As Calgary mayor and council’s public approval plummet, their desperation increases

Recent polling suggests Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi and much of his City Council has seen a sharp decline in popularity.

Brian Huff Montreal QC

Recent polling suggests Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi and much of his City Council has seen a sharp decline in popularity. With the Mayor seeing the approval of only 39%, and less for the council as a whole.This number is a far cry from the 73% vote share Nenshi enjoyed in Calgary’s 2013 municipal elections, which was elevated mainly due to high approval of his responsiveness in the South Alberta floods of that year.

Many saw Naheed Nenshi as one of Alberta’s most popular left-wing politicians, who would continuously challenge conservatives to commit to massive spending projects for city infrastructure. Forcing them either to anger their fiscal conservative base or risk alienating centrist voters who are less ideological on public finances.

These recent polls combined with his narrow 8 point win in his 2017 election showed, followed by his recent failure to win public approval in the 2018 Olympic Plebiscite that he desperately needs to win back support if he is to fend off a stronger more recognized challenger in 2021.

No one can blame Mayor Nenshi for the economic crisis that has befallen the oil industry, and the resulting lack of investment to a city so dependent on facilitating its needs.

Mayor Nenshi’s remedies to help the local economy have led many to believe the Mayor and Council are now out of touch. The optics of continually backing up ugly art projects in the face of high unemployment levels have not helped his image as the “People’s Mayor”.

His unpopularity is also in large part explained by the fact that the Nenshi relied on other governments, federal and provincial, to give large transfers of money to allow him to deliver results he could not achieve with only city revenues. Such as Federal emergency support to Alberta after the floods and promises to commit to funding LRT expansions.

The election of the Trudeau Liberals proved to be a double-edged sword for Mayor Nenshi. Yes, they shared his Keynesian vision for expanding federal support of municipal infrastructure.

They do not, however, share his idea of giving Calgary, Alberta, any more money back from Ottawa. Not when the tried and true Liberal method for federal re-election has been to buy votes in the East with money taken from the West.

The provincial government is also not much obliged to support his desperate attempts to draw in money from elsewhere through massive, risky spending proposals, whether it be the previous NDP or the new UCP administration.

The NDP had been at least wise enough to condition funding for the mayor’s Olympic bid on public approval in a referendum, as they sensed its potential unpopularity when the “No” side built momentum.

It should be expected that the new UCP administration, which could not be more opposed to tax-and-spend schemes for economic stimulus, is likely not going to be any more willing to add to Calgary council’s plans.

With so little will from other levels of government to join in on the Mayor’s tax-and-spend projects, it shouldn’t surprising that the confidence in Calgary’s Mayor and Council is dropping. Most do not see where the Mayor and his allies in council expect money to pour in from if taxpayers have to cough up yet ever more money for these schemes, nor has Council made any sincere attempts to make this clear.

After the explicit rejection of the Mayor’s plans by Calgary voters in the 2018 Olympic Plebiscite, which failed in large part due to council’s inability to explain away massive budget gaps in a potential Olympic hosting, it is not too surprising that Calgary’s “consultations” on the Arena Deal was more like a drive-by photo op and rubber stamping than sincere attempt to seek public input.

The Mayor and much of Calgary Council appear to be hoping that things will spontaneously change their desperate situation by 2021, and they could somehow claim to have contributed to such a rapid recovery by investing in a new Arena.

Nenshi seems to feel confident enough in such as to declare that voters will only have their say on the Arena Deal in the 2021 election. A lot could happen in 2 years. But for him to make such a bet when there is a little indication he will be able to gain the financial assistance he used to have for getting results in the past, it could be his last gamble before voters decide it’s time for a new mayor. In which case, Nenshi’s best pre-emptive play may be to know when to fold.


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