They’re young, they’re media savvy and together Edmonton’s Don Iveson and Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi are Alberta’s new power duo.
Mr. Iveson, 34, and Mr. Nenshi, 41, were resoundingly elected and re-elected the mayors of Alberta’s two metropolitan centres, further proof that politics in this Western province is not a solid monolith of stereotypical Prairie conservatism. At least at the municipal level, voters are willing to elect leaders with agendas focused on housing, increasing urban density and boosting public transportation.
And Mr. Iveson and Mr. Nenshi, shrewd thinkers with enthusiasm to burn, have an immediate and joint objective.
The two mayors, who have known each other for years, texted one another throughout Monday evening’s election returns and are keen to negotiate a big-cities charter that would see new responsibilities and powers transferred from the Alberta government to Edmonton and Calgary.
Mr. Nenshi has been particularly vocal this year in his disappointment that Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths hasn’t moved the charter file along more quickly. The issues include reworking the Municipal Government Act and coming up with a long-term funding plan for transit.
In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Iveson said at “a high level” he agrees with Mr. Nenshi’s push for the charter to move ahead but they’ve so far exchanged only short messages on the subject. “I want to see this file start moving quickly,” Mr. Iveson said.
Mr. Griffiths wasn’t available for an interview but his press secretary Kathleen Range said the government was close to finalizing charters in both Edmonton and Calgary before the municipal elections. However, she said the floods that hit southern Alberta in June altered the schedule.
The charters are meant to grant Alberta’s two largest cities a greater say in decision-making but the discussion between the Calgary mayor and Mr. Griffiths has been far from friendly the last few months. Mr. Nenshi said a key issue is how infrastructure and services are paid for, but Mr. Griffiths has thrown cold water on the idea of cities being given additional taxation power.
Judith Garber, a University of Alberta associate professor in political science, pointed to the many similarities between Alberta’s metro mayors, from their charisma to their energy. The strongest parallel could prove to be their push for “a bigger place at the table” when it comes to working with the province.
“They want an approach to their cities that comes from outside the province’s political womb,” said Prof. Garber. “They bring, in some sense, an outsider’s view … They’re younger, more left of centre than the province is.”
Mount Royal University political analyst David Taras said that Mr. Iveson and Mr. Nenshi, along with Alberta Premier Alison Redford, “represent the social change that has taken place in Alberta.” The province is now more urban, diverse and wealthy – with more political clout – compared with just two decades ago, he said.
Asked whether he thought the election of two like-minded, youthful mayors spoke to a significant change, Mr. Nenshi answered: “I’m not sure there is much change. After all, I’ve been re-elected after three years of working at this. I also think that there has been a long tradition in Alberta, and in the country, of innovative and thoughtful mayors, perhaps because we are free of the fetters of political parties.”
During the campaign, Mr. Iveson laid out a number of comprehensive policy goals, including “building a more compact and more efficient city” with an emphasis on high-rises, narrow-lot houses as well as a plan for building out the city’s light-rail transit system over the next two decades.
Mr. Nenshi told a story how he had “stolen” one of Mr. Iveson’s campaign tools from 2007 when Mr. Iveson ran for Edmonton city council.
“He was using this brochure that was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen. It was dense [with information] and hard to read,” recalled Mr. Nenshi. “I copied the brochure, only mine was nicer. I was feeling guilty so I made it known I had stolen it from Don. He told me he had stolen it from The West Wing. Yes, the TV show.”