Who is it going to be: Nenshi or Smith?

This Monday Calgary voters will elect their mayor.

The winner will be expected to lead Calgary out of one of the worst economic downturns it has experienced in decades.  So, who is it going to be:  Naheed Nenshi, the confident qualified candidate or Bill Smith, the congenial but underqualified candidate?


When Calgarians are asked why they’d choose Smith over Nenshi they say two things:  property taxes are out of control and Nenshi is arrogant.

The first criticism is factually incorrect.  The second is naïve.

Property taxes

Smith says residential property taxes rose by 51% under Nenshi.  He provides no evidence to back this inflammatory allegation.

Nenshi says that from 2011 to 2016 the combined provincial and municipal residential property tax increased by 14.7%, not 51% as Smith claims.  Nenshi has evidence to back it up.

I know math is hard but the first rule in math is “show your work”, so who are you going to trust:  the candidate who makes unfounded allegations or the one who’s willing to demonstrate how he came up with his numbers?


When Nenshi refuses to fold like a cheap tent he’s called “arrogant”; when a businessman refuses to back down he’s a “strong leader”.

Case in point:  On July 31 the Calgary Flames met with the Mayor and city council to review their respective positions in the negotiations for a new hockey arena.  The meeting got “testy” as the Mayor and Murray Edwards, one of the Flames’ owners, interrupted each other and traded shots.  An observer said they were both “snappy”.

And yet when Nenshi is “snappy” he’s accused of being disrespectful but when Edwards is “snappy” he’s lauded as a shrewd businessman.

It’s time for Calgarians to wake up.  Nenshi is leading a high stakes negotiation with a group of sophisticated businessmen who want tax breaks and sweeteners before they sign on the dotted line.  We need a savvy negotiator not a milquetoast to ensure we don’t give away the farm.

The 5th Best City in the World

We’ve reached that point in the campaign where we need to focus on the big picture: how do we ensure Calgary comes out of the recession even stronger than before?

The Economist ranked Calgary the 5th best city in the world.*  Pause for a moment and let that sink in.

It rated 140 cities on livability by assessing relative comfort across five broad categories:  stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure.

The provincial government gets a share of the credit for Calgary’s high ranking in healthcare and education, however Calgary’s outstanding rating in stability (crime/terrorism), culture and environment, and infrastructure belongs to Calgary alone.

It is worth noting that Calgary maintained its high ranking notwithstanding burgeoning population growth (The Economist says the “big city buzz” can damage livability by increasing crime and overburdening infrastructure) and the lingering effects of the 2013 flood and the 2014 economic recession.

Nenshi’s policies will continue to support livability by investing in stability (community services, police and fire), culture and environment (rec centres, parks and libraries) and infrastructure (the Green Line and BRT).  This will attract business and investment to Calgary.

Smith’s campaign is remarkably light on policy, but the few specifics he has shared would damage Calgary’s livability by suspending planned infrastructure (the Green Line and the BRT) and cutting spending on culture (public art), which will make Calgary a less attractive place to live and work for Calgarians and newcomers.

I went to an advance poll and checked the box for Nenshi, the highly qualified visionary candidate, I hope you’ll do the same.

*The top five cities were Melbourne, Vienna, Toronto, Vancouver.  Calgary tied with Adelaide for 5th place. 

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26 Responses to Who is it going to be: Nenshi or Smith?

  1. Terry Korman says:

    Recalling a comment from one of my less analytical former students: “If Liberals hate it, it must be good,” I am also reminded of a Russian folk-tale that is indicative of the current hyper-partisan mind-set: A genie offers a peasant a single wish, but says that whatever the peasant gets his neighbor will get doubled. The peasant thinks for a bit, and then says: “Make me blind in one eye”.

    Even living in northern Alberta, Mayor Nenshi remains part of what still passes for hope (and good governance) in the modern world …

  2. Ed Henderson says:

    I think most Calgarians wish for neither but even with the limited choices available I think a change is overdue.

  3. Gary Beaton says:

    Regardless of who gets the most votes tomorrow Nenshi has already lost the 2017 election. Minions Pootmans and Pincott retired leaving Jeromy Farkas’s campaign against an incumbent way out in front. Nenshi’s hand picked candidate to bump off Sean Chu is running a campaign that had gone no where and is not threat to Chu who has been vindicated by the change in public attitude. Team Purple members: Farrell, Carra and Woolley no longer can rely on Nenshi’s charisma. All face serious challengers because of their condescending approach to voters. Woolley’s pro developer positions and rudeness had alienated numerous communities so he is behind in the polls.

    • Gary, I don’t agree with your characterization of Farrell, Carra and Woolley (or Nenshi for that matter), however you are correct when you say the character of city council will change depending on who is elected tomorrow.

  4. Malcolm says:

    Looking at our property tax notices for 2011 and 2016 I have to agree with Mayor Nenshi that the property tax rate has increased by approx. 15%. What has changed is the assessed value of the property which has increased by 34%. The combination of these two factors causes an increase in the total taxes paid of nearly 50%. If the tax rate stays fairly constant but the assessed value of the property varies so will the total property taxes paid.

    But just a minute—- wasn’t it an Alberta Conservative government, many years ago, that decreed that property taxes should be based on the Fair Market Value of the property as of July1 of the previous year? Enough said.

  5. I think you’re right Malcolm. The latest information I have on the provincial/municipal split is that 40 cents of each dollar of property tax goes to the province. Of the remaining 60 cents, over 75% goes to pay for police, transit, firefighting and roads. I’d say we’re getting good value for our money.

    • Don T says:

      I’d disagree. Bike lanes, $300 million libraries, and the “art” we pay for are completely unnecessary. Time for a change.

  6. Doug says:

    Considering the tax rate rather than total municipal portion of property taxes is disingenuous. If the average assessed value increases faster than inflation, the mill rate should go down. The Municipal portion of my taxes has increased by slightly less than 50%. Inflation over 6 years should be around 15-20%. Business taxes have risen even more. Nenshi has been tone deaf to the recession. The City should have at the very least frozen headcount after the recession began and should have bargained hard with construction contractors. With the carnage in oil and gas and home building, the cost to build infrastructure has to have fallen. Smith is an unknown but can’t be any worse from a fiscal accountability perspective.

    • Doug, you’re right about the mill rate but I don’t think Smith or Nenshi have discussed the increase from that perspective. As I understand it the City of Calgary has a hiring freeze in place now and they’re also downsizing various departments. The union contract was settled in 2014 when oil prices were booming and the City had to compete with the private sector. The increases were locked in at 1.8% in 2014, 3.2% in 2015, 3.5% in 2016 and 4% in 2017. I’m sure we’ll see a different result when the contract comes back up for renegotiation. You’re right about the cost of building infrastructure being lower in today’s environment. That’s why Nenshi wants to proceed with the Green Line now.

  7. omegaphallic says:

    It’s amazing that 3 of the top 5 cities in the world are Canadian.

  8. Einar Davison says:

    My County Councellor was acclaimed so no election for me. However being an outsider from city politics maybe I can offer a different view. I think it is really easy to get sucked into the rhetoric. My “good feelings” for Mayor Nenshi aren’t as good as they used to be. A lot of that is perception, if you catch a person in a bad moment they will look negative. My prediction is that if Nenshi wins it will be a squeaker and fairly or unfairly a lot of that will be from perceptions and bad feelings stirred up and probably not the whole truth, as you rightly have pointed out.
    Personally I don’t think the Flames should get a free arena paid for by the city ratepayers. I think they out of touch with reality. Calgary hit a wall with the downturn in the patch and the fact that the Flames haven’t clued into this, but wanted to make a free arena an election issue. Well if Bill Smith is ready to give them half a billion, that doesn’t strike me as fiscally responsible, especially during these times. I know many will talk about what the Flames put into the community, but they are a business still and they don’t put more in than they take out. The former provincial & municipal government in Edmonton set a precedent and now the Flames want theirs. Bad optics and wrong time to be asking for this. By the way Library’s may not be seen as important by sports fans but I would bet that the fact that their Grandparents and Parents had access to a library and allowed them to provide these sports fans with a better life. Everyone has forgot where they come from and who helped them to get where they are now.
    Equally as an out of towner, many of us look at Calgary with apprehension in that the city has become a monstrosity that could go the way of Detroit (a one industry town). Especially if the downturn becomes permanent. Mayor Nenshi is really pushing the Calgary Regional Partnership where the impression has been Mayor Nenshi speaks and the rest must dutifully follow along. Yes Calgary is a huge entity, but you can’t call it a partnership if Calgary rules it. Urban sprawl has taken excellent farmland out of production to be replaced by “paperboard” communities. In twenty years they will look as run down as many of the original “paperboard” communities of the 70’s look now.
    There is no regional (not talking about in Calgary, but outside of Calgary) transportation plan (other than buses). We have surrounding communities that could absorb more people. If they live outside of Calgary but work in Calgary, their only choices is to commute in their own vehicle. Yet in the last 10 years rail track that could have been used for commuter rail has been removed. You need only look at the roads in Calgary to realize that they are just catching up to what should have been built 20 years ago. If you look at the 511 cameras at 6:00 in the morning there is a long stream of cars going towards Calgary, and at 5:00 in the afternoon they are all leaving the city.
    The community I live near could absorb double (or even triple) the amount of people it has right now and it would indeed make it a more viable community. However it is always about what Calgary wants and the fact that it doesn’t seem that Calgary can think beyond right now, and not what could happen down the road or how Calgary could improve the region and take a lot of pressure of itself. However you have to give Mayor Nenshi credit for vigorously championing what is good for the city in the region. I don’t suspect Bill Smith or Andre Chabot will be any different. We fear that for Calgary to be “what it could be”, resources, money and rights will be taken away from surrounding areas to feed the monster without a thought of the impact to the surrounding areas.
    Finally, I think I have reasonably good taste in art. The “blue pregnant streetlight”, I don’t think that one was worth what it was paid for. I don’t mind the Bowfort “Towers” though the base looks unfinished and of course the first nations are offended by the similarity of it to their tradtions. Everyone has different tastes in art, you can’t please everyone. However during a downturn it is hard to justify spending money on art when people are out of work, tax revenues are down, taxes are rising and really there are bigger fish to fry. The optics look bad, the perception is that the Mayor and council are out of touch and again rightly or wrongly they are responsible. I’m not sure bringing race into the mix was an appropriate strategy and I think that one might have offended many. I hope if he is re-elected Mayor Nenshi’s “aura” will return to the one everyone loved and not the one where he is always on the defensive and getting a bit crusty. We all could learn some things from this election. There is still much change and turbulence in Alberta politics at all levels and it is still will be awhile before it finally gets stabilized. Hang on and try to enjoy the ride is all I can say.

    • Einar, lots of good comments as always. I want to pick up on your point about perception and rhetoric. I’ve been talking with some of the campaign people from the mayoral and councillor campaigns. They say this election is much more negative than any of the elections they’ve worked on in the past (they’ve worked on municipal, provincial and federal elections). They blame it on the rise in populism and the Trump effect. Nowadays there’s no such thing as neutral information. As Edward Luce said populists see the facts as either with them or against them, and if the facts are against them they’re false.
      We’ve reached the point where the everyday voter has to be a fact checker. I got a comment from Chris Davis on my blog on LinkedIn. He directed me to a column in Macleans magazine which he said supported Smith’s 51% increase number. I clicked on the link in the Macleans article which took me to a City webpage setting out the median house prices and municipal property taxes from 2007 to 2017. Given that Nenshi didn’t become mayor until 2010 I did the calculation for the 2010 to 2017 data and got a percentage increase of 38%, not 51%. Also I don’t know whether Smith (or Nenshi for that matter) ran his calculation on the average, the median or the modal value, each of which is different.
      What this illustrates is it’s easy for politicians to convince the public with rhetoric and perception because the public doesn’t have the time or brain power to check to see if they’re correct.
      Although a sensible person would do what Malcolm did and compare his property notices for 2011 and 2016.

      • Einar Davison says:

        Just a follow up. There were a lot of small “rural” municipal elections where there was a wholesale change with many incumbents biting the dust. On my county council of 7 councillors where only one incumbent didn’t run again, only two incumbents were returned. I hear Drumheller was the same and Strathmore removed two very long-term incumbents. So my question is are the new people right wingers who are displacing the old guard that was connected to the former PC machine? Or is this an indication that maybe people are tiring of the current conservative right wing and the support in rural areas is beginning to crumble? The people replaced were all staunch conservatives. No one really showed their “colours” here, so it remains to be seen who these new people really are. At very least many long term local politicians were “shown the door” and “put out to pasture”.
        I think Mayor Nenshi won this election in the last days of the election, when people decided that Smith wasn’t what they really wanted and in Calgary everyone stuclk with the incumbents. Provincially does this count towards what the next provincial election will be. It strikes me that it isn’t a hard indicator, but a snap shot in time. Right now it seems to indicate that there is some softening of the progressive/centrist vote in Calgary which right now is supporting the NDP. If that holds the NDP will win the next election. If that vote stays at home and not vote NDP and their only other choice is UCP and for us who call themselves progressive/centrists that isn’t a choice. I think some of the issues which reduced Mayor Nenshi’s popularity is the same that currently affects the Alberta Party. The people who run the party are a bit elitist and that they are a bit arrogant in believing they are smarter than anyone else. They are setting themselves up for a disaster and not building a true third party choice for Albertans. I wouldn’t feel at home in the NDP, It will be a cold July in hell before I ever join the UCP because they have too many people whose ideology and sheer closed minded arrogance I could never live with. So I might have to go and vote and purposely spoil my ballot. The next election no doubt will come down to “better the devil you know rather than the devil you don’t”. With slightly over a year left the next election promises to be as contentious as the Calgary municipal election was. It also is a warning to all sides of the political spectrum. “Don’t take us voters for granted, we still can still surprise you. We may not be able to rely on our politicians but we can always rely on you. Have a great week!

  9. GoinFawr says:

    On a coincidental note:
    Who is it going to Be Edmonton? Don “Sell it all for pennies on the dollar” Iveson, or Robert (always a Bride’s maid, never a bride) Ligertwood? Or maybe the mystery Mak who won’t show his face?
    Hocus Pocus!

    • GoinFawr, so the election turned into a cakewalk for Don Iveson (did you guys ever find out who Henry Mak is? He got over 1000 votes.). On a semi-related topic, you may have heard that Calgary is one of the few cities that still uses paper ballots. The polling stations were swamped, some ran out of ballots, the Calgary elections website crashed. We were getting our numbers from Twitter via Nenshi’s scrutineers. It was a nightmare, but the Twitterverse was in fine form. The best tweet of the night was this:
      White puff of smoke = Nenshi win;
      Black puff of smoke = Smith win;
      City on Fire = Larry Heather win.

      It summarized the evening perfectly!

      • GoinFawr says:

        Hahaha! Yes, Edmonton is all ‘millennial’ and everything, with their expensive, fancy pantsy touch screened wireless high speed digital 4k HD ballot scanning devices, probably running python 3.6… though I was not impressed at all really, I mean paper ballots are not a big deal when it’s ‘only’ ~800 large to count, and, in my personal opinion, they are a LOT more difficult to ‘hack’. Of course, in either case those conducting the election will have to make sure that there are ENOUGH ballots available at the polling stations to provide one per eligible voter, which I understand was a problem where you are to…and no, I never found out who Mr.Mak was; maybe he’s really Bruce Wayne?

        On a bright note a concerted effort to drive out Ben Henderson failed; notably, he is a councilor who consistently votes/makes-proposals in favor of the actual interests of Edmontonians, rather than those companies holding the city’s debt. It’s almost as if a good swath of folk in Mr.Henderson’s riding must bother to pay a modicum of attention to these kinds of things.

  10. Carlos Beca says:

    The arena is another case of getting us to pay for rich people’s toys. We build it and we cannot afford to go to the games. In the past that was called third world standards of living. But it seems that is what people want. Two of our best players in Edmonton make 8 million dollars a season to score 30 goals, an average of 270 thousand a goal. It is unbelievable but it is our reality. For these people 14% increase is uninteresting news. For many people, myself included, had raises of 2% in total in those same 5 years. So 14% is a lot and that is why people complain. The policies are wonderful but we do not have to pretend that we can afford to spend when we really do not have the money. That to me is bad management and that is what we had in Edmonton as well. We should keep our cities clean, safe and take care of the infrastructure and forget about the frills.
    Our council here in Edmonton along with the Mayor are obsessed with growth. Edmonton is a nice city to live in at 800 thousand but judging by our management skills, it will not be at 2 million. We will just fall in the same traps of 90% of big cities in the world – standards fall, people live like pigeons in very small places and gangs and drugs skyrocket because there is never enough police to keep cities running safe.
    Edmonton is already in some of those traps, despite the fact that for years the chief of police publicly stated that Edmonton did not have a gang problem. We not only have severe problems already but we also have high levels of human trafficking which is the elite way of saying slavery
    I think Edmonton and Calgary are still nice cities but the quality of life is deteriorating not improving.

  11. Carlos, you’ve raised a very important point, namely that growth is not the be all and end all, and yet it’s the force that drives our economy at the municipal, provincial and federal levels of government.
    I just finished reading a blog post by George Monbiot in which he says that people typically place themselves along a linear political spectrum with the state at one end and the market at the other. “If you want more state and less market, you identify with the left; if you want more market and less state, you align with the right” He says this is flawed because the economy has 4 sectors, not just 2. These are the state, the market, the household and the commons. He says by neglecting the household and the commons we’ve become dependent on growth.
    I think Monbiot has a point, the difficulty is how do we as a society move away from the growth-based 2 sector economy to a more equitable and inclusive 4 sector economy. If we can’t figure this out we’ll see a continual increase in the negative consequences of growth which will damage the quality of life for everyone but the very rich.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      Yes Susan it is an extremely important point which not too many people seem to care about because it is an addiction we may very well not be able to change and which without a great reduction in population will take us to a very catastrophic end. Of course population control does not interest most religious people and so the solution for this problem is a question mark and with it the future of this planet.
      It is 2017 and talking publicly about population control is absolute taboo. .

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