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Alberta Diary

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David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

By electing Naheed Nenshi, Calgarians deliver a slap to the grim Harperite vision of Alberta

| October 19, 2010
Naheed Nenshi

Calgarians, denizens of what is supposedly the country's most conservative major city, will awake this morning to the news they have elected a liberal mayor who is a member of both a visible minority and a religious minority.

The election of Naheed Nenshi as mayor in yesterday's civic election tells a very positive and inclusive story about Cowtown, and establishes a clear trend of Calgarians electing the most liberal candidate available to the top job in what is supposedly the heartland of the mean-spirited Harper regime and the rabidly market fundamentalist Wildrose Alliance.

As regular readers surely know, your blogger thought about the best that could be hoped for was the election of the nicer conservative candidate, and so this morning I must eat a little crow. This kind of thinking must be the result of too many ice-cold post-election mornings over the years out here in the New West. Well, it really is the New West now, and … and … and Leger Marketing called it right!

Thankfully, notwithstanding the need to choke out that phrase, I won't have to eat as much crow as the supporters of Ric McIver, "the toast of Conservative Calgary," the man so far to the right he gave up the K in his first name to the Tories' bean counters. What a slap in the face to the Calgary Herald editorial board, Jason Kenney, the political prognosticators at the Globe and Mail, Tom Flanagan and all their ilk among the Harperite spear carriers who boosted the angry and divisive McIver throughout the campaign.

What's more, Nenshi got Calgarians to say No to "Dr. No" with a campaign war chest less than half the size of McIver's!

Nenshi's success at the polls should be a reminder to the good people of Toronto that they too can do better in a week's time than they once had thought. We'll have to see about that, I suppose, but it's something to ponder.

It can also serve as a reminder to those of us in the rest of Alberta that we can do better too -- and that one of these days we just might.

In Edmonton, meanwhile, Mayor Stephen Mandel romped to an easy and decisive victory over his Wildrose-Alliance-backed rival.

Fact is, the popular Mandel would certainly have won no matter what, but it surely did not hurt his prospects for a two-to-one victory that his chief opponent's campaign was tarnished by the sleazy tactics of a supporter who pretended to be a freelance journalist from the United States to smear the mayor.

The decisive defeat of candidate David Dorward, who had hung his hat on the fight to keep Edmonton's City Centre Airport open in the face of Mandel's plan to convert the site into a upscale inner-city development, also may have interesting implications for Alberta politics in the long run.

Premier Ed Stelmach's Conservatives, not to mention many New Democrats and Alberta Liberals, are all sure to take comfort in the fact the candidate openly backed by the Wildrose Alliance of Danielle Smith was so thoroughly trounced by the moderate Mandel.

It will take some time -- and possibly some beer -- to puzzle out the rest of the implications for the Alliance of this civic race in Edmonton.

Only one thing can be said for certain about that at this hour: for throwing her support behind the fight to keep the city airport open, Smith will have a free plane ride anywhere in the province that she wants to go once a provincial election campaign begins.

But surely it is a hopeful sign here in Canada's supposedly narrow-minded Bible Belt that the citizens of its two principal cities have elected mayors distinguished by their moderate and inclusive views who happen to be members of religions not practiced by the majority.

It's not exactly springtime in Alberta -- it's October, after all, and the snow will soon be flying. But there may be hints of a warming trend among big city voters nonetheless.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.



WTG citizens of Calgary and Edmonton. And you are right that Torontians can also ignore the media when it puts out you only have the 2 choices of extremely unprogressive and unprogressive. Go Joe!

Contrary to the spin in some media outlets, including Rabble, Nenshi's campaign fund was hardly small, or non-corporate. Corporate donors, including developers, contributed heavilly to the Purple Campaign. And Nenshi has still refused to release the dollar amounts of the donations, making speculations of the sort in this blog ("...a campaign war chest less than half the size of McIver's!") baseless. Actually, Nenshi's 'vision' and funding sources are very similar to the widely-despised Druh Farrell.

As for Nenshi being a 'visible minority' and a Muslim--did you ever hear of Reform-Alliance-Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer? Like Jaffer, Naheed Nenshi is a member of the very liberal Ismaili sect, whose members are well-represented in Alberta's business community. (Another prominent Ismaili Mayoral candidate was Alnoor Kassam.) However, the Ismailis are actually a minority in the MUSLIM community of Canada, and are not considered 'Muslims' by the majority Salafi sect. Before going off on how accepting Albertans are of religious minorities, you should look into the anti-Ismaili bigotry and sectarianism in the Province's Muslim population.

Among the things Nenshi has promised is cutting licensing and permit bureaucracies. Translation: businesses won't have to bother with as many pesky rules and objections, over things like rezoning properties and operating businesses which area residents may be opposed to. In other words, localised Bill 50. How is this 'progressive,' in the sense people here use the term? And while condo vacancies are rising in a faltering market, and aborted high-rise projects have left gaping holes around town, Nenshi is pushing for more high density housing construction. This includes Area Redevelopment Projects for which--like sprawling new subdivisions--tax and utility-payers have to absorb the infrastructure (expanded roads, water, sewage, power). The developers behind these projects contributed heavilly to the campaigns of both Nenshi and Farrell. The majority of residents of communities like Brentwood and Hillhurst-Sunnyside are fiercely opposed to these projects, but the Farrells and Nenshis are intent on ramming them through. After all, say the technocrats, planning should be left to the 'experts': local, populist democracy is just so hip and un-progressive.

When the dollar amount of Nenshi's donors' list is finally released, and the new Mayor is sworn in, the purple 'Barney' costume will finally come off. Then, Calgarians will see another Ralph Klein clone--a pudgy, pro-business media personality turned career politician, in the pockets of dubious donors.

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