What does Nenshi’s re-election signify?  PT readers may have some thoughts.

From the Globe:

Naheed Nenshi has secured his third term in Calgary, fending off a more conservative challenger who came close to unseating the once-politically unassailable mayor of Alberta’s largest city.

Mr. Nenshi, 45, won against lawyer Bill Smith with about 51 per cent of the vote according to unofficial results late Monday night – a far cry from the 74 per cent support that Mr. Nenshi saw in the 2013 election. …

Mr. Smith still received about 44 per cent of the vote, but Mr. Nenshi’s win is a repudiation of those who believed Alberta’s conservatives – stung by the existence of an NDP government in Edmonton and a Liberal government in Ottawa – were poised to use the municipal election to help stage a comeback. …

The Harvard-educated son of immigrants, (Nenshi) worked around-the-clock the weeks during and after the 2013 floods, and has made issues such as public transit and housing hallmarks of his time in office. But he has gained a strong cohort of critics in recent years, and in recent weeks some polls had shown Mr. Smith’s campaign, with its focus on freezing municipal workers’ salaries and cutting city taxes, gathering steam.

The race was also affected by factors outside the realm of municipal politics. Both Mr. Nenshi and Mr. Smith said they often heard complaints while knocking on doors or meeting with business owners about policies originating in Edmonton or Ottawa – including Alberta’s carbon tax and plans to move to a $15 per hour minimum wage, or proposed federal changes to business tax laws.

Mr. Nenshi has significant challenges ahead as he continues on as mayor. He and his council have to grapple with a massive hole in the city’s budget as office vacancies stay stubbornly high. Mr. Nenshi has said he will carry over a $45 million program that shields remaining city businesses from the full brunt of tax increases that could come from a partially empty downtown core.

He will also carry the weight of a fraught relationship with the city’s professional hockey team. …

Mr. Smith had worked to capitalize on the perception in some quarters that Mr. Nenshi is quick to upbraid those who don’t agree with him. Some of the political opposition to Mr. Nenshi can be traced back two years to opposition to a rapid-transit plan, including the construction of bus lanes, from well-organized residents in the southwest of the city. Others criticize Mr. Nenshi’s blunt-speak in lambasting political opponents from the chief executive of Uber to local developers. Mr. Smith’s campaign said property taxes “skyrocketed” by 51 per cent during Mr. Nenshi’s time in office.


  1. Bravo!
    Nenshi’s performance during the Great Flood of 2013 (those who knew Calgary Before and After will not think that is an exaggeration) was 24 / 7 for weeks. He earned his way on that performance alone to a second and third term, and also as an individual who rode into the mayoralty without riding on the coattails of a big party with big money.
    It is quite remarkable that he was first elected as an independent liberal and a member of a visible minority in a political field chock-a-block with Wonder Bread candidates, with a platform largely put together on a low budget, social media basis with 12 very honed central policy planks and bulleted action points listed with great clarity. Many of them dealt with new policies proposed for the subsidized suburbs through gentle density, transit and a number of other issues that attracted the attention of urbanists.
    Calgary has a municipal ward system, and Nenshi’s chief opponents were often developers of vast tracts of low-density sprawl and the councillors in peripheral wards who took their money. Some people see Nenshi’s troubles over the last term in the context that he is acting on his original policies. He also came across as elitist because he didn’t cave to the threats of the local NHL team to flee to Seattle if the city didn’t pay for their extortionist taxpayer funding demands. Maybe he’s gotten fed up and arrogant with all that, but this narrower win may help him back down the ladder to solid earth.
    A lot of the conservative claptrap is indirectly based on discomfiture with Calgary’s relatively new identity as a multicultural city with an increasing liberal streak that demands a more diverse economy. But the people have also come off two years of a devastating downturn in the oil economy, and needed to register a protest vote somewhere. Nenshi also supports Kinder Morgan and didn’t seem to understand the expectation that the absorption of risk on BC’s South Coast is not freely given, nor can it be bought as easily as Christy Clark did when she named her price ($1B). Today’s BC is different now that the people were consulted on that through an election.
    Still, Nenshi is one of the main proponents of Calgary’s latest LRT project, the Green Line, a quite remarkable $5B, 46-km rapid transit project that is a low floor street tram, a subway, a dedicated transitway and an elevated line all in one. The public acceptance of a more costly subway in downtown during the extensive consultation was not really remarkable considering the accidents and grade crossings almost on a daily basis, and the fact grade separation has been creeping in with every new major project. Moreover, the city has been consulting neighbourhoods extensively along the proposed route, and TOD is a big thing.
    Calgary is better off with Nenshi – and would be economically too if they only learned to diversify it at the same rate as their now distinctly multigrain culture.

    1. Good commentary, Alex. Thanks.
      Calgary is at a crossroads. It’s been forced there by the growth of the oil & gas industry and its rapid deceleration. We are a city of 1.2 million people, but there are a lot of people who want to pretend we’re still at 600,000. Many of our councillors are stuck in a time when Calgary was “the big town with a small-town feel”, and Nenshi’s biggest struggles are in fighting that anachronism. The most obvious example would be the never-ending debate over secondary suites.
      But for those reading from Vancouver, Nenshi is a centrist. He would fit in well with NPA’s policies, and I suspect a lot of readers of this blog would find him too conservative on urban issues.

  2. Vancouverites and local politicians everywhere ought to take note about this almost loss due to lack of ” .. freezing municipal workers’ salaries and cutting city taxes, gathering steam.”
    Taxation matters, and cost of services delivery, i.e. civil servants wages matter and in Calgary those have risen from already elevated levels amongst many layoffs & private sector wage cuts in 2015 and 2016.
    With no apparent NPA candidate in sight Mayor Gregor Robertson might squeak in one more term here also next year, despite the sweeping loss of the VV seat to NPA candidate Hector Bremner this weekend. We shall see ..
    Civil servants salaries & benefits carefully hidden from public view .. and rarely discussed, yet they constitute 70%+ of city’s or provincial budgets. Why is that ?

    1. Thomas, the financial “burden” of paying people well is a mere pittance compared to the $billions that ideological governments waste on pet projects.

      1. Not quite if 75%+ of cities’ budgets are wages & benefits. Yes the pet projects aka “art projects” were indeed highly controversial too but a pittance in the overall $B+ city budget. I personally know at least 3 people on their payroll that are paid 33%+ over private sector salaries PLUS benefits PLUS 0 risk of layoffs which are worth a lot in Alberta.these days !

        1. “Civil servants salaries & benefits carefully hidden from public view .. and rarely discussed”
          You mean the remuneration packages that are a matter of public record on a database available through the Vancouver Sun website? You can literally google a person’s name and it’s likely their information is available. In fact, newspapers actually write articles about this stuff.
          For union positions many collective agreements are posted online.
          Pet peeves that can’t withstand reality should be retired. Please stop hijacking this blog for your own obsessions Mr Beyer. Go start your own blog instead of thread-sitting here and getting in the way of valid intelligent remarks that advance the conversation. Your contributions rarely fall into that category and your demonstrated lack of knowledge on a wide variety of topics does nothing but add noise to signal.

        2. Chris: relax. You just don’t like my highly fact based pro-business and contra big-government opinions. I get that.

        3. Nope. Wrong again. I have seen your on-again off-again relationship with facts.
          Here we have it this very thread. Secretive, hidden-from-the-public deals turn out to be a matter of public record. That’s not fact-based debate. That’s propagandizing.

    2. Public workers salaries and benefits are freely and democratically negotiated between management and labour reps. Once a deal has been struck, it’s put into a legally binding contract.
      Union contracts are part of the market economy.
      So are egregiously sinful top management contacts with corporate board members who too often drag a company down while inflating the value of their own preferred shares.
      The wage level you prefer is the lower level service sector starter jobs where workers have no power to negotiate whatsoever. They too are part of the market economy.
      You obviously aspire toward the lowest level, Thomas. I don’t believe you understand the economic ramifications of removing huge amounts of money from the system by creating a mass low wage environment everywhere.

      1. There are two sides to a wage gap – Either public sector too high or private sector too low. Henry Ford realized that his company could not do well if his workers could not afford to buy a Ford. To solve this he raised worker salaries. Maybe private sector should do the same today. As that is unlikely to happen, we should certainly raise the minimum wage in order to make Thomas happier, since then public sector wages will no longer seem higher.

      2. In a monopoly employer environment there is no free negotiations, especially in an environment where there can’t be replacement workers in case of a strike.
        I am merely advocating fair wages for similar jobs, and not wages that are 33-100% above market like so many civil servants jobs, eg BC Liquorstore jobs at $30/h plus benefits and low layoff risk vs a similar job at Safeway that pays perhaps $15-18/h with far less benefits.
        Latest example: marijuana stores provincially owned in Ontario, possibly being cloned in BC and AB, too with wages well above small business environment.
        Personally I call this theft from the tax payer. Others call it “bargaining” or “freely negotiated” I guess ..
        re min wage: it is the cruelest of all social policies as it will force layoffs of the weakest members of society. As a restaurant chain, or a retailer or a clothing firm trims marginal hours and lays off 2-5% of their say 1000 employees in Metrovan do you think they lay off the strongest or the weakest 20-50 people ?

        1. Safeway was paying $15 per hour in the early eighties, with similar benefits. It was widely regarded as one of the best jobs out there. Limited competition in the grocery business, a strong union, in a province with high union density meant that wages were excellent and people could afford to pay the prices that supported those wages.
          The pendulum has swung so far the other way, civil servant jobs that have kept pace with inflation have outpaced private sector wages. That gap represents what so many workers have lost in this province, not new gains for civil servants. Government workers have not gained wages or benefits in real terms for decades, but the private sector worker has certainly lost a great deal.
          Our labour market is so perverted at the moment, there are stories in the media about restaurants that cannot get staff. Employers have had it their way for such a long period of time, they have no clue how to correctly deal with this shortage of labour. Instead of paying higher wages, they are begging to be allowed to hire foreign workers. Apparently the business owners who subscribe to the religion of allowing the market to determine prices turn atheist at the prospect of actually paying higher wages to deal with a shortage of labour. The taxpayer and the labour market suffer from these end runs around natural market forces.
          A declining minimum wage in real terms (10 year freeze, compound the losses to inflation and you’re looking at 25 – 30% cut) was a cruel subsidy not to small business but the profits of large multi national fast food corporations and retailers. We all understand the very large social and psychological benefit of being in work. Making ever less than the cost of living tends to wipe that out, making the welfare rolls and the underground economy much more attractive, with attendant social costs.
          Far better that we go to work on figuring out how to be a higher wage economy. The experiment of joining the race to the bottom has been an abject failure in a province with a structurally high cost of living, exacerbated by many anti worker anti social policies by provincial and federal governments.

        2. Well said, Keith.
          Thomas, nobody wins in a strike, least of all union members. You never make up for what was lost during the time out. It is a strategy of last resort, but sometimes a particular management strategizes to provoke a strike with bad faith negotiations or Trumpian poison pill offers. Or the close the plant and move to Mexico.
          However, during times of labour shortages management plays really nice and offers even higher wages to those with skills in order to keep them from being raided by the next company. Through it all unions are pretty consistent, whereas management can change demeanor with the wind.
          Again, contracts are contracts. Labour contracts are just as legal as any other, and it takes two parties to sign. I certainly hope your local fire dept. has well-paid firefighters.

        3. Happy to pay well for fire fighters. It’s just that most of the time we pay and they do not fight, but sit around or tend to false fire alarms or attend car accidents grossly over staffed and put on a show. Happy to pay a hefty risk premium when the job is actually risky. But not to show up with fire trucks and four heavily equipped men with gear to turn off a false alarm. The waste is unbelievable. BC Ferries workers, city hall staff, TransLink cops at $100,000+ .. the list of excessive pay goes on and on.
          Until debt do us part …

        4. The cancer and respiratory disease rates of firefighters prove you wrong.
          You should take your comment about “sitting around” to the local fire hall and gauge the reaction. Sitting around can be interrupted by all-night 4-alarm fires in industrial areas where dangerous chemicals are stored, or tending to horrendous and very tragic car crashes.

        5. Thomas – there’s a good job for you. High pay and you can sit around all the time. This would give you even more time to elucidate us about your brilliant urban planning conconcepts.
          Sorry about the sarcasm, but I must admit that at least half of your ideas are quite brilliant. We do need to work on the other half.

    1. Indeed .. they just take the cash .. and also produce fancy shows and show up fully clothed at even minor car accidents. The waste in firehalls across MetroVan is in the tens of millions, likely hundreds annually, due to gross overstaffing and overpay. Nesnshi saw that coming his way .. and came away with a bruise.
      A thorough staffing review is in order Metro-wide.
      A very desirable job. Make $100,000/year plus major benefits and work another job, often construction, for another 50-100,000.
      How many fires are there annually in MetroVan ?

    1. Property taxes went up to pay for transit. They would have been higher If Nenshi had not stood up to the corporate welfare bums hockey arena proposal .

      1. A controversial topic, the funding for hockey arenas. Many economic spinoffs that benefit the city but the question is what subsidies are appropriate. I think he got the formula of 1/3 by city correct but the team owners wanted ( unjustifiably, in my opinion) more. Many Calgarians sided with the mayor though. More on this in the local media such as https://www.thescore.com/news/1373936

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