Tag Archives: Alberta

Rachel Notley was born to lead Alberta NDP

Photo Dave Cournoyer via Flickr, Creative Commons

Alberta’s newly-elected NDP premier, Rachel Notley Photo Dave Cournoyer via Flickr, Creative Commons

Alberta is once again the New Jerusalem, writes historian, author and F&O columnist Brian Brennan. An excerpt of his dispatch:

Alberta, the home province of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has been viewed for 80 years – ever since the right-wing Social Credit Party was elected in 1935 – as Canada’s bastion of rock-ribbed conservatism. Or, as Alberta author Aritha van Herk put it, Alberta has been stereotyped as a province defined by such terms as “redneck, intolerant, racist, conservative, neo-Christian, suspicious of anything new, home of white supremacists, gun lovers, and not a few book-banning school boards.” Until now, after Albertans went to the polls to elect a new provincial government and change that image.

 Click to read Alberta once again the New Jerusalem.

~~~

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. 

 

 

Posted in Current Affairs Also tagged , , |

Alberta once again the New Jerusalem

Photo Dave Cournoyer via Flickr, Creative Commons

Rachel Notley’s father advised: “Don’t talk about it, just do it.” On May 5 she did, leading Alberta’s NDP to power. Photo by Dave Cournoyer/Flickr, Creative Commons

By Brian Brennan 
May 6, 2015 

In 1971, the year the now irrelevant Progressive Conservative party first rose to power in Alberta, a Canadian folk-pop group from Montreal called The Bells had a million-selling hit titled “Stay Awhile.” It stayed in the American Top 50 for 11 weeks. The last line of the chorus went, “guess I’m gonna stay with you awhile.” That could have been a mantra for the PCs of that era. They remained at the helm for the next 44 years. 

Alberta, the home province of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has been viewed for 80 years – ever since the right-wing Social Credit Party was elected in 1935 – as Canada’s bastion of rock-ribbed conservatism. Or, as Alberta author Aritha van Herk put it, Alberta has been stereotyped as a province defined by such terms as “redneck, intolerant, racist, conservative, neo-Christian, suspicious of anything new, home of white supremacists, gun lovers, and not a few book-banning school boards.”

On Tuesday, Albertans went to the polls to elect a new provincial government and change that image. A month ago, when Premier Jim Prentice called the election, it was widely expected that his Progressive Conservatives would cakewalk to another victory. Their only serious opposition in the previous, 2012 election had been the Wildrose Party, running to their right. But the Wildrosers had been reduced to a five-seat rump after one member left to sit as an independent and 11 more, including party leader Danielle Smith, crossed the floor to join the PCs. That gave the Tories 70 seats in the 87-seat legislature.

The other parties didn’t seem to pose much of a threat. The third-place Liberals also held five seats at dissolution. The left-leaning New Democratic Party came in fourth and last with four seats. Neither was expected to figure prominently in the 2015 vote, mainly because the Liberals hadn’t formed a government since the United Farmers of Alberta dispatched them in 1921, and the NDP had never come anywhere close to forming a government.

But the Alberta of 2015 is not the Alberta of 1921. Nor is it the province that put Social Credit in power in 1935. Nor is it the one that handed the reins to the Tories in 1971. The province’s two biggest cities, Calgary and Edmonton, are both led by progressive mayors: Naheed Nenshi and Don Iveson. The Alberta of the 21st century is increasingly cosmopolitan, forward-thinking, diverse and inclusive. Collapsing oil prices have taken away some of the province’s financial robustness. But they haven’t taken away its spirit or its optimism.

From the start of the campaign, it became clear – if it hadn’t been so before – that the Progressive Conservatives represented a party run by and for the business elite of the province. Premier Prentice announced that the election would be tantamount to a vote on his first budget; an austerity document that imposed 59 new taxes or levies on individuals, but none on corporations. This provided great ammunition for NDP leader Rachel Notley who told her supporters that if the affluent and the well-connected were to contribute just a little bit more – specifically, a two percent increase in the current corporate tax rate of 10 percent – hospital wait times would be reduced, health care would improve, and 12,000 children would have teachers when they showed up for school next fall. From that point on, Prentice stopped talking about his budget, and began to talk about the dangers of electing a socialist government in Alberta that would lead the province to financial ruin.

Notley, one of the finest platform speakers in Alberta politics, struck an immediate and resonant chord with voters. Speaking without notes and dappling her speeches with good-humoured digs at what she called “this never-ending circus instead of a government,” she drew loud cheers every time she told her listeners they didn’t have to keep repeating history in this province; they could make history by voting for progressive change. 

Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice, Incumbent premier. Photo: premier's office

Jim Prentice resigned both his seat and his leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative party, immediately after the election. Photo: premier’s office

Notley’s message undoubtedly got through. On Tuesday night, Albertans voted for the first social-democratic government in the province’s history, giving 53 seats to the NDP, 21 seats to the revitalized Wildrose, and relegating the Tories to third place with 10 seats. Premier Prentice immediately resigned as party leader and his newly recaptured seat as MLA. A former federal politician, he had not re-entered public life to lead the third party in the provincial legislature. The Liberals were left with one seat and the new left-leaning Alberta Party also took one seat.

Notley was born to play the role of NDP leader. Her father, a self-styled “middle-of-the-road socialist” named Grant Notley, was a pioneering politician who scored the NDP’s first seat in the Alberta legislature in 1971, the same year the Tories began their 44-year reign. Grant Notley served as a one-man caucus for much of the next 13 years. When he died in 1984, in a light plane crash at age 45, his daughter was a 20-year-old law school undergraduate. She then worked as a labour lawyer and honed her skills as a backroom political operative for close to two decades before entering Alberta politics as a 43-year-old MLA in 2008. The best bit of political advice her father had ever given her: “Don’t talk about it, just do it.”

On Tuesday night she did it. Against all odds, Notley won a majority government with a party of mostly untried political rookies who have never sat in a legislature before. In that respect, Notley’s NDPers of 2015 are no different than William Aberhart’s Social Crediters of 1935 or Peter Lougheed’s Progressive Conservatives of 1971. Most of them were political neophytes too. For progressive-minded voters, Alberta – as the evangelical preacher Aberhart liked to say – has once again become the New Jerusalem.

Notley’s first challenge will be to convince the Alberta business community that she’s not the scary monster portrayed by her desperate opponents during the final days of the campaign, when all the polls were pointing to an NDP victory. With a $7-billion crater in the province’s finances, she has her work cut out for her. But Albertans clearly trust her and feel she’s up to the task. Her father would have been proud.

One of the other million-selling hits of 1971 was a song by country singer Jerry Reed titled “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot.” It too stayed in the American charts for 11 weeks. The second line of the chorus went, “and when you’re not, you’re not.” That could have become the new mantra for Alberta’s routed Progressive Conservatives on Tuesday night.

Copyright Brian Brennan 2015

Clarification: This story has been changed for clarity, to note that Albertans voted in a social-democratic (instead of a “socialist”) government.

References:

Alberta Elections, results: http://results.elections.ab.ca/wtResultsPGE.htm

Related on F&O:

NOTEBOOK: a bellwether election for Alberta? Sean Holman on Alberta’s lack of transparency, and Penney Kome on Alberta politics

Canada’s Mayor: Naheed Nenshi. By Brian Brennan, Facts and Opinions magazine feature (paywall)

Video:

Rachel Notley’s victory speech (click here for text transcript on NDP site): 

Jim Prentice’s concession speech:

 

 

Brian Brennan

Brian Brennan, an Irish journalist living in Canada, is a founding feature writer with Facts and Opinions, author of the Brief Encounters arts column, and a contributor to Arts dispatches and the Loose Leaf salon. His profile of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first original feature in the journal’s inaugural issue, won Runner-up, Best Feature Article, in the 2014 Professional Writers Association of Canada Awards. Brennan was educated at University College Dublin, Vancouver’s Langara College, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the National Critics Institute in Waterford, Connecticut. 

Visit him at his website, www.brianbrennan.ca

Brian Brennan also plays jazz piano, for fun and profit.  

 ~~~ 

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us with a donation, by clicking below; by telling others about us; or purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

Posted in Also tagged , , , |

History for Sale: The King Brothers Ranch

Truth is not always stranger than fiction: sometimes they combine, to create a good yarn. Historian and author Brian Brennan writes in F&O about two eccentric ranchers, Maurice and Harrold King, characters of both myths and outlandish facts. An excerpt of Kings of the Ranch:

The pending sale of a cattle ranch in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies has drawn renewed attention to the two eccentric brothers who once owned the rangeland property. Although they saw the ranch appreciate in value to an estimated $6 million during the 60 years they lived and worked on it, Maurice and Harrold King always gave the outward impression they were barely keeping the wolf from the door. They were squabbling bachelors who disagreed about almost everything yet couldn’t live without one another. Their home was a modest homesteader’s shack on a ranch that eventually spread to more than 5,000 acres. … continue reading

Log in to read F&O Dispatches, available for a $1 site day pass, or by subscription.

Posted in Gyroscope Also tagged , , , |

Kings of the Ranch

King Ranch, Alberta Photo by Karol Dabbs @ 2016

The King Ranch joined the Waldron Conservation Project in Alberta, the largest conservation easement in Canadian history. Photo by Karol Dabbs @ 2016

By Brian Brennan
April , 2016

King Ranch, Alberta Photo by Karol Dabbs @ 2016

King Ranch, Alberta Photo by Karol Dabbs @ 2016

This month a historic cattle ranch was added to a major conservation site in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, drawing renewed media attention to the two eccentric brothers who originally owned the ranch. Although they saw the property appreciate in value to an estimated $6 million during the 60 years they lived and worked on it, Maurice and Harrold King always gave the outward impression they were barely keeping the wolf from the door.

They were squabbling bachelors who disagreed about almost everything yet couldn’t live without one another. Their home was a modest homesteader’s shack on this ranch that eventually spread to more than 2,000 hectares.

The best and most oft-repeated stories about the King brothers are the ones that have no basis in fact. It was said, for example, that they always kept a couple of mangy dogs on hand to lick the plates clean after they finished eating because they didn’t like to wash the dishes. They were also said to have a thing about mice. One popular story says the mischievous pair liked to shock visitors by serving drinking water from a pail with mice swimming in it. Another tall tale has them removing mice from traps, slicing up the carcasses, and serving them to guests as sandwich meat.

Fictional stories aside, it is known that the King brothers had little more than five dollars between them when they first settled on the ranch around 1925. Born in England, they were the sons of an alcoholic businessman named Augustus King who worked in the clothing industry. The brothers came to North America with their parents and two other siblings in 1900 and lived first in Spokane, Washington, where their father sought a better life. After six years the family moved north by train to Alberta and homesteaded near Claresholm, 85 miles south of Calgary.

Though a well-educated man, Augustus King didn’t believe in education for his children. “My dad taught me to work because he couldn’t see that book learning was much help in earning a living,” said Maurice. His father’s own “book learning” gave him the means to identify plants and attach to them their proper Latin names, but it didn’t give him what he needed to be a successful farmer in western Canada. Instead of starting small and expanding his holdings as he learned, Augustus bought as much land as he could afford and gradually lost it.

Although Harrold never went to school and Maurice dropped out of grade one after breaking his leg, they did acquire some education because their parents taught them to read. They became well versed in biblical scripture and taught themselves carpentry, farm equipment maintenance and all the skills they needed to survive as trappers and ranchers. Harrold also developed a remarkable talent as a self-taught taxidermist and, as a sideline, learned how to read music. Maurice became adept in matters of business and finance, which became increasingly important to them when the brothers started buying and selling land.

51HuoBRkcjLThe brothers lived at home until they were in their late 20s – mainly to look after their mother – following a tough, poverty-stricken childhood caused by their father’s alcoholism and general ineptness as a farmer. Whenever the boys managed to earn some money, by selling buffalo bones picked from their land or clearing rocks for other homesteaders, their father took the money and spent it on booze. This experience made them reticent in later years about revealing exactly what they owned or how much they were worth. “If they don’t know you have it,” said Maurice, “then they can’t take it away from you.”

The brothers wanted to move north and become trappers, but their ailing mother asked them to stay closer to home in case she needed them. So they walked a few miles over the hill, staked out a homestead claim, rigged up a tarpaulin tent as temporary shelter, and began fending for themselves. Their modest possessions included a couple of horses, a saddle, an old rifle, and some coyote traps. “We ranched, trapped – did just about everything to keep our bones covered,” said Maurice. Tough, resourceful, and fearless, they fed themselves from their root cellar and from the meat of wild animals and amazed their neighbours by roping hibernating bears for sport.

After a year of working and saving, the brothers had accumulated enough money to put a down payment on a quarter section (65 hectares) owned by a homesteader who was leaving the district. They built a four-room log cabin on the banks of a stream, and that remained their home for the next 60 years.

Before you continue: please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We are on an honour system and survive only because readers like you pay at least 27 cents per story.  Contribute below, or find more details here. Thanks for your interest and support.

The brothers lived frugally, saved their money, bought horses, cattle, and farm equipment, and gradually expanded their holdings. They even managed to add to their holdings during the Depression, when others were suffering and losing their ranches. By the mid-1940s, the brothers were relatively well off, and the tall tales about them abounded. It was said they hoarded their wealth in tomato juice cans buried around their property and in an old Wells Fargo money sack that they kept under the floorboards of their cabin. It was also said that they spent some of their hard-earned money on a new Model T, started it once, and then parked it permanently in the barn because neither brother liked the sound of the engine.

It wasn’t until December 1973, when Calgary Herald reporter Ken Hull paid them a visit, that some of the myths about the King brothers began to be dispelled.

No, they assured the reporter, they didn’t keep their money in tin cans or in sacks. They either kept it in the bank or invested it in land. But they wouldn’t say how much. “With inflation being the way it is, who can suggest anybody’s rich?” said Maurice, then a sprightly 76 though lame from the broken leg he had suffered as a child. “Maybe 40 years ago we would have been wealthy, but the way things are going now we’ll be paupers in ten more years.”

As for the story about the Model T, Maurice suggested mischievously that the reporter should check the barns before he left. “The only car I remember buying was a six-cylinder Whippet, and that disappeared long ago.”

Grizzled and unkempt and wearing worn-out pants held up with binder twine, the aging brothers were creatures of long-established habit. They kept a month’s supply of food sitting on their table at all times, admitted to a fondness for chocolates and salted peanuts, and never drank alcohol, only water or green tea. “I tasted spirits when I was 17, and haven’t got the foul taste out of my mouth yet,” said Maurice.

Though they had the means to provide themselves with such modern amenities as indoor plumbing and electricity, the brothers chose to live primitively. Reporter Hull observed that they lived “about 23 miles north of Lundbreck and about 75 years behind the rest of the world.” A telephone and a battery-operated radio were their only concessions to modern living. For entertainment, they listened to the radio or read from the stacks of old National Geographic and Saturday Evening Post magazines that they kept piled atop a cupboard. They didn’t own a bathtub but did have a wash basin. They cooked their meals on a wood-burning stove that doubled during the day as a furnace. “We don’t waste,” said Harrold. “We let the stove burn out during the night and light it in the morning. Sometimes, the temperature falls well below freezing in here, but after 47 years you get used to it.”

Among their many eccentricities was their refusal to open any mail that looked like it might come from the government. Maurice showed Hull two unopened letters with 1932 postmarks. “Actually, there were three that arrived together,” he said. “The first one told me the government was seizing a section of land for back taxes, and I figured the others would be saying about the same thing.” He didn’t like paying taxes and resented seeing his tax money put toward supporting people on welfare.

The brothers were clearly inseparable, wrote Hull, but their relationship was difficult to fathom because they rarely addressed one another directly – each referred to the other in the third person as “the boss” – and they didn’t seem to particularly enjoy one another’s company. “No, we don’t get along,” insisted Maurice. “Never have and never will. Can’t remember two things in our life that we ever agreed upon.” They did seem to agree, however, that they needed one another. At one point, Maurice had left the ranch and bought himself a home in nearby Claresholm because he wanted some comfort, a television set, and electricity. But he sold the place and returned home when his brother refused to leave the homestead. “The boss didn’t say much when I returned,” said Maurice. “He just looked sort of happy.”

Each had once contemplated marriage, but the relationships didn’t work out. “Seems the gal I wanted didn’t want me,” said Harrold. “And those that wanted me – well, I’m just ornery enough that I didn’t want them.” Maurice said that he too had once been involved with a woman who didn’t want to marry him. “After that, I just never felt myself fit to take in a woman.”

While their neighbours viewed the brothers as being reclusive, partly because they lived in a remote area, the Kings were in fact quite sociable. Mary-Jo Burles, a local schoolteacher who was frequently a guest at their table, found them always ready to entertain visitors and engage in conversation about politics or religion or sex. “I often thought their attitudes a bit naïve but always genuine – they had no guile,” she wrote in First and Second Kings, a book of anecdotal reminiscences about the brothers.

As the brothers aged into their 90s and were no longer able to look after themselves, they accepted an invitation to move into the home of their hired hands, Russ and Eva Hoffman, who lived on the ranch in a house that was considerably more comfortable than the King cabin. “They reminded me of two old alley cats who had come in out of the cold and couldn’t quite believe their luck,” wrote Burles. Eva cooked for them and also nursed them through their final illnesses before they moved to the hospital in Claresholm.

Harrold, the younger brother, died in June 1995 at age 96. Maurice died a year later, just shy of his 99th birthday. At that point, the estate owed about $2 million in capital gains taxes. Maurice’s will dictated that his beneficiaries should include his two nieces, two nephews, and the Hoffmans.

In November 1997 the heirs sold the King ranch at an auction that made headlines across Canada. Area ranchers bid on the property hoping they could maintain it as rangeland, while big-city land developers sought to turn the ranch into a subdivision of recreation properties for urban dwellers. After four hours of bidding, the ranchers won. In all, the land sale fetched $6.325 million for the King heirs. The largest portion of the spread, 1,700 hectares including the land occupied by the old King brothers’ cabin, sold for $5.725 million to a cattle rancher named Bill Bateman. The other, 450-hectare portion, sold for $600,000 to Calgary rancher Dave McNalley. It fetched a lower price per hectare because it was on the eastern side of the property and didn’t have a view of the Rocky Mountains. Both buyers said they respected the wish of the King brothers that the land be kept for grazing purposes. “I take my hat off to the guys who settled this land and the way that they worked it,” said Bateman. “That’s why I wanted to see it remain as a ranch.” He eventually replaced the brothers’ cabin with a modern bungalow and added other improvements to the property, including barns, fencing and corrals.

In 2014, Bateman’s family sold its portion of the King ranch for $11.25 million to a grazing co-operative of cattle ranchers. Waldron Grazing Co-operative was already in talks with the Nature Conservancy of Canada to protect an adjoining 12,000-hectare ranch from future development, and some members of the 72-member co-op hoped to eventually add the King property to that conservation site.

That addition has now taken place. The agreement signed this week means that the fescue grasslands of the King property will never be cultivated, subdivided or used for the construction of country homes. “It’s good for the cattle, the wildlife, our water and the people who drive down the Cowboy Trail to enjoy the raw beauty of the area,” says Larry Simpson, associate regional vice-president for the Nature Conservancy.

Copyright © 2016 Brian Brennan

 * All money in Canadian currency

 

Further reading:

First and Second Kings by Mary-Jo Burles (Cabin Creek, 2000)

Scoundrels and Scallywags: Characters from Alberta’s Past by Brian Brennan http://www.amazon.ca/dp/B012EAJY82

*This story was updated from a 2014 report

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Also tagged , , , |

Labour’s freedom of expression trumps privacy, rules court

By Deborah Jones

A union’s right to freedom of expression trumps people’s privacy rights in union disputes, Canada’s top court ruled today, in a constitutional case involving complaints against a union that photographed workers crossing picket lines.

The Supreme Court of Canada decision overturned privacy legislation in the province of Alberta – though it gave legislators a year to fix it.

Excerpt of the ruling:

The central issue is whether (Alberta’s  privacy act) achieves a constitutionally acceptable balance between the interests of individuals in controlling the collection, use and disclosure of their personal information and a union’s freedom of expression. 

This appeal requires the Court to determine whether Alberta’s Personal Information Protection Act unjustifiably limits a union’s right to freedom of expression in the context of a lawful strike. At issue is whether the Act achieves a constitutionally acceptable balance between the interests of individuals in controlling the collection, use and disclosure of their personal information and a union’s freedom of expression.

The dispute in this case arose when the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401 recorded and photographed individuals crossing its picket line for use in its labour dispute. Several individuals whose images were captured complained to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta that the Union’s activities contravened the Personal Information Protection Act, S.A. 2003, c. P-6.5 (“PIPA”), which restricts the collection, use and disclosure of personal information by a range of organizations. Those individuals were successful, prompting an application for judicial review on the basis that the legislation infringed the Union’s right to freedom of expression under (the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms)…

In our view, the legislation violates (a section of the charter) because its impact on freedom of expression in the labour context is disproportionate and the infringement is not justified…

Posted in All, Current Affairs Also tagged , , , |

Naheed Nenshi’s unlikely stardom

Nenshi2

Naheed Nenshi. © 2013 Neil Zeller (City of Calgary photo)

There are strange doings in Alberta, the Canadian province that’s often compared to America’s state of Texas.

Alberta has been characterized by its Go-Get-‘Em attitude, cowboy hats, and an economy based on oil and gas extraction, especially the oil sands in its north. It’s widely associated with the full-throated call for unfettered markets by its neo-liberal “Calgary School” of economics. Alberta is home to Canada’s Bible Belt. Its Wildest and Westest city is dubbed Cowtown for its famous Calgary Stampede, but has developed into one of the world’s great modern energy headquarters. In short, Alberta has been fertile territory for Canada’s version of America’s Republican party. 

Alberta is now at a crossroads: a landlocked province, it’s on tenterhooks awaiting U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision on approving the next leg of the Keystone pipeline, crucial for transporting bitumen from Alberta oil sands to world markets. And yet, despite its safe historic identity and these parlous times, the citizens of Calgary have abandoned their predictable scripts. They’ve enthusiastically embraced a leader who surely ranks amongst the world’s least-likely political stars: Naheed Nenshi, a former policy wonk and academic, a self-styled “brown guy,” a liberal quite willing to fetter some sorts of business, and an Ismaili Muslim. 

Nobody, noplace and nothing can be captured in the simplistic terms I’ve used above, of course. But facts underly most stereotypes – and if there’s even a grain of truth in Alberta stereotypes, a remarkable political shift is now underway. Conservative, staid Alberta has begun electing politicians, both provincially and locally, who can only be characterized as “moderate,” perhaps even “progressive.” Provincially last year, Albertans voted for the centrist Progressive Conservative party over the far-right Wild Rose Party. This week its two biggest cities chose unapologetically “progressive” mayors: Nenshi by a 74 per cent landslide in Calgary, and a newcomer named Don Iveson by six out of 10 voters in the provincial capitol Edmonton.

Nenshi, who came to national and international media attention earlier this year after massive floods struck Calgary (he was called a “superhero” for his adroit handling of the crisis) is arguably the poster child of this shift. 

But as surprising as it is to find Nenshi as Calgary’s much-loved mayor, he is no risk-taker. His role as a change-maker may be more symbolic than actual. In his first term he proved willing to forcefully push back against opponents on local issues – but he very deftly avoided the big issues:  North America’s culture wars and Alberta’s bête noire, climate change. The question now is whether his horizons will expand in term two.

Log in to read Canada’s Mayor, a profile of Nenshi by Alberta author Brian Brennan, in the Magazine section, accessible with a $1 day pass for the entire site, or by subscription.

 

Posted in All, Current Affairs, Gyroscope Also tagged , , , , , , , |

Default Settings: The Perils of Undischarged Public Debt

By Brian Brennan
Published October 10, 2013

On October 17, 2013, the American government could enter unchartered territory. If Congressional Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on raising the statutory borrowing limit known as the “debt ceiling,” the government could be forced to default on its financial obligations. What would that mean for the rest of the world? Nobody knows for certain. Such a crisis scenario is virtually without precedent in modern North America. Some analysts say a default could trigger a global financial heart attack similar to the one caused by the  2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers, a sprawling global bank. Others claim a default wouldn’t be that bad, because America always has enough tax money coming in to pay its debt service.

We do know from history that a government’s failure to meet its debt obligations can have ramifications well beyond the borders of the realm where the default takes place. At the very least, it means the defaulting jurisdiction is locked out of international financial markets. Argentina was shunned by capital markets for a decade after defaulting on $81.8 billon (U.S.) of sovereign debt in 2001. The western Canadian province of Alberta was an outlier for nine years after admitting its inability to redeem $3.2 million (Cdn) of maturing provincial bonds in 1936.

F&O default story photo

William (Bible Bill) Aberhart speaks at a rally before being elected as premier. Ernest Manning stands behind him, head lowered. (Photo courtesy of Brian Brennan)

Alberta, then with a population of 773,000, was the first, and to date only, Canadian jurisdiction to default on a maturing debt obligation. The ruling Social Credit provincial government had been swept into power in 1935 with a mandate to solve the economic problems of the Depression. However, the government didn’t realize until after it took office just how serious those problems were. The premier of the day, William Aberhart, put it in blunt terms when he stood up in the provincial legislature to announce the default. “We have no other alternative,” he said. “The government is broke.” Decades of financial mismanagement, excessively ambitious capital expansion projects, and rising demands for unemployment relief and other forms of public assistance following the onset of the Depression had left the province with an accumulated debt burden of $160 million (Cdn). Aberhart didn’t want to ask the federal government for help, because that would have meant surrendering autonomy, effectively forfeiting Alberta’s provincial status. Nor did he want to deal with Canada’s Toronto-based financial institutions, which could have bailed Alberta out, because he didn’t trust the chartered banking system.

As a first step toward pulling Alberta out of its financial quagmire, Aberhart announced in late 1936 that, when the province was eventually back in the black, the interest payable on provincial government bonds would be cut in half. This, needless to say, caused great consternation among the bondholders. But Aberhart stood firm. His successor as premier, Ernest Manning, would say in later years that it was simply a matter of priorities: “If it came to a choice between feeding people who were unemployed and paying 8 per cent versus 4 per cent, our choice was to pay 4 per cent on the bonds. Obviously, this antagonized every holder of an Alberta bond, and there were a lot of them.”

Alberta dismissed as a”stronghold of monetary cranks” by the Bank of Canada governor

If the bondholders had just been Alberta residents, the damage caused by the default might have been largely confined to that province. But many of the bondholders were British and American, and they wondered initially if Alberta’s problems might extend to all Canadian bond issues. They had purchased the Alberta bonds with the mistaken understanding they were a Canadian federal obligation, not a provincial responsibility, and therefore safe. Now they began to worry about the stability of other Canadian securities in their portfolios. To quell their fears, the governor of the recently established Bank of Canada, Graham Towers, moved quickly to assure bondholders in London and New York that Canada was still a safe place for them to invest. Alberta was an aberration, he said, because under Social Credit rule the province had become “one of the strongholds of monetary cranks.” This referred to the fact that the province’s principal financial advisor was an amateur economist from Stockport, Cheshire, Clifford Douglas, who had found little political support in Britain for his unorthodox monetary reform theories but was lionized in Alberta for what one commentator described as a mixture of “pre-Keynesian economics, social resentment, and untutored hope.” One of Douglas’s untested theories was predicated on his belief that an inefficient bank-controlled economy left people without enough purchasing power to avail of the goods and services produced by the free-enterprise system. It was the job of governments, therefore, to step in, smash the chartered banking system’s monopoly on credit creation, and distribute discount coupons and dividends – which he called “social credit” – to increase consumer purchasing power.

After Alberta defaulted in 1936, there was some concern the same might happen in the neighbouring western provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, which were also carrying heavy debt loads. Bank of Canada Governor Towers outlined the potential ramifications in a memorandum to the federal government: “United States investors in Canadian western bonds constitute a very influential group. If a general western default makes them form an adverse opinion on Canadian securities as a whole, the situation would be extremely serious and damaging for the Dominion (of Canada).”

To avoid further defaults, the federal government pumped millions of dollars into the Saskatchewan and Manitoba economies for unemployment relief and the maintenance of interest payments on outstanding debt. The government also gave some money to Alberta, but gave it sparingly. “They didn’t want to deal with us because of the whole attitude toward the Social Credit government,” said Ernest Manning, who succeeded Aberhart as premier in 1943. “That forced us into a pay-as-you-go position until we could refinance our entire debt at lower rates of interest.”

In 1945, Manning moved resolutely to reach a settlement with the bondholders. Over the previous nine years, the province had racked up a total debt of $34 million in defaulted bond payments plus an accumulated $25 million liability for unpaid interest on those bonds. Combined with other obligations, the entire public debt now stood at $219 million – up from $160 million in 1936.

Manning knew that settling with the bondholders wouldn’t be easy. His predecessor, Aberhart, had made numerous attempts to settle during the 1930s, but the attempts always foundered because the bondholders refused to exchange their defaulted and unmatured bonds for new government securities paying much lower rates of interest. This time, Manning ramped up the pressure saying it was either lower rates or nothing. His government would no longer play the debt reduction game by the bondholders’ rules of the 1930s.

Alberta’s ultimatum to investors was, “take-it-or-leave it.” They took it, but it took a long time for Alberta to regain trust, and re-enter the investment community with its credit rating restored. 

 

After a series of meetings with a committee of institutional investors, Manning made what amounted to a final take-it-or-leave-it offer and threatened to put it into legislation with a deadline for acceptance if the bondholders tried to ignore it. Instead of paying off the old securities at the originally agreed interest of 8 per cent, the government would issue new 30-year bonds at the going rate of 3.5 per cent and give bondholders a cash bonus for co-operating. For the bondholders, this amounted to a Hobson’s choice. They could either accept what they saw as a minuscule rate of return on their investment or get no return at all. But Manning’s ultimatum brought them to the negotiating table, and eventually they accepted the deal. The next step for Manning’s government was to prepare a prospectus that would be accepted by the U. S. Securities Exchange Commission, and to strike agreements with the Wood Gundy investment house in Toronto and First Boston Corporation in New York City to underwrite the new bond issue of $219 million. When these were completed, Alberta re-entered the North American investment community with its credit rating restored.

Alberta never faced another default after that. Once oil and gas replaced agriculture as the principal driver of the provincial economy, it was only a matter of time before the debt accumulated during the Depression years became a forgotten chapter in Alberta history.

There’s little correlation, of course, between what happened in Alberta in 1936 and what might happen in Washington on October 17th. Alberta defaulted because the province didn’t have the money to pay its bills and didn’t want to be beholden either to bankers or to the federal government to stay afloat. If America defaults, it will be because two political parties couldn’t bridge their ideological differences.

But one thing is clear from the Alberta default, and from other defaults that have occurred around the world during the past 200 years: Whenever a jurisdiction loses its credit standing in the world’s capital markets, it takes a very long time to regain that trust.

Copyright © Brian Brennan, 2013 

Facts and Opinions feature writer Brian Brennan is the author of The Good Steward: The Ernest C. Manning Story

 

F&O Good Steward cover

The Good Steward, by Brian Brennan

Further reading:
The Good Steward: The Ernest C. Manning Story by Brian Brennan (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008)
Politics and Public Debt: The Dominion, the Banks and Alberta’s Social Credit by Robert Laurence Ascah (University of Alberta Press, 1999)

 

Posted in Also tagged , , , , , , , , |

Canada’s Mayor

Self-styled “brown guy” Naheed Nenshi has reshaped politics in Canada’s conservative, white-bread energy capital.

 

By BRIAN BRENNAN 
October, 2013

Nenshi3

Naheed Nenshi (City of Calgary official photo)

The mayor of Calgary, Alberta, was about to give a speech in Toronto when an aide drew him aside to tell of trouble brewing back home. Floodwaters were surging in the Rocky Mountains. Towns upstream of Calgary were already under water, and Calgary would be inundated within a matter of hours. “Get me on the next plane out of here,” said the mayor, Naheed Nenshi. “This is serious business.” He delivered his speech while his staff scrambled to get him on the four-hour flight back to Calgary. Seven hours later, Nenshi was on the ground in his city’s emergency management centre, answering media questions about a calamity that could define his entire mayoralty. Just as Hurricane Sandy drew widespread attention to the leadership skills of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, and 9/11 belonged to Rudy Giuliani, the Calgary Flood of 2013 could become the crisis that established Nenshi as Canada’s mayor.

Calgary, the Dallas of Canada with its cowboy hats and oil barons, is a booming city of 1.1 million in the western province of Alberta. Established in 1875 as a mounted police fort, it is located on a downstream floodplain at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers, 60 miles east of the Canadian Rockies. Spring freshets, triggered by heavy rains and rapid mountain snowmelts, occur regularly. Upstream dams and their adjacent reservoirs, though built primarily for hydroelectric generation, generally keep the swollen rivers in check. Overflow ponds provide additional protection for residents of nearby low-lying areas. In the case of the June 2013 flood, however, these control systems were stretched beyond limits. More than 100,000 Albertans were displaced. Calgary’s downtown core – the nerve centre of Canada’s oil industry – was left waterlogged and without electricity or phone service. Such widespread flood-related disruption had not been seen in the area since 1897, when Calgary had a population of just 4,000 and a similar deluge swept away dozens of homes and businesses.

Mayor Nenshi is a self-styled “brown guy” of South Asian ethnicity. His surprise victory in the October, 2010, Calgary mayoralty race put a new face on civic politics, in what has traditionally been one of Canada’s most conservative white-bread cities. The election had offered a choice between a veteran city councillor (now a provincial Conservative cabinet minister) and a popular local television news anchor. Either was expected to win. Instead, the mayor’s chair went to this roly-poly former business school professor who said, candidly, he was “within spitting distance of zero” in the polls when he first announced his candidacy.

Canmore2

Catastrophic floods hit Calgary after torrential rains and rapid snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains turned creeks and rivers into raging torrents, washed out highways, and destroyed houses upstream in Alberta communities like Canmore, above. © 2013 Evann Gentry

With his wide eyes, big toothy smile, nasal voice, untamed black curly hair, Clark Kent glasses, and rumpled black suit, Naheed (pronounced, Nah-HEAD) Nenshi looks and sounds for all the world like a winning contestant on the American television quiz show, Jeopardy! Now 41, he was born in Toronto, the son of Ismaili Muslim immigrants who came to Canada from Tanzania in 1971. He grew up in a working-class Calgary neighbourhood, and earned degrees in commerce and public policy from the University of Calgary and Harvard before pursuing a career as a business strategist. After professional stints in Toronto and New York, Nenshi returned to Calgary in 2001 at age 29, to teach business at a community college that has since become a university.

At the same time, he immersed himself in local municipal affairs, as a self-appointed city hall watchdog. He wrote a freelance column for a local daily newspaper in which he articulated his “better ideas” for the growing city. These included putting more money into public transit, and legalizing secondary suites in private homes to alleviate a shortage of affordable rental housing. The population was growing at the rate of five percent a year yet, as Nenshi saw it, the city was still functioning in many respects as it had in the 1970s.

His East Coast friends were surprised when Nenshi decided to move back to Calgary. “The New York people and the Harvard people were, like, ‘Naheed, why are you in the middle of the Canadian prairies?'” he told a Reuters correspondent. But Nenshi felt his friends didn’t realize how provincial their own world had become: “When I lived in Toronto and New York – big, big cities – how come I saw the same people all the time? This so-called borderless world had become more insular. The number of times I heard from people, ‘Oh, I ran into so and so on the flight from JFK to Dubai.’ I am very happy to let the Four Seasons (hotel) tribe do their work on global prosperity. I’ll do my work on local prosperity.”

Nenshi switched from watchdog to candidate in 2004 when he first ran for Calgary city council, as an alderman. He came in fourth. “It was a gong show,” he said afterwards. “There were 13 candidates running.” But, he told reporters, it was a terrific learning experience that taught him a lot about local politics. He vowed to try it again when the time seemed right. In the meantime, he returned to his role as self-appointed municipal watchdog. With a group of fellow city hall watchers, he formed the Better Calgary Campaign, a non-profit group dedicated to limiting suburban growth and promoting inner-city high-density living.

Incumbent Calgary mayors, unless they’ve been tainted by scandal, are generally a shoo-in for re-election once they’ve been in office for a term or more. As a result, more serious contenders for the mayor’s job tend to bide their time until the mayor of the day decides to step down. That’s what happened in 2010 when the incumbent mayor opted not to seek a fourth term. Nenshi decided to try for the top job rather than run for one of the 14 aldermanic seats on council. He still thought of himself as more of a policy wonk than “the guy in the front of the room.” But opportunity beckoned.

Nenshi’s rivals offered political experience or PR skills. Nenshi offered a dozen new ideas and “politics in full sentences.”

 

In their election platforms, Nenshi’s main rivals offered political experience (in the case of the former alderman) and public relations skills (in the case of the television anchor). Nenshi offered new ideas. Among them was a plan to cut city hall red tape to make Calgary a magnet for business investment. He rolled out the rest of his “better ideas,” one per week, over the course of his 12-week campaign. All told, they added up to more than the combined platforms of the other 14 mayoralty candidates.

Nenshi5

Nenshi and the Chinook Country Line Dancers. © 2013 Neil Zeller (City of Calgary photo)

The local media made much of the fact Nenshi was a social media aficionado who used Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to build his support base. But tweeting doesn’t win elections. Smart ideas win elections. “People are really hungry for ideas,” a Calgary oilman told Toronto’s Globe and Mail. “Previously, they’ve been so apathetic because they’ve been treated like idiots, with just sound bites. So at least Naheed’s tried to make longer discussions. He didn’t dumb things down.”

Nenshi called it “politics in full sentences.” He joked to a CBC Radio announcer that it took him 45 seconds to pronounce his name. His aim was to conduct detailed discussions about complicated issues “and we’re not boiling it down to simple solutions and bullet points.” During the campaign, he talked about transit, accountability, and open government. He promised to curb urban sprawl by charging homebuilders more for building in the suburbs. He insisted that Calgarians wanted a conversation about their city, and would support him because he and his team didn’t condescend to people.

The victory of this man dubbed “Canada’s first big-city Muslim mayor” caused heads to turn across the country. “The election of Naheed Nenshi as mayor of Calgary is the most exciting political event of the year,” wrote a Globe and Mail columnist. No longer could Calgary be characterized, as it often was in Canada’s mainstream media, as “a town of rednecks and cowboy hats.” Nenshi represented an increasingly diverse population in a city that was now home to 230,000 visible-minority residents. An astonished Calgary Herald columnist wrote, “We just didn’t realize that Nenshi was the face in Calgary’s mirror.”

Nenshi acknowledged that his election might serve to give the city a new vision of itself. “Today, Calgary is a different place than it was yesterday. A better place.” He also acknowledged that he carried an added responsibility because of his heritage and religion. “I do a good job and it’s, like, brown guys are OK. Muslims can do a good job. I do a bad job and I take people down with me.”

Doing a good job proved challenging for Nenshi. The mayor holds only one of the 15 ballots cast by council members. Calgary, like many Canadian municipalities, has a “weak-mayor” system of government where the mayor wields no veto power and has to rely on at least half the aldermen for support. In major American cities, by contrast, the mayors carry considerable independence and clout, and have the ability to override council decisions.

Nenshi had mixed success with propositions he supported during his first two years in office. He did manage to persuade council to eliminate park-and-ride fees at transit stations, to authorize food trucks and downtown bicycle lanes, and to improve snow removal in residential areas. And, most important for Nenshi, he got council to approve construction of a $294-million airport runway tunnel that will eventually become a key transit corridor. But he couldn’t get his colleagues to support legalizing secondary suites, which left students in this four-university city with a limited range of housing options. Nor could he get them to cut the police budget, as council struggled to find ways of reducing debt without raising taxes.

Outside of council chambers, Nenshi shone as a public speaker. He is invariably well prepared, intelligent, witty, self-deprecating, and articulate. In a typical speech, to a group of public library employees, he quoted from a book by Alberta author Aritha van Herk, describing how the province is viewed by some outsiders: “Redneck, intolerant, racist, conservative, neo-Christian, suspicious of anything new, home of white supremacists, gun lovers, and not a few book-banning school boards.” Was there any truth to this characterization? Nenshi joked that he thought he had read “that exact paragraph in the newspapers, last week. In MANY papers last week – accompanied by a picture of me.”

“You have a duty to get the facts right,” Nenshi told reporters. “If you get the facts wrong, I’m going to call you on it. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

 

Nenshi2

Naheed Nenshi. © 2013 Neil Zeller (City of Calgary photo)

Reporters enjoyed sparring with him in media scrums after council meetings because, notwithstanding his preference for doing “politics in full sentences,” Nenshi proved to be a master of the sound bite. In one typical exchange, he accused a local tabloid of “making stuff up” in its reporting on inflation rates. He told the assembled reporters he was putting the newspaper on notice: “If you’re going to engage as a journalist, regardless of what medium, you have a duty to get the facts right. If you get the facts wrong, I’m going to call you on it. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen or find a new profession.”

Occasionally he found that shooting from the hip could land him in trouble. When a blogging city hall watcher accused Nenshi of being an “extreme lefty” for allowing Occupy Calgary protestors to squat in a city plaza without penalty, the mayor tweeted back, “I know I shouldn’t bother you when you’re off your meds, but I love how freedom of speech is now an extreme lefty issue.” Nenshi later apologized for his “off your meds” comment, but said he wasn’t about to sacrifice his Twitter “authenticity” for the sake of political correctness.

In September, 2012, as he neared the end of his second year in office, Nenshi enjoyed one of the highest public approval ratings (76 percent) of any mayor in Canada. He had been a popular guest on local and national television public affairs programs, and been interviewed by CNN and the BBC. But he had made enemies. He had annoyed members of the Alberta provincial government – which has jurisdiction over education, welfare, inter-city transportation and health care – by pushing for more autonomy and taxing authority for cities. (One provincial cabinet minister dismissed him as a “peacock.”) He had alienated Calgary homebuilders, who accused him of favouring inner-city condos at the expense of suburban development. (The homebuilders endeavoured to get more pro-suburban people on council by donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to a private foundation that trains political candidates to govern “in accordance with conservative values.” Nenshi responded by saying city politics was largely devoid of partisanship: “Is it a conservative or a liberal idea to plough residential roads?”) And Nenshi had alienated his fellow city councillors, saying they treated taxpayers like bank machines whenever they tried to add new spending to the city budget. (One alderman called him “petulant” and “disrespectful.”)

Notwithstanding his high public approval rating, it looked for a while as if Nenshi might be facing stiff competition in the October 2013 municipal election. The homebuilders and others in the business community were looking for candidates who would better represent their interests at city hall. Complaints were being voiced about the city’s growing debt load and annual tax hikes. Among those mentioned as a possibility for mayor was a popular radio talk-show host, well known for his right-wing views.

Then came the Flood of 2013.

Rainfall of biblical proportions struck southern Alberta

 

On Wednesday, June 19, rainfall of biblical proportions struck southern Alberta. New York City had experienced a similar downpour in the wake of tropical storm Andrea, but Calgary had not seen rain like this for more than eight decades. Over a 24-hour period, more rain fell than the city normally gets in a month. A dozen towns west and south of Calgary declared states of emergency. Mudslides closed the highways between Calgary and the Rockies. Mayor Nenshi cut short his speaking tour of Ontario and gave his first media briefing in Calgary while low-lying areas of the city were being evacuated. “The Bow River looks like an ocean at the moment,” he said. He got little sleep for the next 36 hours.

More than 75,000 Calgarians were forced to leave their homes. High River, a bedroom community of 13,000 immediately south of Calgary, was emptied in its entirety. With evacuations from other surrounding communities added in, the total reached 100,000. Miraculously, only four people died. Canadian soldiers were deployed to build temporary berms for controlling riverbank erosion. Calgary had installed a permanent $20 million berm in one vulnerable neighbourhood after a 2005 flood, and it protected dozens of homes from damage in the 2013 flood. Would additional berms have saved other neighbourhoods? Nenshi didn’t think so. “I strongly believe that this flood was of such force and magnitude, nothing would have helped.”

Nenshi4

Nenshi thanking some of the Canadian Armed Forces members who helped Albertans hit by floods. © 2013 Neil Zeller (City of Calgary photo)

Nenshi was ever-present on television and radio and the Internet, providing updates on river water levels, road closures, and cleanup activities. Sometimes he was the compassionate neighbour, sympathizing with residents who lost their homes. Sometimes he was the chiding grown-up, warning thrill-seekers to stay off the rivers: “I have a large number of nouns that I can use to describe the people I saw in a canoe on the Bow River today. I’m not allowed to use any of them.” Within minutes, the hash tag “#Nenshinoun” was trending on Twitter.

Nenshi worked around the clock during the week after the flood, giving news conferences in the middle of the night to keep Calgarians informed. His Twitter followers, who increased from 89,000 to 120,000 over the course of a few days, urged him to take a nap. A Globe and Mail editorial characterized him as “such a superbly effective leader that he appears on his way to folk-hero status.” The talk-radio host who had briefly mused about challenging Nenshi in the fall municipal elections quickly changed his mind. The Calgary Herald predicted Nenshi would have little serious competition in the election. “Even political tire-kickers are wary of running against Nenshi.” The only credible challenger to file nomination papers was a former alderman who admitted he had little chance of winning. But he wanted to prevent Nenshi from “coasting into his second term via virtual coronation.” As it turned out, Nenshi’s re-election victory, October 21, 2013, indeed resembled a coronation. He captured 74 percent of the votes cast while his nearest challenger, the former alderman, captured less than 22 percent.

Environmentalists were quick to connect the June flooding to global climate variability. Wrote Andrew Nikiforuk, a Calgary journalist known for criticizing Canada’s federal government and the oil industry on the climate change file: “I only hope my city’s nightmare is the climate-change wake-up Alberta, and Canada, needs. Climate change is now eroding civilization as surely as it has changed my beloved city.”

Jason Kenney, an MP from Calgary and a minister in Canada’s Conservative federal government, denied that climate change played a role in the flood. “This is a once-in-a-century event, and there was no one talking about man-made climate change in 1897, when we saw the last flood of this nature.”

Nenshi considers the climate-change narrative too simplified, and says stopping a pipeline wouldn’t expiate “the sins of the carbon economy.”

 

Nenshi, despite being mayor of Canada’s energy capital, sidesteps getting embroiled in the climate-change debates. When the subject had come up earlier, in talks between Ottawa and Washington about the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline to transport oilsands bitumen from Alberta to refineries in Texas, Nenshi said the climate-change narrative was becoming too simplified. “You’re either for the environment or you’re for the pipeline,” he told a CBC Radio interviewer. “But the real world is significantly more complex.” Stopping the pipeline wouldn’t expiate what Nenshi called “the sins of the carbon economy.” The industry and the Canadian government would simply find other ways, such as rail transport, to get the bitumen to market, because oil exports are vital to the national economy. “And the odds of those other methods being more climate-damaging than this pipeline are very high,” said Nenshi. (As if to underscore his comment, a deadly derailment and explosion of 72 oil-filled railway tank cars killed 47 people and leveled 40 buildings in a small Quebec town on July 6.) So the real question to be resolved was, “how do we secure future economic prosperity for our country while mitigating the environmental aspects as best we can?”

Canada’s perennial dithering on the climate-change file was back in the headlines on June 25 when President Obama announced he would only approve the remaining portion of the $5.3 billion (U.S.) Keystone XL pipeline if it did not “significantly exacerbate” the problem of carbon pollution. Later, in a July 27 interview with The New York Times, Obama said it was possible that Canada could “potentially be doing more to mitigate carbon release.” Bitumen from the Alberta oilsands was already being labelled “dirty oil” by environmentalists in Europe as well as in the United States, so Canada clearly needed to do something more to rehabilitate the tarnished image of its most valuable export. Obama’s comments were followed by a letter from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, offering to work with the Americans on a joint plan to reduce carbon emissions.

Nenshi-1

Nenshi insists that his job is as Calgary’s mayor, and it’s up to other people to deal with provincial, national or international issues such as climate change. His supporters agree. © 2013 Neil Zeller (City of Calgary photo)

Nenshi insists that his job is as the mayor of Calgary; it’s other people’s jobs to deal with provincial, federal, and international issues. And as Nenshi sees it, it’s his priority to prepare Calgary for the next big flood. Scientists, the insurance industry, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others predict that extreme weather events are likely to occur more frequently, and Calgary is particularly vulnerable. “When you live on a floodplain, it’s not you MIGHT get flooded, it’s you WILL get flooded,” says hydrologist John Pomeroy. “The question is when. It’s guaranteed.”

Nenshi acknowledged that the berms, dams and other infrastructure that mitigate the impact of flooding are not a “hugely sexy thing,” because they are expensive to build and just sit there as protection against presumed future weather events that are hard to predict. But with insurance companies estimating Calgary’s total cleanup and repair bills from the 2013 flood at some $3 billion, he agreed it was time to start talking more about smart spending on flood prevention. “It’s long past time to have those conversations. And I’m very happy to think through the best ways of doing that.” On July 23, he appointed an advisory panel on flood mitigation to get the conversations started.

As for how governments should deal with the larger question of global temperature and climate variability increases, Nenshi pointed to one inescapable fact: “Whether or not you believe in human-generated climate change, the point is that the weather is different now. It’s very clear that we’re seeing these kinds of incidents more often. And as such, we have to continue to make sure that we build a city that continues to be resilient.”

Copyright © 2013 Brian Brennan

Canmore1

June floods from the Rocky Mountains led to four deaths, destroyed roads and displaced 100,000 people. © 2013 Evann Gentry

 

Related on F&O:

The Canada We Hope For. By Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, October, 2015

Crafting an ideal Canada—the Canada to which we aspire—lies in engaging muscularly with the past and the future. It means a thousand simple acts of service and a million tiny acts of heroism. It means acting at the community level: on our streets, in our neighbourhoods, and in our schools. It means refusing to accept the politics of fear. And then it means exporting the very best of Canada, that ideal and real Canada, to the rest of the world.

~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and we do not solicit donations from partisan organizations.  Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.   Buy Brian Brennan’s works through his own site, here.

Posted in Also tagged , , , |

Naheed Nenshi, Canada’s Mayor

Nenshi3When river flooding inundated downtown Calgary, it caused billions of dollars in damage and tested the leadership of Naheed Nenshi, a first-term mayor who handled the crisis so adroitly that he attracted national and international media attention. 
 
How did this former policy wonk and self-styled “brown guy,” a liberal and a Muslim, come out of nowhere to defy the stereotypes?

How did Nenshi become the unlikely leader of Canada’s politically conservative energy capital, at a time when oil companies and environmentalists anxiously await a decision from President Obama on the future of the Keystone XL pipeline? 

Read Brian Brennan‘s story Canada’s Mayor: Naheed Nenshi in F&O’s Think/Magazine section, with a $1 day pass for the entire site, or by subscription starting at $2.95 per month

 

 

Posted in All, Canadian Journalist, Current Affairs, Gyroscope Also tagged , , , , , , , |