Natural disasters test the mettle of mere human beings, and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Alberta Premier Alison Redford have set a high standard for their city, province and the entire country in how to respond to a crisis.
Both have been direct, open, sugar-coating nothing during the floods that have poured over Calgary and other communities since late last week. “I don’t want to scare people, but when we talk about what’s going to happen, we’re talking about a 10-year plan,” Ms. Redford said on Monday. She made it clear that, while many details, such as cost-sharing with Ottawa, remain to be worked out, the province will be there for its residents, including those living on flood plains. The province will spend $1-billion, and not balance its books, as planned, and start the money flowing to individuals within 10 days to two weeks. Prime Minister Stephen Harper also flew out to Calgary and toured flooded areas, and cabinet minister Jason Kenney has promised “very significant” help. The challenges are huge, but Albertans can take comfort that they will not face them alone.
And both the mayor and Premier have been indefatigable. Ms. Redford has travelled to all affected areas non-stop, and Mr. Nenshi has visited every corner of his city. He let Calgarians know he was going through it with them. He made sure to laud and thank city employees for their tirelessness. And now he is working to make sure the other levels of government contribute to the rebuilding of the city.
Mr. Nenshi has been such a superbly effective leader during the flood that has devastated his city and other Alberta communities that he appears on his way to folk-hero status. On Twitter, a movement started to demand that he take a nap. He has been up around the clock, and given news conferences in the middle of the night to make sure Calgarians are kept informed. And he looks it (and admits it).
But it is not just his commitment to imparting information that has been so impressive. He has been such a warm and engaging presence. You can’t help but be cheered up by him. And if you’re watching him on national television anywhere in the country, you feel what it must be like to be living in Calgary during the floods.
A typical salvo begins, “I mean, look: We live in this urban, cutting-edge city but like everyone else we live in nature; we live in this world. I am very familiar with that river [the Bow]. It is part of my heartbeat the way it is a part of the heartbeat of every Calgarian, and no Calgarian has ever seen it this high and this fast.” He laments the loss of property but says, “We can fix stuff, we can replace stuff; we can’t fix people.”
Ms. Redford says, “The world has changed,” but it seems clear that Calgary and the rest of the province will be okay.