Popular Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi will sweep back into power but a conservative backlash is brewing | National Post
CALGARY — A video projector flashed an image of a tumbledown bungalow, possibly, on a good day, fit for a crack house. “$1.2-million house in Vancouver,” read the PowerPoint slide. It was superimposed over a shot of Calgary’s skyline, black-and-white, with gritty effects as if ripped from a televised political attack ad. In a way, it was. “Will your kids be able to afford to live in Calgary?” read the slide. “Learn how city planners are making Calgary unaffordable.”
The event, this past Thursday, was the kickoff for new advocacy group Common Sense Calgary, which has taken aim directly at a wildly popular mayor — Naheed Nenshi. Mr. Nenshi has become a mainstream media celebrity, but has, in his three years in power, also antagonized some business and taxpayer groups, as well as right-wing pundits, such as the Sun News Network’s Ezra Levant, a Calgary native who has made himself into Mr. Nenshi’s tormentor-in-chief. He has called out the mayor for being too left-wing, while succeeding in drawing out the mayor’s occasional irascibility.
Monday is the nomination day for the Oct. 21 municipal election, and Mr. Nenshi is sure to romp to another victory. But that doesn’t mean the mayor is without opposition: conservative groups in the city are, like Mr. Levant, looking for the mayor’s weak spots. And they know that one is Calgary’s weak-mayor system: a city council where the mayor casts just one vote, and a bloc of eight conservative councillors has the power to set the city’s actual agenda.
Over the last five years, Calgarians have seen an overall tax increase of 32%,” says Richard Billington, Common Sense Calgary spokesman, who is also an organizer for the federal Conservative party. “The question is fairly put: will we see a similar increase over the next five years?”
The city has collected about 30% more tax since Mr. Nenshi took office in 2010, however much of that increase has been offset by effective reductions to what the province has collected in annual property tax.
He’s not been the first to challenge Mr. Nenshi’s tax policies: When the province announced the city would be getting a $52-million refund in overpaid taxes, small-c conservatives were irate when Mr. Nenshi announced that he would consult Calgarians on different possibilities for the money, possibly returning it to taxpayers, but also possibly more spending. After this spring’s devastating flooding, Mr. Nenshi ended up allocating the money to reconstruction.
This boomtown has made for some very profitable, very powerful suburban developers, which explains why some builders have begun directly targeting Mr. Nenshi. In 2011, city council partially reinstated levies on new developments, which had been abolished by the city in 2000. But the mayor isn’t satisfied, arguing that each new home on the fringe still costs the city $10,000 more in infrastructure than it receives in levies. He wants to see the rest of the fee restored. He also said he hopes to redistribute the ratio of urban to suburban growth. While the city’s fringes currently account for 93% of new development, Mr. Nenshi wants to put half the growth inside the city’s urban core.
In April, a surreptitiously recorded video was leaked to Global News showing local suburban homebuilder Cal Wenzel explaining how he divided city council into two camps: “pro business” and the “dark side.” The video also shows Mr. Wenzel explaining how he and other developers donated $1.1- million to the charitable Manning Foundation and the non-charitable Manning Centre for Building Democracy to get the group involved in the coming municipal election.
Led by Reform party founder Preston Manning, the organization’s mandate is supporting the conservative movement and training potential conservative candidates in the dark art of politics. The Manning Centre has denied fronting an explicitly anti-Nenshi slate, but it has offered courses to ideologically like-minded candidates in vulnerable ridings. And the Centre was the source of the $10,000 in seed money that created Common Sense Calgary.