Opinions

Loss of civility in council

Calgary city council descends into madness

Mayor Naheed Nenshi, left, addresses the press in the Grant MacEwan Library at the Calgary Municipal Building on Saturday, March 12, 2016, following the Calgary Welcome and Newcomers Fair. Hosted by Nenshi, the event formally welcomed new Syrian Canadians to the City of Calgary. (Photo by Deborah Mebude/SAIT Polytechnic)

Mayor Naheed Nenshi, left, addresses the press in the Grant MacEwan Library at the Calgary Municipal Building on Saturday, March 12, 2016, following the Calgary Welcome and Newcomers Fair. Hosted by Nenshi, the event formally welcomed new Syrian Canadians to the City of Calgary. (Photo by Deborah Mebude/SAIT Polytechnic)

Politics in Alberta is becoming a toxic sideshow, with politicians more concerned with a catchy quote than serving the people.

Calgary is no exception.

On Nov. 7, Larry Heather was ejected from city council chambers for contributing to the continued loss of decorum in Calgary’s political sphere. 

Heather, who is registered to run in the 2017 mayoral race, attends
most meetings. 

In this case, he was asked to sit down by Mayor Naheed Nenshi when he argued about a secondary suite application in his community.

Heather would not leave the podium until city security officers were called to escort him out and police were called. 

According to a recent article by CBC, Nenshi has accused Heather of being racist and homophobic, and the incident has led to a potential ban on Heather from attending the council. 

Council seems to constantly be on the precipice of falling into bedlam.

In February 2016, an open house was hosted by city council to begin discussions about the southwest Bus Rapid Transit plan. The public meeting became so heated that Mayor Nenshi said there was yelling, pushing, shoving and even death threats.

The events of the meeting again led to police involvement. With the lack of concord visible in Calgary politics, it can be a turnoff for participation. 

“Community meetings often end in yelling,” said Lindsay Amantea, interim president of Ask Her. “Council sets the tone with a lack of professionalism.”

Ask Her is an organization dedicated to increasing the number of women running for and sitting on Calgary’s city council.

Speaking about how to restore civility to Calgary’s city council, Amantea said, “In general, if people take the time to listen and don’t put their own agendas first.

“It takes every individual person to make it happen.”

Nenshi has acknowledged that there are systemic problems within council.

The tensions within city council have involved multiple claims of councillor misconduct, and threats between members have led to the installation of an integrity commissioner to investigate these allegations.

There is little transparency in regards to these allegations, and the city government refuses to comment.

How can city council effectively govern the city, when they cannot even govern themselves?

It is alarming that city council has become so toxic that the roles of integrity commissioner and ethics counsellor had to be created. 

In May, Alice Woolley was appointed ethics adviser to council, and Allen Sulatycky was appointed integrity commissioner, in an effort to make the actions of Calgary’s government more transparent.

According to the City of Calgary website, the city is the first municipality to install an independent integrity comissioner. 

When asked if the integrity commissioner and ethical advisor will be helpful in restoring civility to council, Amantea said, “It could if done properly. They need to stay independent [from council] to see changes.”

Esmahan Razavi, co-founder of Ask Her, has commented on the current state of politics in Calgary stating that she has decided to run because she has heard that council is adversarial and is scaring people away from engagement. 

Razavi wants to create a council that is collaborative and encouraging dialogue  and engagement with the city.

“We don’t have the worst council by any means, but that doesn’t mean we can’t hold ourselves to a higher standard,” said Amantea. 

The Calgary municipal election is next year, and it is the chance to hold city council accountable for their actions.

In the end, however, is it up to us to hold our city councillors to maintaining a level of professionalism? 

It is unacceptable for the current culture to exist. Here’s to hoping that Razavi can make the difference she promises.

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