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The Canada We Hope For – Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi

On September 19, Mayor Naheed Nenshi of Calgary, Alberta, presented at the LaFontaine-Baldwin Symposium, an annual event showcasing leading thinkers, hosted by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship and its co-founders and co-chairs, John Ralston Saul and the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson. As Canadians head to the polls for Canada’s 42nd federal general election, with permission from Mayor Nenshi, F&O republishes excerpts of his speech.

By Naheed Nenshi, Mayor of Calgary, Alberta 
October 18, 2015

Naheed Nenshi, mayor of Calgary, Alberta, was awarded first place Feb. 3 in the 2014 World Mayor Prize

Naheed Nenshi, mayor of Calgary, Alberta, was awarded first place Feb. 3 in the 2014 World Mayor Prize

I bring you greetings today from a place called Moh’kinsstis—the Elbow, a place where two great rivers meet. It’s the traditional land of the of the Blackfoot people, shared by the Beaver people of the Tsuu T’ina Nation and the Nakota people of the Stoney Nations, a place where we walk in the footprints of the Metis people.

The Blackfoot people have honoured me with the name A’paistootsiipsii, meaning “Clan Leader: the one that moves camp while the others follow”. It is a name that humbles me. And it reminds me of the humbling responsibility I have every day.

It is an honour to be with you here today, in this time of reconciliation, on the traditional lands of the the Huron-Wendat, the Hodnohshoneh and the Anishnabe. We are not on new land newly populated. We are on ancient land that has been the source of life for many people for thousands of years. For more than 5,000 years, people have lived, hunted, fished, met, and traded here. People have fought and loved—held fast to dreams and felt bitter disappointment.

This is part of our collective history—a reminder that we are all treaty people. And our common future is one of opportunity for all.

Today, I’m going to tell some stories. Some are personal, some have nothing to do with me. But I believe in the power of stories to help us better understand who we are, and crucially, who we want to be.

So, please allow me to indulge in some origin stories, beginning with my own.

My parents came to this country in 1971 when my mother was pregnant with me. I was therefore, born in Canada, but made in Tanzania.

This summer, I went on a family trip. I took my mother and my sister’s family, and we all went back to Tanzania. Our little group ranged in age from six to 75, and we were exploring our roots. We saw the house my mum grew up in and the hospital where my sister was born and lots of elephants. But, more important, we reflected on our own roots. I stood on the shores of Lake Victoria in Mwanza and gazed across the lake. I realized that, if my parents had been born on the other side, instead of being immigrants in 1971 they would have been refugees in 1972.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In the early 1970s, my parents were working in a place called Arusha. Then, as now, Arusha was used for many international and UN meetings. My dad met some Canadians working for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). They used to get the Toronto Star delivered to them, and dad, a voracious reader, used to ask for the newspaper when they were done with it. So he read, and he learned all about this strange place.

One day, he read an article about the new city hall in Toronto. As he saw the pictures of that great building and Nathan Phillips Square, he was amazed. How do you build such a tall building, he wondered, and make it round? He resolved that, one day, he would see that city hall.

A few years later, he got his chance. He had saved up so he could go to his sister’s wedding in London, England. He figured that, since he was in London, he might as well make a side trip to Toronto (I’m not sure he consulted a map). Just before leaving, they discovered my mum was pregnant and decided to go anyway, leaving my three-year-old sister with relatives. Much to my regret, they did eventually send for her.

When they got to Toronto, they immediately fell in love with the place (it was summer). They felt a certain freedom, like their kids could do anything there, and they decided to stay.

What followed was a very ordinary story familiar to so many of us.

When my parents arrived, there were six Ismaili families in Toronto and they did prayer services at someone’s home. On Fridays, my mother would strip her only bed sheets off the bed, wash them by hand, hang them to dry (there was no nickel for the dryer), and hope they would be done in time to fold, take on the subway, and bring to evening services so there would be a decent cloth to cover the small tables and lend some dignity to the basement.

Only a few months later, this little group of six families found themselves having to look after hundreds of Ismaili families—refugees from Uganda—and show them how to make it in this strange new place. They never once begrudged this. Even though they had so little, these new arrivals had even less.

Even though my parents barely knew how to navigate Canada, the newcomers had no idea. So they got to work. It was the right thing to do.

When I was a year old, having done my research and crafted a thorough argument, I convinced the family that our future was in the west, and we packed up a Dodge Dart and moved to Calgary. Sometimes we were very poor. Sometimes we were only mostly poor.

But what we lacked in money, we gained in opportunity. I went to amazing public schools. I spent my Saturday afternoons at the public library. I learned to swim, kind of, at a public pool. I explored the city I love on public transit. And through it all, I was nurtured by a community that wanted me to succeed, that had a stake in me, and that cared about me.

And in 2010, 20 months before he died, my dad, who loved Toronto City Hall, got to sit in another city hall and watch his son be sworn in as mayor.

While that story may seem extraordinary in its details, what’s extraordinary is just how ordinary it is. It is a very Canadian story. It is a story of struggle, service, sweat and, ultimately, success.

Almost every Canadian has such an origin story and every one is worth telling. And with each telling, we share in the story of who we are.

~~~

…. when Canada works, it works better than anywhere.

What we know is that the core strength of our community is not that there are carbon atoms in the ground in parts of this country and maple trees with amazing sap in others.

What we know is that we’ve figured out a simple truth—one which evades too many in this broken world. And that simple truth is just this: nous sommes ici ensemble. We’re in this together. Our neighbour’s strength is our strength; the success of any one of us is the success of every one of us. And, more important, the failure of any one of us is the failure of every one of us.

This means that our success is in that tolerance, that respect for pluralism, that generous sharing of opportunity with everyone, that innate sense that every single one of us, regardless of where we come from, regardless of what we look like, regardless of how we worship, regardless of whom we love, that every single one us deserves the chance right here, right now, to live a great Canadian life.

But this is incredibly fragile. It must be protected always from the voices of intolerance, the voices of divisiveness, the voices of small mindedness, and the voices of hatred. It’s the right thing to do.

As that great Canadian philosopher, Bruce Cockburn, reminds us “nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight/Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.”

And our fight is for that Canada.

And I worry that, in our current public and political discourse, we are losing that fight.

Let’s talk about Bill C-24.

One of the highlights of my time as mayor is being able to go to citizenship ceremonies. Every time, without fail, I cry. I cry with joy to be with so many people to have chosen to be Canadian. They have worked so hard to be a citizen (in the formal sense of the term). They have taken on the great responsibility of being a Canadian. And I weep as I share in that special moment, talking about how growing up, I always wondered why my family all had these fancy citizenship certificates and all I had was a lousy birth certificate.

As I grew up, I realized that those pieces of paper were not only the most valuable possessions we had, but that they were really the same.

No longer.

How is it that those individuals I get to watch saying their oath should somehow be less Canadian than others? How is it that we should allow it to be easier for our government to strip them of that privilege and responsibility of citizenship?

How is it that I, born at Saint Mike’s in downtown Toronto, could be stripped of my Canadian citizenship? How did we let this happen?

(An aside: two weeks ago, when asked about my concerns about this, a spokesperson for Minister Chris Alexander said “As for his views on our strengthened citizenship laws, unless he [Nenshi] intends to commit and be convicted by a Canadian court of acts of terrorism, treason, espionage or taking up arms against the Canadian military, he has nothing to worry about.” Not only does this person spectacularly miss the point, she doesn’t even know what the act that her boss is responsible for actually says. As Prime Minister Harper likes to say, look, let me be clear: either you believe in the rule of law in Canada, or you don’t.

One Canadian citizen committing the same crime should be treated the same as any other citizen, not subjected to a different sort of justice if they had a parent or grandparent who was born somewhere else. And the bill allows her boss to exile people from Canada without any Canadian court being involved. I suspect Canadians don’t really want him to have that authority.)

How did we get here?

I am deeply troubled at the language of divisiveness we hear in Ottawa these days. The label of “terrorist” is thrown around with disturbing regularity. But it is not done haphazardly. It is targeted language that nearly always describes an act of violence done by someone who shares my own faith.

The man who murdered Edmonton Constable Daniel Woodall was, we are told, a very unwell, dangerous man. The man who ran over two soldiers in Quebec was a “radicalized” terrorist. According to our Prime Minister, one of our greatest threats is of “Jihadi terrorism.” Well, sometimes he says “jihadist terrorism.” He generally avoids saying “Islamist terrorism” these days, so I guess there are small blessings.

But this is very specific, very deliberate language. It ties violent action to a religious group—many of whom are Canadian citizens. It does little to understand the causes of violence or the potential solutions. Instead, it encourages division; the opposite of the Canada to which we aspire.

The ridiculous debate on the niqab at citizenship ceremonies is another example. On the one hand, our government warns us of the radicalization of Muslim youth in our own communities. Law enforcement officers and community activists have repeatedly warned us that the cause of this radicalization is alienation and isolation; that the kids being radicialized are the same kids who join gangs. It truly is not about religion. So, we work hard to make these kids feel part of the community.

But then, on the other hand, in order to give a sop to some elements in our society, the government picks a fight on a completely irrelevant issue. So the government announces it will appeal two court decisions (an unwinnable appeal if I’ve ever seen one) and spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money, to prevent one woman from voting.

And those kids—the ones we are trying to convince that there’s a place for them in our society—are told that no matter what, they can never be truly Canadian. That their faith is incompatible with our values. All that good work on de-radicalization? Completely undermined by our own actions.

When we act like this, whether the issue is dealing with the extraordinary human suffering of those fleeing conflict or the right to vote, we are failing ourselves, our nation, and the world. It’s the wrong thing to do.

And I’m serious when I say “the world”. Canada, the idea of Canada, is a powerful beacon for all humanity. But here again, I fear we are failing.

The government has been running commercials that end with the slogan, “Strong. Proud. Free.” (Who knew that countries have slogans). The Economist last week called us “strong, proud and free-riding.” A study by former CIDA president Robert Greenhill and Meg McQuillian indicates that our foreign aid performance from 2008-2014 ranks us dead last in the G7.

In a recent interview, Mr. Greenhill suggests that that if spending had stayed at 1979 levels and the money been used to help destabilized countries, hundreds of thousands fewer people might now be fleeing, and thousands fewer dying.

And it’s important to note that this is not a partisan argument. Our commitment to assisting in global poverty began to flag in 1995 and has largely continued for 20 years, under Liberal and Conservative governments.

My friend John McArthur tells a story about a recent debate. December 2013 marked the multi-year replenishment deadline for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria—one of the world’s most successful modern life-saving institutions. Months earlier, the United States and the United Kingdom had made their own anchor pledges. They also offered matching grants to help motivate other countries’ contributions. Nations such as Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden each stepped in with commitments equivalent to $8 to $10 per citizen, per year. Canada, by contrast, left its decision to the final moment. After a flurry of last-minute internal deliberations, the government committed less than $220 million per year, or only $6 per Canadian. The lowball pledges from Canada and a few other countries meant that hundreds of millions in matching dollars were left on the table and the Global Fund suffered a billion-dollar annual shortfall. That billion-dollar shortfall will cost one million lives. And we bear too much of that responsibility.

The shocking part of all of this is not that it happened, but that we collectively did not notice. It was as though we had stopped thinking about the world around us and about our role as leaders.

Former Prime Minister Joe Clark warned in 2013 that we were gradually turning inward, writing:

“An essential question for citizens of lucky countries is not simply who we are or what we earn, but what we could be. That question implies others: To what do we aspire? What are our talents and advantages and assets? How can we be better than we have been, in our impact on events both inside and outside our country?”

I say we aspire to a better Canada in a better world, and that we have that power as citizens to make it happen. It’s the right thing to do.

In just a few days … we will be witness on the other side of the continent to the largest gathering of world leaders in history.

Those leaders will adopt a new series of Sustainable Development Goals—the Global Goals. They will commit to an extraordinary vision: a vision of a world free of poverty, hunger, disease, and want. A world of universal respect for human rights and human dignity. A world of equal opportunity permitting the full realization of human potential.

There are 17 goals, 107 outcome targets, and 62 targets for implementation. And we have to do it by 2030.

So what, then, is our role as Canadians? We must take on the challenge given us as lucky citizens. It’s the right thing to do.

I’m speaking as though these failures of the Canada to which we aspire are recent. They’re not. I’m naïve, but I’m not that naïve.

After all, we are the nation of Japanese internment camps. We are the nation of the Chinese head tax and Africville. We are the nation of Komagata Maru and provincial eugenics programs. We are the nation of “none is too many.” We are the nation that created and sustained residential schools.

These are our stories too. They are not lapses in our citizenship. They are not moments when we temporarily forgot what it was to be Canadian. They are real and they are stories we tell—as uncomfortable as we are in the telling.

We feel a deep, cold, dark discomfort when confronted with those stories of ourselves. The truth is not easy. It wasn’t easy for the victims of residential schools to tell their stories to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It wasn’t easy for Canadians to bear witness to those stories. But it is profoundly important that we did and that we do.

But there’s something noble in this.

We cannot shy away from these stories of divisiveness.

In telling those stories alongside our origin stories, we move forward.

But there is also something noble and true and real and perfect and Canadian in the stories that we tell that inform us about who we want to be. The stories of the best Canada. The stories of the Canada to which we aspire.

They allow us to proudly say to the world who we are and what it means to be Canadian. They are stories of ideas and, more important, they are stories of actions. Because the best stories are stories of action. Stories of everyday people using their everyday hands and their everyday voices to make extraordinary change. Because it’s the right thing to do.

Let’s start with us—our actions as individuals.

When I first became mayor, I pulled together a group of super-volunteers and gave them what I thought was a simple task: figure out a way to get more people involved in the community and report back in 30 days. Forty-five days later, they came back and said “great news, mayor! We’ve come up with a name for our committee!” They could not have done worse. The Mayor’s Committee on Civic Engagement. (They’ve since changed it, I kid you not, to “The Mayor’s Civic Engagement Committee.”)

A few days after that, they came to me with a simple idea: Three Things for Calgary. A social movement that encourages every citizen, every year, to do at least three things for their community. Three things, big or small.

I thought this idea was crazy. It’s paradoxically too simple and too complex, I said. It’s too simple because we’re not telling people what to do. I’m a researcher, and I know the research shows that the number one reason people don’t volunteer is “nobody asked me.” We have to match people with non-profits. We have to give them ideas.

It’s too complicated because we want to lower the barriers. Why ask people to do three things instead of one small thing?

I was wrong.

It turns out the weaknesses I saw were the strengths of the idea. In not telling people what to do, we allowed them to answer two questions for themselves: What do I care about? What am I good at? It’s at the nexus of these two things that people figure out the right thing to do.

And they do things I would never have thought of. Like the mum who had the terrifying experience of rushing her child to the children’s hospital and spending the night in the emergency room. She didn’t get any sleep, of course, and felt awful in the morning as she took her daughter to various tests and appointments.

When they were all safely at home, she reflected on the experience. And now, every year, she conducts a toothbrush drive for the Alberta Children’s Hospital ER. Not kids’ toothbrushes—adult ones. This is so that parents, having gone through the scariest night of their lives, can brush their teeth in the morning and feel just a little more human. And as they brush their teeth, they are reminded that they live in a community that cares about them—that has a stake in them. For that mum, it was the right thing to do.

And, of course, it’s not really about doing three things every year. It’s about setting up an expectation for a lifetime of service. It’s about creating a habit of service. It’s about internalizing the right thing to do and doing it.

And that habit manifests itself every day in a million little ways. This was never on display as much as during our community’s greatest challenge: the 2013 floods. I won’t dwell on the crisis—that’s a whole other speech—but I’ll share a couple of, you guessed it, stories.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi during the Calgary floods of 2013. City of Calgary Photo

Mayor Naheed Nenshi during the Calgary floods of 2013. City of Calgary Photo

Very early on during the flooding, we were inundated with people asking simply, “how can I help?” We weren’t quite sure what to do, and eventually invited everyone who wanted to assist with the cleanup to meet one morning at McMahon Stadium. My colleagues at the City of Calgary didn’t give much notice—just a couple of hours. When I asked why, they said “well, your worship, we don’t really know what we’re doing. We figure that if we keep this low-key, only a hundred or 200 people will come, we’ll figure out what we’re doing and be ready for more tomorrow.”

I was skeptical, but I went to the stadium to meet the few volunteers I expected. You’ve probably seen the pictures. I was greeted by thousands of people—some in work boots and some in flip-flops—united only in their desire to help strangers in their community.

There was no PA system. I climbed up on a folding table, reached into the driver’s side window of a fire vehicle, and used the radio attached to the sirens. My city colleague yelled up at me, “Send them home! We’ve run out of forms!”

I took a deep breath, visions of municipal lawyers danced before my eyes, and I said “We’ve run out of forms. There’s no more room on the buses. But you’re here to help. Just go help. You know what neighbourhoods have been badly hit. Just go. You may have to go door to door, but it will probably be clear what to do. Just go.”

And they went. And they went. And they went. In the hundreds and thousands, they went. The largest outpouring of humanity I have ever seen. Not organized, driven only by the very real, the very Canadian, desire to help. Because it was the right thing to do.

I got into a habit during the flood of just taking quiet walks in the flood-impacted neighbourhoods. If I could steal away from the emergency operations centre for an hour, I would. No fanfare, just a chance to talk to people about what had happened and how they were coping.

On one of those walks, on a quiet street in Rideau/Roxboro, just down from the Mission Bridge, I met Sam and his mum, Lori. They were kind enough to invite me into their home, or what was left of it. Everything was gone; it was stripped down to the studs.

“We’ve had a tough few days,” she said. “There’s nothing left in my house. I have no stove, no fridge, no cabinets. I have no way to prepare meals for my family. But you know what, Mayor? Tonight, for dinner we have hot shepherd’s pie.”

I often think about that shepherd’s pie. When I’m having a bad day, I think of the anonymous hands that made it. The hands that boiled the potatoes and peeled them, that mashed them and turned the mixture into a casserole dish and covered it tightly in foil. The person who stopped and thought: “I’m never going to see my casserole dish again. But you know what, it doesn’t matter. Somewhere out there, there’s a family that hasn’t had a hot meal in days, and they have to get this shepherd’s pie while it’s hot. It’s the right thing to do.”

I think of Bev. Bev, like so many others in Calgary, went to help a friend. Then she helped the friend’s neighbour, and the neighbour’s neighbour. One day, she found herself in a stranger’s basement and she saw the one thing that finally knocked her to her knees. It was a beautiful photo album—“Our Baby”—and it was ruined.

She stopped short, and she thought: “We can replace people’s furniture. We can replace their appliances and their flooring and their drywall. But how do we replace their memories?”

And she made a decision. Bev has a hobby. She’s a quilter. And she decided that she would make a quilt. She would make it good, and she would make it strong. And she would give it to a family that had lost everything.

And they would make blanket forts with it. And they would curl up under it to watch a movie on cold nights. And the kids would want it when they left home.

And that one family would have a new heirloom and create new memories.

Word spread about Bev’s project. People started talking; they wanted to help. A group of senior ladies wanted to help, but didn’t have any materials. Someone organized a small fundraiser and got scraps of fabric and cotton batting.

I had no idea any of this was happening until I got a call in September. They were going to distribute the quilts, door-to-door in the flooded areas. Could I please come and say thank you to the volunteers?

So, on a sunny and crisp autumn Saturday morning, I went to the Inglewood Community Hall to see 1400 quilts.

They had come, not just from a few senior citizens in Calgary, but from across Canada and the world—as far away as Brazil. And every one of them had a card attached. “In this difficult time, please know that you are part of a community.”

It was the right thing to do.

And my dream for Canada, my dream for this nation in the world, is that simple. That we do the right thing.

Can you imagine if for 2017, for the sesquicentennial of this great nation, we give Canada a birthday gift? Can you imagine if Canada gives the world a birthday gift? Can you imagine Three Things for Canada? Let’s make the commitment today to each do three things for our country, for the world, starting now and continuing through our 150th birthday. Showing everyone the right things to do.

But the real answer in 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.

I want to leave you with one last story. One I tell all the time. One that I will keep telling, since it encapsulates who we are and who we aspire to be.

I had the chance a couple of years ago to visit the 100th Anniversary of a school in Calgary. It’s called Connaught School, named after the Duke of Connaught—the Governor General of Canada, the son of Queen Victoria.

Now, the population of the school looks different than when it first opened. Because it’s right downtown, it’s often the first point of arrival for newcomers to Canada. There are 240 students. They come from 61 different countries. They speak 42 different languages at home.

I spoke to some of those kids and their parents. I heard horrible things. I heard stories of war and unspeakable poverty. I heard stories of degradation and loss of dignity. I heard stories of violence so horrific I could not imagine one human being doing that to another, let alone in front of a child.

I looked out at those kids, sitting on the floor in the gym, wearing their matching t-shirts celebrating their school’s birthday.

I looked beyond them, at their parents, in hijabs and kanga cloth, in Tim Hortons uniforms and bus driver caps, in designer suits and pumps.

At that moment, it would have been so easy to feel despair, to mourn for our broken world.

But I didn’t.

Because in that second, I had a moment of extraordinary clarity. I knew something to be true beyond all else.

I knew that regardless of what these kids had been through, regardless of how little they have or had, regardless of what wrath some vengeful God had visited on them and their families, they had one burst of extraordinary luck.

And that luck was that they ended up here.

They ended up in Canada, they ended up in Calgary, they ended up at Connaught School. They ended up in a community. They ended up with people who would catch them if they fell. They ended up in a community that wants them to succeed, that has a stake in them, that cares about them.

And I knew at that moment, that those kids, right here, right now, would live a great Canadian life.

That’s the promise of our community. That’s what I have the humbling responsibility to make real every day.

And that’s the opportunity you have. Because it’s the right thing to do.

Copyright Naheed Nenshi 2015

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Mayor Naheed Nenshi is currently serving his second term and is the 36th mayor of Calgary, Alberta.  In February 2015, he was awarded the World Mayor Prize. Prior to becoming mayor, he was Canada’s first tenured professor in the field of nonprofit management at Mount Royal University’s Bissett School of Business, and a business advisor to North American corporate leaders. Mayor Nenshi grew up in Calgary and has lived and worked in cities around the world before returning home. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce Degree (with distinction) from the University of Calgary and a Master in Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where he studied as a Kennedy Fellow. Visit his web page at the City of Calgary here.

Related:

Canada’s Mayor: Naheed Nenshi. By Brian Brennan, Fall 2013

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.

~~~

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Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi first in World Mayor prize

Nenshi-1

Photo  Neil Zeller, © 2013, City of Calgary

Naheed Nenshi, mayor of Calgary, Alberta, was awarded  first place Tuesday in the 2014 World Mayor Prize, by the City Mayor Foundation, an international think tank. Said the World Mayor organization in its announcement

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the winner of the 2014 World Mayor Prize, is the most admired mayor of any large Canadian city. His vision how a city should plan for its future has attracted the attention of urban thinkers from across North America. Since taking office in 2010, he has become the most admired mayor of any large Canadian city. He is an urban visionary who doesn’t neglect the nitty-gritty of local government. For many in North America and indeed Europe, Mayor Nenshi is a role model for decisive management, inclusivity and forward planning. He has also demonstrated strong leadership during disasters like the Alberta floods of 2013 and last year’s power outage, which affected large parts of the downtown area of the city. While Mayor Nenshi rejects being labelled progressive or indeed anything else – in the World Mayor interview he said: “I really believe that this kind of categorization alienates people and keeps them from participating in the political process.” – he has not shied away from challenging conservative views from some members of Alberta’s provincial government.

 In 2010 Naheed Nenshi became the first Muslim mayor of a major North American city after his ‘Purple Revolution’ captured the imagination of voters from right across the political spectrum. Some six weeks before the 18 October 2010 elections, opinion polls only credited Naheed Nenshi with eight per cent support but extensive use of social media combined with tireless door stepping – his supporters even organised coffee parties in their homes where Nenshi explained his vision – propelled him to victory on election day. Three years later the Mayor was re-elected with almost three quarters of votes cast.

Nenshi, who embodies the face of change in Canada’s once-conservative, white-bread energy capital of Calgary, has been a political star since he not only adroitly provided leadership in the historic flood that ravaged the city in 2013, but did so with panache. He is a known policy wonk, former academic, a self-styled “brown guy,” a liberal willing to fetter some business, and an Ismaili Muslim.  He was profiled by Brian Brennan in Canada’s Mayor, the first original feature in the inaugural issue of Facts and Opinions. (The magazine story was awarded Runner-up, Best Feature Article, 2014, in the Professional Writers Association of Canada Awards.)

The other 2014 winners of the World Mayor project are:

  • Daniël Termont, Ghent, Belgium
  • Tri Rismaharini, Surabaya, Indonesia
  • Carlos Ocariz, Sucre, Venezuela
  • Jed Patrick Mabilog, Iloilo City, Philippines
  • Albrecht Schröter, Jena, Germany
  • Annise Parker, Houston, United States
  • Yiannis Boutaris, Thessaloniki, Greece
  • Giusy Nicolini, Lampedusa, Italy
  • Aziz Kocaoglu, Izmir, Turkey

 The British-based World Mayor philanthropic organization, which refuses advertising and donations, said in its manifesto its aim is to raise the profile of mayors worldwide, “honour those who have made long-lasting contributions to their communities and are committed to the well-being of cities nationally and internationally.”

“In this century, metropolitan areas, rather than nation states, will shape the world’s social, cultural, technological and economic agendas. This process will lead to increased competition for human, intellectual and material resources but will also force cities to co-operate with and learn from one another,” said the project.

“An outstanding mayor must possess qualities such as: honesty, leadership and vision, good management abilities, social and economic awareness, ability to provide security and to protect the environment, as well as having the skill to cultivate good relations between communities different cultural, racial and social backgrounds.”   Contenders area also required to sign a statement of ethics.

Further reading:

 Canada’s Mayor by Brian Brennan (paywall, accessible with a $1 day pass for the entire site, or by subscription.)

World Mayor: the 2014 winners, World Mayor project

City Mayors Foundation

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*Help sustain independent, non-partisan and professional journalism by buying a $1 day pass or subscription to Facts and Opinions. An online journal of first-rate reporting and analysis, without borders, F&O is employee-owned, does not carry advertising, and is funded entirely by readers. Click here to purchase a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. Receive free blog emails via the form on FRONTLINES. Thank you for your patronage. Please tell others about us.

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F&O’s first magazine feature wins kudos

Brennan B&W

Brian Brennan

Congratulations to F&O founding feature writer Brian Brennan, whose story Canada’s Mayor — F&O’s first original magazine feature — won Runner-up, Best Feature Article, in the 2014 Professional Writers Association of Canada Awards

Here’s what we said on our Frontlines blog to announce the piece when it was published September 30, 2013:

When 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? 

We thought it was an excellent piece, good enough for our launch. We’re thrilled that PWAC agrees, and we thank the association and congratulate all of the winners. 

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Naheed Nenshi’s unlikely stardom

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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.

 

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

 

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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.”

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

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