Congratulations Mayor Nenshi!

John Macfarlane, editor of The Walrus,* asks the question:  When did society turn against its best and brightest and more importantly, why?  He was bemoaning the fact that Torontonians had elected Rob Ford—a man he described as wearing “his ignorance like a badge of honour”—to be their mayor.

Mayor Rob Ford on January 1, 2011, wearing the...

Mayor Rob Ford

Mr Macfarlane concludes that the practice of electing idiots to run things is the result of two things:  the “nothing is sacred” attitude that developed in the 1960s which led to a devaluation of knowledge and expertise, and the tendency of politicians to put their own selfish interests ahead of the public interest.  I’m not sold on Mr Macfarlane’s ‘60s explanation but the self interest argument makes some sense. 

Mr Macfarlane argues that as a result of these two factors, voters have become leery of “elites” running for public office and elect ignoramuses like Rob Ford instead.

I understand Mr Macfarlane’s frustration, but Monday’s municipal elections prove that he’s got it dead wrong.

On Oct 21, Albertans elected their brightest and their best to be the mayors of their largest cities, Calgary and Edmonton.  And they did so with gusto.  Here are the stats:

  • Don Iveson, mayor of Edmonton.  62% of the vote.  Approval rating 80%
  • Naheed Nenshi, mayor of Calgary.  74% of the vote.  Approval rating 81%

Compare this to Rob Ford’s lackluster win—47% of the vote, approval rating of 50%–and it’s obvious that the people (if they live in Alberta at any rate) will choose the leader who articulates a vision that aligns with their own aspirations for the place they call home.

I can’t speak to the Edmonton experience, but here in Calgary we’re blessed with an intelligent, articulate and witty mayor who proposed a vision for the future (twice) that rang true for the majority of Calgarians.

Mayor Nenshi

In 2010 Mayor Nenshi captured the public’s imagination with a vision to make Calgary “better”.  He campaigned on 12 “better ideas” which ranged from simple things like eliminating the $3 park-and-ride fee to loftier goals like developing a poverty reduction strategy.  And for the most part, he delivered.

In 2013 he was faced with a  challenge:  what’s the “new” campaign promise?  Rather than veer off on a tangent he chose to refine his vision.

He’d make Calgary “even better” by providing better growth in the urban core, established neighbourhoods and new suburban areas, better transportation (including bike and foot paths as well as improvements to roads and public transit), better community (safe neighbourhoods, poverty reduction, affordable housing) and better government (greater engagement, reduced red tape, improved efficiency at City Hall and a new fiscal arrangement with the provincial and federal governments).

Whether it was our faith in his 2013 vision (which admittedly was more complex that the four simple “better” headlines would indicate) or our faith in the man himself, we trusted Naheed Nenshi to govern wisely for another four year term.

Why did we trust him?  His volunteers, the Purple Army, put it best.  They trust Naheed Nenshi because he loves Calgary and puts the interests of Calgarians first.  He’s authentic with no hidden agenda.  If he makes mistakes he’ll own up to them and move on.  He delivered on his promises over the last three years and he’ll do so again.

The fact that he’s a gifted communicator with a wicked sense of humour is an added bonus.

Now compare Mayor Nenshi to Mayor Ford…Um….’Nuff said.

Magical Mayor Nenshi

Contrary to what John Macfarlane thinks, Toronto didn’t “elect” Mayor Ford as part of a backlash against the self-serving political elite, they got stuck with him by default because none of Mr Ford’s competitors were able to provide a compelling vision of Toronto’s future or convince the voters that they had the intelligence and the integrity to deliver that vision.

Torontonians haven’t turned against the best and brightest…they’re simply waiting for the best and the brightest to throw their hats in the ring.

And when they do, the result will be magic.  Just ask those who supported Mayor Nenshi!

*The Walrus, Nov 2013, p17

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13 Responses to Congratulations Mayor Nenshi!

  1. Jane Walker says:

    You have said it so well, Susan! As usual, you are shining a light on the real challenge. We need to translate that challenge into a perpetual communication strategy to get more of ‘the brightest and the best’ to see politics as a reputable challenge that deserves THEIR participation! They need to know that we will respect,support and appreciate their genuine efforts. Through political institutions we are building community …. community built on culture …. culture built on vision…. vision built on principle …. principles identified in the light of the greater good.

    I worked on Iveson’s campaign as a tiny part of the most impressive and enthusiastic group of volunteers I have seen anywhere! I was there with people of all ages to see the results come in. There is nothing like it …. a win to be proud of and where excitement for the future keeps you celebrating long after the election is over. Old gals like me (fakin’ 49 for a while yet) can ‘rest assured’ for a while! What a feeling!!!

    • Great comments Jane, especially your reference to Mayor Iveson’s volunteers as “the most impressive and enthusiastic group” you’d seen. There’s a misconception that our mayors appeal only to the young tech-savvy urbanite volunteers (and voters), but that’s not the case. Mayor Nenshi’s “purple army” ran the gamut from young to old (and I do mean old, our best door knocker was well into his seventies), high school students, professionals, trades people, university profs, businessmen, housewives, old gals fakin’ 49, you name it, they were there. Some volunteers had worked on many many campaigns, others were newbies. All of them felt compelled to help the Mayor make the city better. What better way to build community and commitment to the future!
      Well done Edmonton! Well done Calgary!

  2. Carlos Beca says:

    Like you Susan I do not agree with John Macfarlane. I am not surprised with the 60s comment because it has been the ‘in thing’ to now blame the Baby Boomers for everything that goes wrong these days. We have this fetish of generational differences and battles that I would like to understand where it came from and what is the purpose of it. This idea of exploiting generation against generation is incomprehensible. The Baby Boomers, just like any generation in history did what they had to do to raise their families and grow as human beings. Blaming a generation for our problems is to me as silly as remarks I see as ‘the end of history’ and even better ‘the end of discovery’.
    I fully agree with you about the Mayors and I just want to add to it that both Calgary and Edmonton had a clear choice between people that represented the interests of developers and other businesses and those that cared more for the city and its citizens. I know they will both be showered with anti propaganda just like Nenshi was, but I do think that at least the 30% of Albertans that voted, understand the political game very clearly now. The other 70% do not care and simply do not matter. The only problem is when they have the access to the media like for example Lorne Gunter in the Edmonton Sun that talks about Nenshi as if he was Stalin. Furthermore I would like to add that Albertans are not as silly as people think and these two elections are obviously a reaction to the disappointment of a provincial government that is to say the least a JOKE. We know full well that by giving the cities a better chance we will survive in the river of mediocrity that flows from the Legislature.
    I also agree with you on Rob Ford and I understand that since the amalgamation of all the regions around Toronto, elections have become tribe rivalries between those same regions and that the region that elected Rob Ford is so far winning the game. So, like you say, Toronto is just waiting for an opportunity. Furthermore I ask Mr. Macfarlane this single question – Rob Ford is not part of the self serving elites? I also would like to ask where he came up with this theory that we have been governed by the best and the brightest. In Alberta, for example, I have not seen a bright premier since Peter Lougheed. I think the problem is exactly the opposite, we are being governed by the those that more quickly can sell whatever brings them votes. The best and the brightest do not even bother having to work with the bunch of crooks in power. Macfarlane’s theory just shows the bias that the best and the brightest are those that can get the most money to get elected which in most cases means those that are closer to the big business and the elites. Look at the Senate and I can tell you that Parliament is not that different. One just has to look at this pathetic prime minister. All they talk about is this free trade with the European Union which still has to be ratified by 28 countries in Europe and our parliament. One agreement that was rushed into some document which they signed to put on a show. This agreement is far from complete and they left the tough details for further discussion. This is simply a good news document. Europe needs good news and Harper cannot miss an opportunity to try to erase the scandals back home where he should be to resolve them rather than lying constantly about it.

    • Lots of excellent points here Carlos. I want to pick up on your observation that both Calgary and Edmonton had a clear choice between candidates representing the interests of developers and candidates who cared more for the city and its citizens. I don’t know how the issue was framed in Edmonton, but Calgary’s developers mounted a very aggressive campaign which would have confused a lot of voters but for Mayor Nenshi’s willingness to take them on.

      This was no small feat given the buckets of money the developers poured into their candidates coffers and the assistance the candidates received from none other than the Manning Foundation who produced a series of “independent” research papers and op-ed pieces designed to whip up the public with simplistic arguments about tax increases. The last straw for me was when the developer slate tried to pit suburban families against inner city families. Resorting to “wedge” politics is always destructive and tells you a lot about the candidate’s integrity (or lack thereof).

      You mentioned the Stephen Harper mess. The Conservatives are coming to Calgary this week to work on policies etc. I’ll be amazed if the media carries anything other than the PM’s mishandling of Duffygate. This started as an expose of certain senators who flexed their “I’m entitled” muscles one time too many, but it might end with Harper facing down a mini uprising within his own party. I can’t wait!!!

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Yes Mayor Nemshi was attacked way more than Don Ivenson in Edmonton. I am so surprised with Calgary’s resilience on staying with him despite all of it. It says a lot to me about Calgarians and the possible future of this province. Nenshi is not perfect by any means but his love for the city and its citizens is very rare these days. These two mayors are going to make provincial politics less relevant.
        I hope Harper faces a major uprising. He may very well have shut it down already. Like one of the people who writes to this blog said – He is a Putin clone.

  3. Neil Fleming says:

    Great blog Susan, it speaks to what Allison Redford had proclaimed following her leadership win and again following her election. She repeated time and again that her PC party was merely catching up to the changing political landscape in Alberta. She was right, the people of Alberta were ready for authentic leaders who would put the needs of the community ahead of their own needs and those of the corporations. Nenshi and we hope, Iveson are prime examples of what she was describing. Ms. Redford courted and won the hearts of the progressive side of her party as well as many others who were looking for a “better” Alberta. Sadly as we all know, she turned her back on virtually everyone who supported her and missed her opportunity to be that trusted leader with a progressive vision for our province. I can’t imagine where she thinks her support will come from in the next election.

    • Neil, I couldn’t have said it better myself. I was one of those progressive voters who pinned her hopes on Ms Redford. I believed her when she said “The strongest leaders are the ones that can be authentic…so that you’re truly saying to people during the campaign, ‘this is who I am. If you elect me, this is who I’ll be” and was stunned when she tossed all that out the window once she was elected.

      Given how far Ms Redford has swung to the right I don’t think she’s worried about losing the progressive vote. She’s pushing hard to retain her the traditional conservative base but they’re flocking over to the Wildrose. The WR moderated their social policies this weekend in order to be more attractive to Red Tories and I think they’ll be successful. The progressive parties have a real chance to capture the progressive vote but (as we’ve discussed many times here on the Soapbox) they’ll have to work together or split the vote yet again. It’s going to be an interesting couple of years here in Alberta!

  4. Very refreshing to read these comments as one gets very frustrated by the talk of folks who say “Does not matter who you vote for as they are all a bunch of crooks” and I will admit there are some very devious individuals running for political office. These two mayors are a good example of hard work paying off and they have captured the hearts of those who worked so hard for them and i do not think they will be disappointed. Getting the endorsement of a respected politician as Alison did having Mr. Lougheed say a few words on her behalf has now back fired on the ex premier as folks are now bad mouthing him, forgetting that he was ill when he made his endorsement of Alison and so on and on it goes. Hopefully we will have some good leaders when the United States becomes self sufficient in oil and we are not depending so much on our own supplies. (Hey, I gotta run world series game is nearly over).

    • Like you Tom I was uplifted by the response of the volunteers and the voters who responded to these great candidates. (And I’m very impressed that you broke away from the world series to post your comment! I didn’t watch it–who won?)

  5. Carlos Beca says:

    Susan I apologize if posting this is not appropriate and let me know. I just want to help the boat sink as much as it is possible
    Here is a video posted by Senator Brazeau who is not someone I respect but he has the sinking boat in his mind as well
    http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/10/28/patrick-brazeau-stephen-harper-video_n_4170263.html
    Please watch – it is worth it

    • Even though we’re losing the thread of good mayors, I too am fascinated by how the Prime Minister continues to evade the growing mountain of evidence that Nigel Wright did not act alone in the Duffy expense scandal. The PM is now throwing everything at the opposition in an effort to deflect the public from the fact that he and others played a huge part in trying to sweep the whole mess under the rug and in doing so they lied and broke the law.

  6. Hi Susan. First, please forgive any typos. I had my eyes checked this afternoon which involved those awful drops that dilate your pupils and the eyes aren`t quite back to normal. Congratulations to Calgary and congratulations to the Purple Army. I have to ask, how did the volunteers get the name Purple Army? This name really intrigued me, and it made me think of the Prince song, Purple Rain. I looked up the lyrics, and verse 6 seems fitting, although I`m sure Prince didn`t think about politics when he sang it.

    Honey, I know, I know
    I know times are changing
    It’s time we all reach out
    For something new, that means you too

    I have been reading your blogs. I get a sense that many Calgarians feel as if Redford had sold-out their support, and Nenshi, although not Premier, is a Mayor who will put the needs of Calgarians first before the needs of corporations. Congratulations again, and here`s to brighter days for Calgary.

    • You’re absolutely right, many Calgarians, indeed many Albertans, feel betrayed by Ms Redford. She said she was different from the “old boys”, but when she came into power all of her promises turned to ashes. The lack of transparency and accountability is breathtaking. The arrogance has reached new levels.

      Here’s an example that those of you in BC will be familiar with. Remember when Premier Clark set out 5 conditions for the approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline and one was that BC would get its “fair share” of the benefits. Redford went ballistic and said Clark wanted to grab a chunk of Alberta’s royalties and she wasn’t going to overturn the constitution (??) to accede to Clark’s demands. But after Clark was re-elected Redford decided Clark was her new best friend. (Redford also needed to show progress on her Canadian Energy Strategy). So they set up a joint task force to work this issue and guess what, the task force terms of reference says: “B.C.’s fifth condition is the most misunderstood condition…It is not about royalty sharing but rather about receiving a fair share of the economic and fiscal benefits of a proposed heavy oil project that reflects the levels, degree and nature of the risk borne by B.C., the environment and taxpayers.”

      And who caused this “misunderstanding”? None other than our lawyer-premier Ms Redford. An authentic leader would have sat down with Ms Clark to talk through the “benefit” condition. A bull-headed egotistical leader would have blown up at the suggestion that someone would dare stand in the way of an Alberta business opportunity…and that’s just what she did.

      OK, enough on Ms Redford. Calgarians are truly blessed to have such a progressive forward thinking mayor as Naheed Nenshi. He and Don Iveson will give Ms Redford a run for her money on issues like the City Charter. I can’t wait to see them in action!

      PS The “Purple Army” gets its name from Mayor Nenshi’s campaign colour–purple. But the lyrics from Prince fit like a glove. Cool!

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