5 Questions with NGC Online Presence Sub-Committee Chair, Christina Rontynen

My first Calgary Stampede blog post of the year. Enjoy everyone!

5 Questions with NGC Online Presence Sub-Committee Chair,
Christina Rontynen

You can call it Stampede love – or just plain old Calgary love. I couldn’t resist interviewing Christina Rontynen for this blog. We recently got engaged. We didn’t meet through the Stampede but we are on the same Stampede Committee and we have many fun Stampede memories.

When we met we clicked because our passions were the same – including getting people engaged with their communities. That’s why the Next Generation Committee (NGC) was such a great fit for us. The NGC is all about engaging Calgarians with the Stampede!

The NGC is made up of two sub-committees: Project Execution and Online Presence. Christina is the chair of the Online Presence sub-committee.

Here is my interview:                                      

1. What is the Next Generation Committee all about?

The NGC is all about engaging new audiences with the Calgary Stampede. It isn’t just about engaging young Calgarians but all Calgarians. In the past we have targeted 18-30 year olds, brand new Canadians, young families from Calgary’s suburbs, and this year we are targeting Calgarians in 100 years through our very cool Time Capsule project. If you have Twitter you can follow along with Time Capsule project through our #CSTimeCapsule hashtag.

2. What one item would you put in the NGC Time Capsule if you could stand to part with it?

I have this amazing belt buckle from my Dad. He used to wear it when he was a little boy playing cowboys with his friends. It has a bunch of little guns on it and is completely vintage and awesome. It is the perfect Stamepde accessory and it, to me, speaks to the fact that the Stampede is generational. It’s a family affair.

People can propose their own Time Capsule ideas by emailing the NGC. If you have something you’d like included in the Time Capsule and it has a neat story behind it please email us at: calgarystampede.ngc@gmail.com

3. What is your ideal Stampede day?

Best Stampede day is always Parade Day! Wake up early, find the perfect spot and watch the energy and excitement of Stampede come alive. After that it’s about finding a pancake breakfast – and putting lots and lots of syrup on the pancakes (of course)! Then a trip down to Stampede Grounds – I love making sure I’m there for the Rodeo and of course a greasy, yummy dinner at a kiosk afterwards. Then it is playing some Midway Games, enjoying the Coke Stage, and waiting until the fireworks show.

4. Who are you most looking forward to Stampeding with this year?

Well you of course Peter!! Our first Stampede being engaged! Very fun.

But I’m also looking forward to hopefully bringing your niece and nephew! Seeing the Stampede through the eyes of kids is the best!

5. What is your favorite Stampede treat?

Gosh – this is a hard one. I love the classic mini donuts but this year I will not leave without trying all the new food for 2012; including deep fried wagon wheels, sausage on a stick and those deep fried veggies.

Thanks for playing along Christina!

Happy Almost Stampede Everyone!

Originally Posted on the Calgary Stampede Blog on May 23, 2012 – found here.

Next Generation Committee Wants to Tell Your Story … in 100 Years

I just posted on the Calgary Stampede blog about an awesome project that Peter and I are taken part in this Stampede. The Stampede Time Capsule (#CSTimeCapsule) will be telling the Stampede’s story from the last 100 years to Calgarians 100 years from now. It’s pretty exciting stuff … and there are plenty of opportunities for all Calgarians to leave their mark on the time capsule.

Here’s my post ….

Last weekend I had that pleasure of attending the Stampede 4 Corner Event in southeast Calgary. I was there with my fellow Next Generation Committee team members not only promoting our latest project but as a Calgarian getting excited for Stampede.

The smell of pancake breakfast, the western garb, the smiling faces, the country music … I had tingles on the back of my neck as soon as the event started. It really marked the start of Stampede season for me.

The 4 Corners events are the perfect blend of Stampede and community. The community crowd was gathering not only for the free Stampede breakfast but also to support local community organizations and cheer on community entertainment.

It really is the perfect event to tell Calgary about the Next Generation Committee’s time capsule. You haven’t heard of the time capsule? Check out the news release for more information, but in a sentence the time capsule is the Next Generation Committee’s way to captured the first 100 years of the Stampede and share it with the Calgary 100 years from now. Pretty exciting actually!

How exciting? Well I watched a child no more than 6 drop in her favorite Stampede memento into our time capsule at the 4 Corners event. Her eyes were wide as she exclaimed, “off to the future!!” Now that’s exciting!

Click to read more.

– CR xo

A riddle for our readers – “Who am I?”

We came across this riddle today and wanted to share it with our readers.

I am your constant companion.

I am your greatest helper or your heaviest burden.

I will push you on to success or drag you down to failure.

I am completely at your command.

Half the things I do you might just as well turn over to me and I will be able to do them quickly and correctly.

I am easily managed; you must merely be firm with me.

Show me exactly how you want something done and after a few lessons I will do it automatically.

I am the servant of all great individuals and, alas, of all failures, as well.

Those who are great, I have made great.  Those who are failures, I have made failures.

I am not a machine; though I work with all the precision of a machine plus the intelligence of a human.  You may run me for profit or run me for ruin; it makes no difference to me.

Take me, train me, be firm with me, and I will placed the world at your feet.  Be easy with me and I will destroy you.

Who am I?  Let us know what you think and stay tuned for the answer in a couple of days!

PP and CR

It’s Coffee Time: Doug Griffiths arrives in Living Rooms across Alberta

Okay – I admit it. I had never been to a coffee party before May 5, 2011. It seems to me that the era of the coffee party was a bit before my time. I’ve heard the days of the coffee party praised by board members from both Calgary Shaw and Calgary Foothills. Many claiming that that was the way Premier Lougheed won – that was how they met him – and that is how they knew he was a great leader.

There is something about coming into someone’s home, being on their turf, and embracing their friends, their neighbours and their community. It’s the principle of breaking bread together but in this case it’s sipping coffee. I laughed when I saw some comments on a Facebook photo Chris Harper posted of a coffee party he hosted this past week – his friends were amazed that a PC leadership candidate would come over to his house just to talk to his friends. It really is the simple things that amaze people the most.

And a coffee party is a very simple thing.

There is nothing to know about a coffee party before you have one. Nothing to learn. No membership to buy. No prerequisites. No expectations.

A coffee party is whatever you want it to be. It’s a passionate Albertan coming to talk to, get to know and share their vision with other passionate Albertans. A coffee party is what comes to my mind when I think of the term grassroots engagement. It’s literally invite your friends – gather them in your living room – listen to a visionary – ask questions – mingle.

My favourite part? The questions! That’s when you see people truly engaging. The questions are when you find out what makes your neighbours tick and what has been on their mind. It’s when you find out that many of us are passionate about the same things and want the same things for Alberta’s future. The questions are what get a room excited. And the answers to those questions are what keeps the room excited and triggers a desire to purchase a PC membership and get involved in the process – at least that’s what is happening at coffee parties featuring Griff.

I may be biased but Doug Griffiths’ strength is certainly in the coffee party. It’s no secret that he is passionate about people and communities. Without strong communities we cannot build a better Alberta together. In a room full of new friends his excitement about Alberta’s future is clear. He is personable, thoughtful and enthusiastic. You can tell he feels right at home in the living rooms of his volunteers and supporters – why? Because that is the kind of man he is. When he has the day off work he is hanging out in the living rooms of his family and friends. That’s where he watches his boys grow up, that’s where he invites his friends to watch the game and that’s where he hammers out his vision for Alberta.

Doug wants to get to as many Albertan living rooms in the next several months as possible. He wants to come to you … not make you come to him. He wants to build a better province … and he knows he can’t do that alone. Every community is different, every group of people gathered will be different but we are all passionate about Alberta and passionate about making it the best it can be today and for future generations.

So why don’t you have a coffee party? The latest people to sign up for coffee parties in Calgary? My parents! Lisa Mackintosh’s friends. A new supporter who DM’ed us on Twitter. And an incredible 70-something women I met at Chris Harper’s coffee party for Griff. She is so excited. She told me that it isn’t time for change in this province … it’s time for the next generation to step up and take their place in Alberta … and that place is in leadership roles. She told me that the last time she was this excited is when she attend a similar gathering for Premier Lougheed decades ago.

Everything old is new again. Why? Because Alberta has realized the importance of the community, of personal connections and that the only way we can advance this province is if we advance it together.

If you want to have a coffee party email the campaign or even just reply to this blog post. We will get you in touch with the right people and do our best to get Doug into your living room.

Remember, there is no right or wrong way to have a coffee party. Political engagement is personal – it’s flexible – it’s simple. Doug Griffiths’ coffee parties are political engagement.

Can’t wait to have a coffee with you in your living room and watch your neighbours get excited about our next PC Leader, Doug Griffiths.

CR xo

PCinYYC Representin’ the Calgary Stampede Online

PCinYYC are always looking for ways to get involved in the community. After all we are advocates for community engagement and passionate about Calgary.

We’ve recently been given the opportunity to sit on the Calgary Stampede‘s Next Generation Commitee (NGC). This committee works to attract and engage the next generation of audiences as patrons, supporters and volunteers of the Calgary Stampede. The NGC is mandated to assist the Calgary Stampede in leveraging emerging and non-traditional promotions, marketing, social media, and online tools to promote the Calgary Stampede brand and events.

We are so excited to be a part of this team … and lend some of our time and blog space to the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.

Here is @ppilarski‘s first blog for the Calgary Stampede blog – it’s focused on the Calgary Stampede Lotteries … did you know you can already be buying your tickets and avoiding line-ups at the grounds in July?

Hope you’ll follow along as we dive into another #yyc adventure.

CR and PP


Do you feel lucky, punk?  Well …. Do ya? (May 13th, 2011 by Peter Pilarski)

Because the 2011 Calgary Stampede Lotteries advanced ticket campaign is on now!  And this year the Lotteries feature more than $1.4 million in prizes, including trucks, boats, a fifth-wheel trailer, luxury vacations, a dream home and more than $310,000 in cash! 

What is fantastic about the Calgary Stampede Lotteries is that by giving yourself a chance to win by purchasing tickets, someone else can feel lucky too. 

Read More … on the Calgary Stampede blog

CBE and the Provincial Budget – I Expect Better

I spent much of the day conversing with people on twitter regarding the provincial budget and response from the Calgary Board of Education, which seems dishonest and is disappointing.  I am frustrated that the CBE chooses to manipulate facts and deceive Calgarians with respect to what the government’s budget actually means for education.  I feel sorry for teachers who seem to be used as pawns for negotiation instead of the valued professionals they are.  It frustrates me to no end to listen to the CBE threaten teacher layoffs when that is not what the province intended with their budget and not the best scenario for Alberta’s students.

Below is a snippet from an e-mail that was sent to me by an anonymous Calgarian who shares my frustrations with the conversation:

The province’s budget wasn’t actually that bad. I’m surprised they even kept half of AISI actually, but I’ve heard good things about it in other jurisdictions. I was a little disappointed by the elimination of the enhanced ESL (only for new immigrants who basically have never been to school and don’t speak English), and that they only put such a measly little bit into pilot programs for special needs. That special needs freeze is going on 4 years now and is getting ridiculous.

The release by the CBE was very misleading however. The province didn’t cut as much as they are making it appear. A 60 million dollar deficit… Sigh. I can’t say I’m surprised. You noticed that they will be getting 28 million for teacher increases (although they say that won’t cover it – it’s probably 29 million), and doesn’t mention teachers retiring from the top of the grid when they talk about grid increases. The $25 million in grants that were cut should therefore be cut from the programs that they were designed to be cut from (eg. AISI should go down in half because the grant was cut in half).

The CBE shouldn’t go into a deficit in order to continue things that are no longer being funded (and AISI was considered a huge waste of dollars in Calgary anyways) unless there is a clear benefit (eg. they should probably continue enhanced ESL, but should offer it in less schools and the students who really need it should go to those schools). And despite what they said, the province did increase ESL funding by 11% in response to the greater population of ESL students. It was also the CBE’s suggestion to the province that they cut class size funding at all levels except K-3 in order to save money last year, so I don’t know why they are criticizing the province for cutting Grades 4-6 class size funding when it was their idea. So, I can understand a small deficit due to this budget, but it shouldn’t be anywhere near 60 million. The CBE is trying to use the province as a scapegoat for their own mismanagement.

I find the comments by the CBE disappointing.  The world is just starting to see the light at the end of the recession and times have been tough;  we can’t just keep giving more and more.  In my opinion, the CBE needs to tighten its belt just like everybody else.  It can do this by reducing targeted programs and finding better and more efficient ways of doing business.  It shouldn’t, however, hold teachers, parents and students hostage by threatening to cut teachers.  And the CBE should engage with Calgarians honestly.  I expect better!


Community Assistant vs. Hands-on Alderman

In recent days twitter has been buzzing with the news that Craig Chandler will become newly elected alderman, Peter Demong’s community assistant. Demong beat out incumbent Linda Fox-Mellway in Ward 14. Community association members have been contacting their ward’s political community with questions about this role. @ShawnKao, who also ran for the Ward 14 chair, tweeted that he has been contacted by 3 highly involved individuals – all expressing concerns about Chandler’s involvement.

In no way, shape, or form is this an attempt to slam Chandler. Frankly I would be concerned if anyone was named as a community assistant this close out of the gate.

This story has got me thinking about the expectations one has on an alderman. Aside from the written job description, I believe that Calgarians expect a lot from their elected officials that are above and beyond what they may have signed up for.

I think it is expected that an alderman be aware of the happenings in their community but I truly believe that they must be entrenched in those happenings. Community meetings, gatherings and events are where relationships are built and issues are understood. I don’t want my alderman to be sitting in an ivory tower – I want them right next door. I want to borrow a cup of sugar from them and know that when I have a legitimate problem they will be there to listen. I want to know that when my community association is passionate about an issue (from garbage and recycling collection to snow removal to traffic standards) my alderman not only knows about that issue but can understand the history and emotion behind it. How on earth can you understand the passion behind particular community issues if you have sent someone else to attend a community meeting instead of being there in the flesh? Or if you have assigned someone to call and follow up with community leaders instead of forging personal relationships with them yourself?

Passion that is contained in each and every community in #yyc needs to be experienced in person to be appreciated and understood. Some aldermen do a fabulous job of this – they make their constituents feel valuable and understood. My fear is that this community assistant position will set a precedent for alderman to stay an arm’s length away from real community issues … when they should be on the front lines.

If an alderman is on the frontline of their community issues they will be able to properly represent their needs in #yyccc – and perhaps get away from playing party politics in a place where they don’t belong. Perhaps this attitude will help avoid split votes and start getting the things important to Calgarians done efficiently and effectively.

That’s my opinion. I’m a firm believer that my city representative must understand the needs of the community … not second hand … not from a friend … or from an employee. A city representative needs to be a part of the community to understand the community. I sincerely hope that Alderman Demong will still be an active part of Ward 14’s vibrant community associations. Growing up in Ward 14 (and now living in Ward 13) I know that these groups of people are passionate about the community and expect to be taking seriously. They deserve direct attention from their elected official and not his campaign manager. The message hiring Chandler sends is one that communicates a lack of respect for their dedication to the ward.

Calgary Aldermen – I want to hear from you. What makes you a good representative of your community? How do you ensure you are a part of the community? Respected by the community? And up to date on the needs of your neighbours? Let’s sit down and have a coffee (or beer) and chat. PCinYYC is itching to publish a piece on you and your community.

Keep being passionate Calgary! Keep engaging and keep calling, writing, tweeting and emailing your alderman if you have a question, concern or suggestion. We are the stewards of this city – and keeping it great starts with us … not them.

CR xo

Saturday Night Alive with Host Len Webber

To date, this blog has focussed on the exciting municipal election which, starting tomorrow, will drastically change life in our beautiful city no matter which candidate wins.  But the longer-term premise behind our blog is life as a provincially involved political couple.  PCinYYC is about Peter and Christina – Progressive Conservatives; political commentators; and proud Canadians – in Calgary.

Last night, we were proud to be PC in YYC!

As President of the Calgary Foothills PC Association I am extremely biased when I tell you that our fundraiser last night was a resounding success.  But Saturday Night Alive with Host Len Webber received great reviews.  And I have been to enough fundraising events in my life to know when something feels like it worked out.

But the real story behind this event is about people – an incredible group of volunteers, fantastic performers, a friendly, diverse crowd and Len Webber.

No matter what your political stripe, if you have met Len Webber you know that he is one of the kindest, most caring and truly special people you will ever meet.  I can write a whole blog about Len, but suffice it to say that I am President of his board out of sheer respect.  He is soooooooo easy to support!

Len and Peter “Weekend Update”

I strongly believe in karma.  And my gut tells me that everything good flows from Len’s captivating humanistic qualities.  I think this is why the volunteers on the Calgary Foothills PC Association Board are such a great group of people.   They all believe in and care for Len.

Last night was extra special because PC Party President, Bill Smith, joined us to present the 2010 Alberta PC Party Volunteer of the Year Award to our most beloved volunteer – Mary Davis.   I am so thrilled that Mary Davis won this award.  The story she told us about why she volunteers for the PC party is powerful.  The amount of time and effort she gives proves her sincerity.  Watching Mary accept that award and listening to her story made me incrediblyproud to be an Alberta Progressive Conservative.

Mary Davis accepts PC Volunteer of the Year Award

While Mary’s contribution was invaluable, last night took the effort and good will of a lot of people.  My hat is off to the fundraising committee, co-chaired by Lou Winthers and Joan Black.  The work put in by every person on this committee contributed to the night’s success.  And it was a ton of work.  The Committee wanted something different from your standard political event and I’m confident every person there felt they got that.

Taking in unforgettable Aboriginal Entertainment

We did a spoof of Saturday Night Live, complete with guests, performances, a “weekend update” and Nitelife – the Saturday Night Alive band.  I can’t believe how well it all worked out.  Len was the host and I was the MC.  We were unrehearsed, which made the “show” that much more fun.  

I think back to Len running around the stage looking for the Aboriginal performers.  That was a great moment in the evening.  Who can forget the little aboriginal girl entertaining the crowd with her balloons while her elders, dressed in their impressive garb, sang beautiful traditional songs about their heritage and their connection to the earth?  She was so precious.  The round dance, the Honour song that our friends from Treaty 7 played for Len, and the words and symbols of respect that were shared between everybody there was really special.  As an added touch, each guest received a dream catcher that was hand made by a volunteer from the Stardale Group.  I think the committee did an excellent job celebrating Len’s portfolio and including so many wonderful people from the Aboriginal community.  I was so honoured to be sitting with Elder Ruby Eagle Child and Michaela Wight from Stardale Group.  I was also honoured to be sitting with @crontynen but that should go without saying J.

Traditional Aboriginal Dance

Once the Aboriginal performances ended, we had about 45 minutes with comedian Jebb Fink.  He was bang on.  He gave us a delightful mix of planned jokes and improv, as well as political satire and his social commentary.  He was a real pro and the perfect addition to the night.  He had the crowd laughing at every joke he said and eagerly participating in his program.  It was awesome!

Jebb Fink

The evening concluded with music from the Saturday Night Alive band, Nitelife.  While they didn’t get to play a long set, they had people dancing from the first song.  Guests on the dance floor were having a good time – you could tell.  The band has a significant Calgary Foothills connection through their bass player, Don Wilson, a Past President and current Board Member.  What a perfect ending to a perfect evening.  I would recommend Nitelife for any event.

Friends, that was the night as I saw it.  I had a lot of fun.  The guests had fun and think Len enjoyed himself too.  Saturday Night Alive with Host Len Webber was a humanistic night for a really great person, and I am so proud that I was able to be a part of it.  I would like to thank the 250 plus guest that shared the night with us.  I would like to thank our sponsors and donors for their generous contributions.  I would like to thank @crontynen for being such an amazing partner and supporter of mine.  And I would like to thank you for taking the time to read this post.

Last night confirms why I belong to the PC Party – the people.  We are a Party of people from all walks of life but we know how to come together.  We know how to support each other and we know how to have fun.  We are progressive and conservative, pragmatic and compassionate.     The PC party is me (P) and C in YYC.

Peter and Christina


The ‘Real’ Disappointments

I started this blogging adventure with an invitation to all mayoral candidates to hang out and let me get know the person behind the politician. I received an overwhelming response – McKenzie, Nenshi, Burrows, and Higgins. So thanks – to those of you that followed me along my adventure.

I thought it was only fair to let you know my dialogues … or non-dialogues … with the candidates I didn’t have a chance to hang out with. It’s only transparent and fair of me to give some credit where credit is due.

The most credit goes to candidate Jon Lord. We attempted to make schedules jive several times. We spoke back and forth through Facebook messages. I liked that – very personal – very friendly and obviously evidence he monitors his own account. He sent me an official invitation to watch him speak at his church on Thanksgiving Sunday. His topic was “enthusiasm” – something he told me he was excited about. I do think he has shown great enthusiasm throughout this race. My own Thanksgiving family commitments did not allow me to go that morning – although any other Sunday I would have gone happily and I would have dragged @ppilarski along too. Lord followed up with an invitation for coffee down in his neck of the woods in SW Calgary – or Chinese for dinner one night. Apparently, he enjoys it “once and while”. I told him my schedule and did not hear back. I chalk that up to it being the last week before the election. He certainly tried and I appreciate that.

Jon Lord also commented on my original blog posted on CalgaryPolitics.com. This to me shows that from day one he had an interest in sharing with Calgarians the ‘real’ man behind the campaign.

Ric McIver doesn’t get credit but his team of volunteers does. After my blog went up I was contacted by one of his youth volunteers, a University of Calgary student that was heading up his “McIver for Mayor” efforts on campus. He perceived this blog, and invitation, as a great opportunity for Ric. He told me he had forwarded it on to a “higher level” in the campaign and I would hopefully hear from someone soon. Time passed and I didn’t hear from anyone. At the beginning of October I sent a follow up email to this volunteer and copied an email address I found on the website. The volunteer replied again saying that they were attempting to get me on the schedule. I followed up one last time and was basically told he was busy with other media requests. Understandable. I very much appreciate his team attempting to get me some time with Ric – I feel like I can almost be certain he had never heard of the blog. But who knows. I think this blog could have been quite interesting if given the opportunity to write it. McIver comes across as a politician to the core. What does he do on a Saturday night? I can’t even imagine! I hear he is big into our arts community … perhaps a play? Or time listening to the CPO?

I did attempt to talk to Hawkesworth. He didn’t get in touch with me – but his online army certainly did when my blogs began to come out. I thought it would be worth reaching out myself. An email received no response. Numerous tweets to Bob directly were not replied to – this to me was the most surprising because throughout #yycvote I had been involved in a few back and forths with Bob on Twitter. Most having to do with authenticity and using social media appropriately. I remain perplexed as to why Bob wouldn’t reach out to my invitation via Twitter. I asked his online army to pass along my invitation as well – it met the response that they wouldn’t because I was biased and would write negatively about their candidate. Too bad – I also think it would have been fun hanging out with Bob, especially after the latest Herald article about his thoughts on spending the day at the spa after realizing his 30 year political reign in the city had come to an end. I would never turn down a chance to get a pedicure.

I never heard a peep from Connelly – although I did mention I’d be interested in sitting down with him to a family member of a volunteer on his campaign.

Wayne Stewart approached me at a forum I attended and said with a big smile, “It is so nice to see the young people getting involved in politics.” That was the last I heard of him. And I know I’m young but the whole encounter turned me off. I’m not just a “young person” curious about politics – I’m passionate about them and about this city, and striving to choose the best mayor for the job. I never heard from his campaign – I did mention the blog to someone volunteering for him and he said he would mention it during a campaign meeting.

Bonnie Devine, Barry Erskine, Sandra Hunter, Gary Johnston, Dan Knight, Amanda Liu … well I don’t blame them for not getting in touch with me because I don’t think they’ve gotten in touch with anyone.

I talked to Fech in person – he was flabbergasted I had been tweeting about him … that anyone had been tweeting about him. And I really get the sense that we have all been exposed to the ‘real’ Oscar Fech over the course of this election, and every election that he has been involved with. What you see is what you get with that guy and I certainly hope he isn’t going away – the next council will need his outspoken accountability just as much as the last. Citizens like that are what keep politicians on their toes.

Actually I’m hoping we can all be “citizens like that” via social media long after #yycvote is over. I want this passion to transfer over to #yyccc … so I’ll see you there Calgary!

CR xo


(this has been cross-posted from CalgaryPolitics.com on October 16, 2010)

‘Real’ Encouragement from a ‘Real’ Passionate Calgarian: Drinks with Barb Higgins

I had been attempting to sit down with Barb since the week after my original blog had been published. A member of her team contacted me and let me know that this “interview” was important to them. Throughout the course of the last month I received emails and the occasional phone call asking my availability for the week ahead. On Friday night I was asked if I could be flexible over the long weekend. As a citizen blogger my answer was, of course, YES – except for the thanksgiving dinner factor on Sunday night. That was unlucky for me because I was invited to experience the Flames home opener with Barb that night. I really chalked it up to bad luck and bad timing. The next morning, to my surprise, one of Barb’s volunteers called and asked if I could meet for drinks at 8pm.

My day continued like any other – and when 7pm rolled around @ppilarski and I got ready and headed out to meet the mayoral candidate. We were meeting at Earls on 4th Street; as a resident of Mission Barb says that 4th Street is one of her favourite hangout spots, especially the Joyce.

We were greeted by a Barb volunteer and sat down in the restaurant. We chatted for a bit, and found out Barb was on route. At this moment her partner, Brad, walked in. He sat down with us and was surprised I was the blogger. I started to explain the concept to him and Barb barrelled into the restaurant. I say barrelled because she has so much energy that you literally feel it when she enters the room – big smile, moving quickly, bright appearance. She is with her campaign manager. Brad and the manager excuse themselves to the lounge; they have a football game to watch. Barb sits down right beside me and says she wants to be close so that she can get to know me.

She is wearing jeans, a blazer and a scarf. I noted this because I’ve never seen her in jeans during the course of this race. I appreciated that she came casually – she came as her weekend self. The first thing she explains is about keeping her purse around her ankle on the floor. A stolen purse in South America taught her that lesson. This leads to a conversation about travelling. The conversation about travelling leads to a conversation about Calgary. This was a turning point in our conversation. At first it was clear that Barb really did not know what to expect – but she warmed up to @ppilarski and me, and started being ‘real’ within a few minutes.

After her warm up it became very clear that her strength was being one on one with people. She looked you right in the eye when you spoke and when she responded. She never hesitated and she never held back. She was enthusiastic, down to earth, and exuded confidence.

“There is nowhere else on earth like Calgary. The energy here is different. You can propose an idea and people get excited about it. They want to do it and they find a way to get it done. It’s refreshing. I love it here.”

We agree that Calgary is a special place; it breeds and attracts individuals that are bold go getters. It’s clear she understands the people of this city. I’ve grown up here my entire life – I know that vibe, I live that vibe, and it is important to me that a mayoral candidate would recognize it and be willing to nurture it.

We talk about her campaign. “I feel like we have finally figured it out – we are finally gelling.” She explains that she felt as if she couldn’t be herself early on in the campaign. She couldn’t handle that anymore, switched up her campaign team (as we all know), and finally felt free to speak her mind and run the campaign the way she envisioned it. I feel like getting to spend some time with her was a direct result of a more organized team – a guest blogger for CalgaryPolitics was no longer on a list, but on the “things to do” list.

I ask her about social media – I had to it’s my passion. “I tried the Twitter thing. At the beginning it was all me and I’d respond to tweets before bed. I was willing to get behind it and use it every day but people just got really nasty. I stopped surrounding myself with nasty people in my real life a long time ago. You shouldn’t surround yourself with those people. If I was sitting here with someone treating me badly I’d pay the bill, wish them well and leave. That’s what I did with Twitter.” She explained what an avid Facebook user she was before the election. She loved sharing pictures and catching up with friends online. She suspended her personal Facebook account for the election and is focusing on her political one. She likes it and feels she is using it effectively. She likes responding to comments online. “It’s like we are sitting here at Earl’s, we are having a good time, but the people at the Joyce across the street are mad because we are here and they are over there. Come on! I picked a restaurant and you are free to come here too. That’s kind of how I feel about Facebook and Twitter. I ended up picking one and anyone is welcome to join me there.”

I’m impressed by her understanding of social media and how it is being used. True, she had no idea about my blog but she did understand its potential and knew about CalgaryPolitics. She told me she was tired of going to bed angry after reading the day’s tweets. I can live with that response. We are all aware there are some angry voices on Twitter this election (something I need to blog about too). Do I wish she would have tried Twitter longer, yes; do I think she understands it will be important to engage on social media in some way if she wins the mayor’s chair, yes.

A conversation about Facebook undoubtedly leads us to a discussion about friends. Those are the people that convinced her running was what she needed to do. Similar to Nenshi, she was looking for a strong candidate to support and bring change to city council. When she didn’t find that, she started to realize that perhaps she needed to step up. “I was physically surrounded by friends at a Wednesday night Stampede party. They were from all different areas of my life, old and new.” They all wanted her to run for mayor, so she invited them over for breakfast on Friday. Dressed in Stampede gear, they all committed to Barb to help; she made them look her right in the eye and promise.

“Then I realized I had to quit my job!” She took time off from work and came in to give notice over her holidays. “I usually go out of town when I’m on vacation from work so when I walked into the newsroom everyone knew something was going on.” Darryl Janz, of course, took the news the hardest. “He cried. I love him. He is a special man.” Barb hasn’t regretted a single moment since. “I know in my heart this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life right now.”

During the course of our conversation Barb says hello and gives big thanks to a table of her volunteers beside us. She tells me that she spent Sunday phoning volunteers and thanking them, “that’s what I was thankful for this Thanksgiving. I just can’t explain how thankful I am to all these people. I never expected it. I knew I’d have name recognition and people would trust me after my experience as their evening news anchor, but this has been incredible.”

We talk about the fact that the mayor will have to deal with becoming a local celebrity. “I dealt with that in my twenties,” Barb explains. “I have learned how to use my influence to highlight issues that matter. This isn’t about me. I’m doing this because I can facilitate change and point out the issues in this city.” She alludes to the fact that some candidates running will have to adjust to all the popularity they will receive; walking down the street won’t just be walking down the street anymore. She won’t need this adjustment time.

Barb pays the bill as soon as it gets to the table. The waitress recognizes her and we all chat about the election. Barb explains how to vote – unfortunately this young lady has only been a Calgary resident for 2 months.

Barb turns to me directly and shifts her focus. She wants to know about me; something I had asked in my original blog “what would candidates ask me?” @ppilaski and her volunteer begin to banter – it’s just Barb and I. I feel like she has known me for a while, like a mentor. She encourages me on my path of communications and reminds me to go with my gut. We both understand what it is to be passionate and she says she is excited to see where I will end up. Wow. This conversation continues for at least 10 minutes.

I receive a big hug from Barb and @ppilarski gets a firm handshake. “I’m so glad I got to sit down and do this,” Barb gushes, and you can tell she isn’t blowing smoke up my behind … she genuinely enjoyed giving me an hour and a half of her time. She comments that at this time next week she will be in front of a television biting her nails. One week away from election day and she is still willing to give me so much time. “I wish I could sit down like this with everyone in this city. I want to know their stories. Calgary is made up of people with incredible stories. To understand them is how you understand the needs of the city.”

I walk out with @ppilarski and say “Wow, that’s not what I was expecting.” I’m impressed. She literally opened up her heart for an hour and a half, no pauses, no awkward moments, straight constant attention and conversation, no politicking just people. Her passion and grace overflows – and she is eager to pour it out over Calgary.

CR xo


(this has been cross-posted from CalgaryPolitics.com on October 13, 2010)