Outgoing Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. David J. Climenhaga/AlbertaPolitics.ca

Almost from the day they took power in 2019, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has known how to get up the noses of Alberta’s United Conservative Party government. 

It’s part of the man’s charm, although by no means all of it. 

Yesterday, on the eve of the municipal election in which Calgary voters will choose the successor to the high-profile mayor who has served for the past decade, Mayor Nenshi fired a couple of well-aimed shots at the UCP’s favoured candidate to replace him at City Hall, Jeromy Farkas.

Farkas, a one-term Calgary city councillor and former Manning Centre apparatchik, has a history of acrimonious grandstanding in his four years in office. Last year, he was found by the city’s Integrity Commissioner to have breached Calgary’s Code of Conduct by posting false information on social media. Asked to apologize, he refused. 

No doubt the un-minced words of Nenshi’s Sunday intercession will make some members of Premier Jason Kenney’s strategic brain trust furious enough to pee their short pants, at least if Councillor Farkas fails to grasp the chain of office in today’s vote. 

Indeed, a couple of them were already tweeting irritably last night. “This is petty,” peeved Hadyn Place, press secretary to the infrastructure minister, about the mayor’s comments. “Petulant to the end,” sulked the premier’s communications and planning thingy, Brock Harrison, well known for his online petulance.

Nenshi’s message, appended to a tweet giving his “thoughts on the upcoming Calgary election — if it helps you make a decision on Election Day,” began on a note of optimism. 

Calgary, he argued, is at “a wet clay moment,” when because of the way the pandemic “has forced us to think about how the future will be different … we can mould our future.”

But to do that, he said, “it is critical that we choose those who can meet this moment in history, those who can take us into the positive future we want and we need.”

Yes, Mayor Nenshi wrote, Calgary (and the rest of Alberta), may be facing “five simultaneous crises: a public health pandemic, a mental health and addiction challenge, economic dislocation, a climate emergency, and a reckoning on the issue of equity: generational equity, anti-racism, and reconciliation.”

But the city itself, he argued, is in good shape: It has money in the bank, his policies have enabled investment in front-line services, and taxes have been kept low by Canadian standards without services being cut. “We are the envy of every government in Canada.”

Nevertheless, he warned, inflation is real and “anyone who is promising a four-year tax freeze needs to explain how they will do it — particularly if they want to invest more in the largest department: the police.”

This, of course, is a shot at Farkas, the former Manning Centre apparatchik Premier Kenney would like to install in the mayor’s office as his government’s yes-man. 

There are only two ways to achieve such a freeze, Mayor Nenshi cautioned. “Massive cuts to smaller departments like parks and recreations or using up the savings account to paper over annual deficits. Maybe this is the right thing to do, but we need to be honest about it.”

“And speaking of being honest,” Nenshi added parenthetically, “I was shocked when Jeromy Farkas suggested city staff were somehow ‘skimming’ funds. This is false and misleading, and he should apologize and retract before he earns your vote.”

Mayor Nenshi, who has served three consecutive terms since he was elected in 2010, advised Calgary voters to ask themselves who they’d like to see bringing the face of Calgary to the world stage in the future. (The obvious inference: Not Farkas.)

“When you vote,” he concluded, “I hope you do so with optimism and joy. With hope for a better future.” And that, presumably, does not mean handing the city back to a puppet of the Sprawl Cabal of developers who have bankrolled the Manning Centre’s past efforts to run Nenshi out of Calgary City Hall. 

Indeed, it’s thought the whole equalization referendum scheme was a plan by the Kenney Government to get something on the ballot to motivate Conservative voters in Calgary to get out to vote against Nenshi — before the progressive mayor decided not to seek a fourth term. 

“Oh,” Nenshi concluded, “and do vote against Jason Kenney’s ridiculous referendums, on principle if nothing else.”

Sounder advice was never given than that last line, and not just to the good people of Alberta’s largest city. 

Albertans everywhere should take Mayor Nenshi’s advice and vote No on Premier Kenney’s dishonest and divisive referenda, just because. Today’s the day! 

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...