Nenshi’s future looking bleak
In 2010, Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi broke ground becoming the first Muslim mayor of a major North American city.
“When he originally started it was revolutionary,” said Adrian Garci, a first-year SAIT Environmental Development student.
Nenshi helped to break the stereotype that Calgary was a conservative cow-town stuck decades behind the rest of Canada. Instead, the city became known as, “the heart of the new West,” and showed that Calgary was a contemporary force to be reckoned with.
I’ve been saying for some years that the previous citizen committee, I thought, had pegged the mayor’s salary a bit too high.”
Nenshi walked in the Pride Parade in 2011, a big deal for Calgary at the time, and helped usher in a youthful vibe to the city.
“It speaks to his personality, he earns trust, especially in Alberta. He’s not too liberal, not too conservative,” said Garci.
Nenshi became a knight in shining armour bringing together the city during the June 2013 floods. He was the superhero mayor helping to lead recovery efforts front-and-centre and comforting Calgarians in a time of crisis that the city had never experienced.
He was engaging and emotional and gave Calgarians a show they would not soon forget.
“I’ve met him and you feel comfortable with him, he means his words,” said Garci.
However, over the past four years Nenshi has shown that he may no longer be the hero Calgary needs.
The first red flag emerged in 2015 when Nenshi became the highest paid mayor in Canada. As of 2017, he remains the highest paid mayor, making nearly $25,000 more than the next highest paid Canadian mayor.
An independent citizens committee recommended a pay cut for the mayor in May 2017.
“I’ve been saying for some years that the previous citizen committee, I thought, had pegged the mayor’s salary a bit too high,” Nenshi said, after the recommendation was made two years after his payday.
To be fair Nenshi said that he donates 10 per cent of his salary to charity every year, but even then, he still remains the highest paid mayor in Canada, with added tax breaks.
Things became even more concerning in 2016 when Nenshi managed to rack up $300,000 in legal fees in a defamation lawsuit.
“He did some great things during our flood, but some of the things I don’t like,” said Sue Uyoon, a Calgary pre-school teacher.
The city paid $299,728.59 on behalf of the mayor to cover the cost of a $6-million defamation lawsuit filed by the homebuilder Cal Wenzel.
Nenshi was required to pay back the city and a new framework was needed to establish how a sitting mayor could crowd source and solicit funds to pay down his personal legal bill.
The mayor had already paid approximately $100,000 of his legal bill, but said it would, “be a pretty big task,” to cover the rest.
Nenshi’s crowdsourcing of his legal costs became even more complicated when it came time to start fundraising for the new Calgary election and the whispers that these donations could be causing undue influence.
Uyoon said she was unimpressed with some of the expensive additions made to the city under Nenshi’s reign including, the bike lanes downtown and the “ugly” art around Calgary.
Nenshi was caught on a live Periscope video in Boston talking with a Lyft driver about Uber.
“Uber – there’s no polite way of saying this – have a brilliant business model… and are dicks,” Nenshi said in the video. “They are honestly the worst people in the world to deal with […] I have never dealt with people like this.”
This is how Nenshi, the public face of Calgary, chose to conduct himself while in another country, that is not the way one inspires faith.
Nenshi’s representation of Calgary is only getting further muddled with the current Flames arena fiasco. He’s continuously fighting against an arena that many Calgarians want.
What could have been a silent debate between the NHL, the Flames and the City has turned into a political debacle.
“I believe, you don’t have a temper tantrum, you don’t run away. You sit down and you figure out the right way to do it. I hope we will be able to continue to do that,” said Nenshi.
These words fall flat based on the mayor’s previous decorum when dealing with other corporations.
The current municipal election is not looking great for Nenshi.
In a poll conducted by the Calgary Sun, 65 per cent of Calgarians had an unfavourable view of the mayor and he now trails mayoral candidate Bill Smith in the polls.
Nenshi was once great, but one can’t help but question if it’s best for the mayor to leave.