Sunday, September 2, 2012

Who's Running Against Nenshi?

On October 21st, 2013, Calgarians will elect a new City Council.

That's 414 days from now.

There will, no doubt, be some new faces on council. Some new titles, too: Gone will be the "Vote John for Alderman" signs, replaced either by "John for Council" or "John for Councilor". Without a doubt, no matter how many new faces we see on Calgary City Council, the critics who get paid to sneeringly deride those in power will cry from the rooftops about poor voter turn-out keeping terrible councilors in office, using the word "sheeple" as often as they feel their editors will permit.

The big question going into this race, though, is clearly "Who is going to run for mayor against Naheed Nenshi?".

Nenshi, after all, is Canada's 2nd most popular mayor according to a late 2011 poll. He finished only slightly behind Mississauga's "Hurricane" Hazel McCallion, who celebrated her 34th year as mayor with a 78% approval rating.

It begs the question: Will ANY serious contender step forward to challenge Nenshi for the Chain of Office? Or will he be left to cruise to an easy win, as possible opponents focus on local Ward races instead?

After all, the Mayor, while having a bully pulpit upon which to stand and put forward grand ideas and visions for the city, is ultimately only 1 of 15 voices on council. As was laid bare for the world to see in the recently-aired Nenshi documentary "@nenshi4mayor", Naheed heads into council meetings knowing that he needs 7 other councilors to agree with him.

So, if you're a conservative politician (sitting Calgary mayors don't get defeated, as a rule, and if they DO face serious challenges, they never come from the left) whose great goal is to neuter the Nenshi platform, do you take on a guy who has the approval of 3 in 4 Calgarians, on a city-wide stage? Or do you play it safe, win your Ward, and hope to obstruct him with ideologically-motivated "No" votes until he loses interest in a deadlocked system or runs out of time to do anything (we call this "The Boehner Manoeuvre")?

Let's look at the current council, and see who might have the political cajones to try and meet the Purple Army in the open field:

Dale Hodges, Ward 1: Hodges has been on council for 28 years. While some might consider him a possible challenger for Nenshi, he has stated on multiple occasions that he intends "to die in office". Which might be taking the continued endorsement of his fellow citizens a bit casually. At any rate, he won't be putting his decades-long career on the line in a winner-take-all electoral rumble with Nenshi.

Gord Lowe, Ward 2: Lowe has been one of Nenshi's most vocal and oft-quoted critics on the current council. They've butted heads on the budget, and on the Airport Tunnel. Lowe, though, had a tough race in 2010 against Joe Bagliocca, winning by just over 1,000 votes. That's too close for comfort for someone who went into that election with 9 years on council. He'll probably want to feel secure in his own ward with at least another win before looking at the Big Chair.

Jim Stevenson, Ward 3: Jim's got money, but little profile outside of his own ward. See "Joe Connelly". Jim's no fool - he'll stay where he's safe.

Druh Farrell, Ward 7: Druh might be popular in Ward 7, but she's positively REVILED in the suburbs, and she knows it. Plus, as with Lowe, the bottom line is that sitting Calgary mayors don't get unseated by challengers coming at them from the left. Druh will stay put and run for her current job - though challengers for her Ward 7 council seat are already coming on strong, more than a year in advance of the vote.

John Mar, Ward 8: Mar is well-connected and he has shown a willingness to raise and spend a LOT of money to get elected, but he's not enough of an ideologue to put his job on the line to unseat a popular mayor. If he HATED Nenshi, he'd be a formidable opponent - but he's just as likely at any given time to vote alongside the mayor as he is against him. He's got no reason to risk his job.

Andre Chabot, Ward 10: Chabot, like Mar, has deep ties in the conservative establishment and a lot of friends with deep pockets. He's become one of the 2 "go-to" fiscal conservative voices on this council, always ready with a soundbyte for the press. The question is, does he have the city-wide profile to mount a serious challenge to Nenshi? And if not, does he have the charisma to BUILD one over the next year?

Diane Colley-Urquhart, Ward 13: "Big Red" has tried to move up to higher office before, in 2009. After Ric McIver's unsuccessful bid for mayor, Colley-Urquhart inherited his position as council's ranking fiscal hawk. She's had some high profile spats with Nenshi, and maintains good relations with a lot of highly-placed federal Tories in Calgary. She's got connections to money, and she can work a room like few politicians I've seen. The question is, does she want to be Mayor badly enough to risk her council seat?

This isn't to say that a challenger can't come from somewhere OTHER than council, of course...  but a well-organized campaign, a good history in the private sector, and gobs of money can't make up for the "profile gap" between a potential dark-horse challenger and the man who has been called "Canada's Mayor".

The best place to gain that profile, and show yourself as a viable replacement, Ready-for-Primetime and possessing the knowledge of how our local government does its job (hi, Barb!), is from inside Calgary's Council Chamber. Look for one of the 14 sitting Aldermen to draw the same conclusion.


Anonymous said...

I'm from Toronto. Can we just do a straight trade?

Anonymous said...

Why would we trade a first round pick for a bag of cheeseburgers? ;)

Enlightened Savage said...

Anon @ 4:02: You can't blame 'em for trying... Toronto has a long and distinguished history of robbing Calgary in trades. Ask Doug Risebrough or Daryl Sutter. ;)

Anonymous said...

I am from Toronto as well, and no, Calgary will never trade our Mayor Nenshi for the "Ford Brother's Follies". Toronto voted him in and now they have to live with him. The latest newsclip of Rob Ford's niece speaks volumes of the Ford clan.