Mayor Naheed Nenshi. Image: Flickr/Premier of Alberta​

Real estate plays a major role in any city election, but it’s up front and center in Calgary’s mayoral election this Monday.  

Running for his third term, Mayor Naheed Nenshi champions the Green Line rapid transit up the east side of the city, which would relieve congestion and presumably emissions on Deerfoot Trail, the busiest expressway in Calgary. The Green Line would also increase east side property values to some extent, especially for properties farther from the airport.

Then there’s the new hockey arena. Despite persistent and public lobbying by the private owners, the mayor has offered Ken King and the Calgary Flames owners somewhat limited financial support for building a new hockey arena, on condition they put it near the Saddledome’s current location on the Stampede grounds. According to Global News, “Under the City of Calgary’s latest funding proposal, the total cost of the new arena was pegged at $555 million plus indirect costs. The city proposed a funding formula where they would pay a third of the total cost, Flames ownership would pay another third and users would pay for the final third through a ticket surcharge. Each share would be $185 million.”

Ken King, who owns the Flames, wants the city to put up another $35 million. CTV reported, “Calgary Flames says they were willing to fork over $275M for a new arena built in Victoria Park while the city would have had to come up with $225M through what they call a Community Revitalization Levy.” Not only is the Flames’ estimate $55 million less than the city’s estimate, but the Flames are also asking the city to pay almost half the cost, through hypothetical taxes on other businesses the Flames expect to attract to their new arena.

Running neck and neck with Nenshi is lawyer Bill Smith, leading the pack of other nine candidates.  Smith wants to “re-think” the Green Line route even though the province has promised funding for the project as it stands. A former Alberta PC party president, Smith is running on the slogan, “Time for a change,” and uses the familiar PC tactic of criticizing his opponents rather than spelling out policies or initiatives for which they might criticize him.

Smith says he will “get the deal done” on building a new arena, but declines to explain how — arousing suspicions, since he is known to be a sports fan, and sat with the athletes when Calgary Flames owner unveiled what the Flames want the city to contribute to the building. He told a recent Flames poll he’d need to study the project more before he could decide, although both sides have made their proposals public.

Bill Smith has a few other problems too. He refuses to reveal who his donors are. Embarrassing details of 2010 lawsuit recently emerged. As owner of a small law firm, he settled a $2.2 million lawsuit for failure to “exercise the care and skill to be expected of a reasonably competent solicitor” in a real estate case.

Nenshi is also under fire for an expensive defamation lawsuit against him for comments he made about local real estate tycoon Cal Wenzel.  The city indemnified the Mayor for legal expenses — as it would any City Council member who was sued for performing their job —  which turned out to be $285,000. He settled out of court in 2016. Hundreds of donors stepped forward to contribute $10,000 each, the maximum Nenshi would accept from any one donor. He contributed more than $16,000 himself.
Coming into the Calgary election’s final week, the company that owns both the Calgary Sun and the Calgary Herald commissioned a Mainstreet robocall poll that put Smith’s support at 52 per cent and Nenshi’s at 39 per cent. A Calgary Sun online poll showed Bill Smith far in the lead. On the other hand, an online Asking Canadians poll commissioned by  Green Line advocates, found Nenshi ahead by 43 per cent to Bill Smith’s 26 per cent.  

All the world seemed to take notice in 2010 when Naheed Nenshi won his first mayoral election — North America’s first Muslim mayor. He was named best mayor in the world in 2014. His novelty has worn off a bit in his third campaign, and the egalitarian thrust of his policies has roused some serious opposition.

Squint a bit, and the contest could look a bit like real estate magnate Donald Trump challenging U.S. President Obama’s legitimacy. One way or another, Monday, election day, promises to be dramatic.

Image: Flickr/Premier of Alberta​

Corretion: Please note an earlier veersion of this blog mis-attributed a quote to Bill Smith. 

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Penney Kome

Penney Kome

Award-winning journalist and author Penney Kome has published six non-fiction books and hundreds of periodical articles, as well as writing a national column for 12 years and a local (Calgary) column...