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Newly elected mayor of Calgary Naheed Nenshi holds a local paper declaring him mayor of Calgary, a day after being elected in Calgary, Alberta, October 19, 2010. (JACK CUSANO/REUTERS)
Newly elected mayor of Calgary Naheed Nenshi holds a local paper declaring him mayor of Calgary, a day after being elected in Calgary, Alberta, October 19, 2010. (JACK CUSANO/REUTERS)

Globe Editorial

Naheed Nenshi's lessons for municipal politicians Add to ...

Naheed Nenshi didn't win the Calgary mayoralty because - or in spite of - his skin colour, or his faith. A smart campaign propelled him to victory, and the feat is a lesson for municipal campaigners across the country.

There's a palpable frustration with government today, and Canadian municipalities, struggling with unemployment and straitened fiscal circumstances, need strong and decisive leadership. The best candidates haven't been afraid to take on powerful constituencies. Mr. Nenshi vowed to look hard at Calgary's police budget, which is among the higher-spending in Alberta. On the performance of Calgary aldermen, he had a simple message: "They spend their time on the wrong things, and they spend our money badly."

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Mr. Nenshi proposed one new policy a week, each relating to three themes - sustainability, making Calgary a better place to do business, and improving city governance. He used Facebook and YouTube to disseminate them, but didn't rely on technology alone. Without committed volunteers willing to take ideas door-to-door, and a mainstream media to echo those ideas (including newspapers, where Mr. Nenshi had had a column), new technology cannot deliver votes.

Some of what was offered was boiler-plate, and Mr. Nenshi, who has never held elective office, has much to prove. But on both policy and politics, Mr. Nenshi, despite an initial lack of name recognition, was able to muster more than his opponents. His approach - nimble tactics, new ideas that echo simple messages, a willingness to challenge the status quo - can energize even the most disillusioned voters.

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