politician to do that and it’s a real grind. But those are the things that matter to people the most.”
Specifically, he mentions anything from a broken sidewalk, a proposed community garden, an unpaved street or a weird intersection as some of the things on his quick priority list. Going into the campaign, some of the revitalization efforts that he mentioned focusing on include Eighth Street S.W., which is in line for improved underpasses and a better pedestrian experience in regards to crosswalks and general urban design. Tenth Street S.W. is also in dire need of attention, as it is lined with “gravel sidewalks, overhead power lines and a shining example of how not to build a bike lane.”
Fourteenth Street and 17th Avenue S.W. are also in line for some of Woolley’s proposed community enhancements, as the areas surrounding the intersection are seen as somewhat dilapidated by its inhabitants. He is always looking for more immediate suggestions as well and emphasizes that councillors really need to work with the people in their wards to get a level of mutual satisfaction and representation that he feels has been lacking in the past.
As far as the big-ticket items? Woolley has his sights set on secondary suites, inner-city transit routes and parks upgrading.
“We’ve got a zero per cent vacancy rate. It’s a travesty that we haven’t made secondary suites available. It’ll add immediate housing supply, drive down rents and it’s the right thing to do. We’re like one of the last large municipalities in North America to do it.”
This kind of battle has to be fought within the confines of the city council meetings and Woolley realizes that some of the returns might not be as quick as he would like.
“A lot of it is done in council and done working with administration. It’s existing on the books and making sure it goes through. It’s a lot of advocacy.”
Rest assured, though, that the concerns of Ward 8 and the concerns of the public in general do not go unnoticed by Evan Woolley and his office. Even though they are just getting their feet under them, they are confident that will bring quality representation to the people who seek it.
“It’s about quality of life. The city that I want to build needs everyone to participate in it.”
Words and photo by Brandon McNeil