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Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi speaks to media as he wraps up an appearance at a Stampede breakfast in the MacKenzie neighborhood. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi speaks to media as he wraps up an appearance at a Stampede breakfast in the MacKenzie neighborhood. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Alberta’s municipal elections could bring upstarts into limelight Add to ...

NENSHI LOOKS AT THE BIG PICTURE

In the final days of Calgary’s municipal campaign, Naheed Nenshi insists he’s campaigning as hard as he was three years ago when polls had pegged him as the upstart mayoral challenger facing off against two better-known rivals.

However, a lot has changed since 2010: Mr. Nenshi no longer has to spell his name for voters, and now it’s his race to lose. He has been widely praised for his handling of the devastating floods that hit southern Alberta in June. A Calgary Herald poll published this week found more than eight in 10 Calgarians plan to vote for the incumbent mayor.

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Most Calgarians assume Mr. Nenshi will coast to victory on Monday. But he argues that even if he wins, he could still lose the ability to set an agenda if the new city council is made up of a “slate” of developer-backed councillors.

“It’s extremely possible, it’s very possible, that I could win the election but lose the council,” Mr. Nenshi said in an interview.

Calgary’s municipal campaign has been marked by the spat between Mr. Nenshi and a group of home builders angered at the mayor’s plans to increase the levies paid by suburban developers, a move that will add $33-million per year to city coffers but is likely to increase the cost of new homes in the suburbs.

“The great fear of our industry is if … we don’t have the choice and affordability, we are not only going to compromise Calgarians who are already here – but also new Calgarians,” said Guy Huntingford, who heads the Urban Development Institute, a residential development industry group.

The home builders say they’re no different from other groups who endorse like-minded candidates. In turn, Mr. Nenshi counters a covert campaign is being waged: This week, a memo surfaced from the chief executive of a prominent home-building company in which he told employees they could take time off to vote – and then listed his preferred candidates in each of Calgary’s 14 wards. -Kelly Cryderman

RACE IS ON TO REPLACE DEPARTING MAYOR

Recent Alberta elections have seen voters switch their allegiance to presumed underdogs in the final days of a political contest. Premier Alison Redford won the Progressive Conservative party leadership and a provincial election when almost no one thought she could. Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi began the 2010 mayoral campaign firmly as an unknown quantity.

It makes it difficult to call Edmonton’s mayoral race to replace the steady Stephen Mandel, who has served as mayor since 2004. However, polls suggest the momentum is moving toward a candidate half the departing mayor’s age.

Don Iveson, 34, is the lanky two-term councillor who appears to have captured the public imagination in the relatively sedate race. He’s a policy wonk who led the Canadian University Press in Toronto and worked as business manager at the University of Alberta’s campus newspaper. First elected in 2007, he waded into the controversial downtown hockey arena deal by initially rejecting the scheme but then voting in favour of this year’s agreement, which he says was a marginally better deal for the city. His campaign has focused on denser inner-city development, and managing the city’s massive population growth.

A key rival, Karen Leibovici, is a four-term councillor who served as president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. A former Liberal MLA, she is seen as a smart and hard-working city stalwart. Another councillor in the race, former Edmonton Sun columnist Kerry Diotte, has cast himself as the populist fiscal watchdog.

Turnout is key. Chaldeans Mensah, a political scientist at MacEwan University, said Ms. Leibovici has an older group of loyal supporters who are likely to vote.

Mr. Iveson’s fate, Mr. Mensah said, will depend on his ability to leverage the social media power of his young supporters. “The question is whether he can close the deal.” -Kelly Cryderman

HIGH RIVER HEATS UP

In High River, politics has never been so popular. And residents have never had so much choice.

In any other year, the municipal election would be a snoozer. But this go-round, the town’s incoming politicians will be able to influence provincial and federal policies rather than just local recycling rules. (Right now, High River residents can drop off mixed plastics but not glass; and a variety of batteries can be recycled, so long as they are not vehicle batteries or over five kilograms.)

Demo crews are getting ready to knock down what’s left of High River’s most damaged homes, businesses and pieces of infrastructure after June’s massive flooding. The town is working closely with the provincial government to rebuild, giving local politicians access to real power and a say in how millions of dollars will be spent in town.

This year, 24 residents are trying for six council seats. Two are running for mayor. By way of comparison, in 2010, 14 residents ran for six seats, with two chasing after the mayor’s chair, a town official said. In 2007, 11 people wanted on council; two wanted to be mayor.

The current mayor, who took heat during the flood, has demoted himself – he’s running for a seat on council. One councillor, Jamie Kinghorn, is looking for a promotion to mayor, and is being challenged by Craig Lyle Snodgrass, son of a former mayor. The top six candidates for council will score seats, a town official said.

While the pack is thick, so too are the lines to vote. Roughly 350 people voted in three hours at an advance poll this week, and a second advanced poll will be held Saturday. Voter turnout in the advance poll is already outpacing 2010’s advance polls, when about 300 High River residents voted in two days, a town official said. -Carrie Tait

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