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.
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.
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.
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