Edmontonians overwhelmingly voted for a young, two-term councillor as their new mayor on Monday while Calgary rewarded the city’s political darling, Naheed Nenshi, with a second term in office.
The two Alberta mayors’ circumstances might be different but they’re cut from a similar political cloth. Don Iveson, Edmonton’s 34-year-old mayor-elect, and Mr. Nenshi, 41, are friends and travel in the same young, educated and social media-savvy circles.
In a province regarded for its conservatism, both are considered to be on the progressive side of the political spectrum, with agendas focused on increasing urban density and boosting public transportation – and are likewise criticized for not being fiscally conservative enough. Both are known for their public speaking skills.
The victory by both men in the midst of province-wide municipal elections Monday could also mean a like-minded front as Alberta's two biggest cities head into talks with Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government. A key issue following the election will be city charters that could task fast-growing Edmonton and Calgary with responsibility for more services, and possibly give them greater taxation powers.
Mr. Iveson is the father of two young children – including one-year-old Alice, who just took her first steps – and worked in post-secondary publishing before being elected to council in 2007. With a lower-than-expected turnout in the race to replace the retiring Stephen Mandel, Mr. Iveson easily beat Edmonton council rivals Karen Leibovici, a former Liberal MLA and longtime city stalwart, and Kerry Diotte, a fiscal conservative, with more than 60 per cent of the vote.
Speaking at his victory party at Edmonton’s Matrix Hotel, Mr. Iveson emphasized a campaign that avoided attacks on rivals, the business optimism in the city, and “a more confident swagger for Edmonton – but we still won’t take ourselves too seriously."
In Calgary, the change to Mr. Nenshi’s political fortunes from just three years ago is stark. In 2010, he was firmly in the underdog role. His election-night headquarters were located in the cramped basement of a building on the edge of downtown. When the Harvard-educated Mr. Nenshi won, and became the first Muslim mayor of a major North American city, Calgarians puffed with pride as they smashed preconceived notions of Cowtown.
Monday night’s victory party was held at a large convention hall, with space for hundreds of supporters. With most voting stations reporting late Monday night, he received 74 per cent of the vote. His nearest rival, businessman Jon Lord – who spoke against increased municipal taxes and said he ran so Mr. Nenshi wouldn't be acclaimed – received just higher than 20 per cent of the vote. Mr. Lord's support was higher than many predicted.
Mount Royal University political analyst David Taras said along with Alberta Premier Alison Redford, Mr. Iveson and Mr. Nenshi, "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.
However, Mr. Taras added while Mr. Nenshi might be king of Calgary, he’s not king of city hall. A number of the candidates in Calgary’s 14 wards oppose Mr. Nenshi, and his plans to increase suburban development levies. The incumbent mayor has told the Globe he “could win the election but lose the council.”
Mr. Nenshi’s past record in winning council votes is spotty, Mr. Taras said. Despite the mayor's personal popularity, he said the new city council – depending on its makeup – could become a battleground.
“Nenshi’s power is a bit of an optical illusion in the sense that the further he gets away from council, the greater his power,” Mr. Taras said.
During his victory speech on election night, Mr. Nenshi said the new city council “will come together, after all of these debates and discussions and arguments . . . to do what’s right for the community.”
Across Alberta, voters in cities, towns and smaller centres went to the polls for municipal and school board elections on Monday. For the first time, the term of office for municipal officials across the province will be four years instead of three.
In some smaller Alberta centres, the voting preference swung towards women – the fast-growing small city of Red Deer elected Tara Veer, 35, as mayor, and the municipality that includes Fort McMurray and the centre of oil sands operations voted Mayor Melissa Blake in for a fourth term.
However, Edmonton appears to have elected one woman councillor, and Calgary appears to have two. And it was only this election that saw Calgary switch from electing “aldermen” to electing “councillors.”
Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams said there are a number of reasons some women are now choosing not to participate in municipal politics – a level of government where women were well represented in past years.
Ms. William said sometimes nasty, sexist attacks on Twitter, and the increasing costs of municipal campaigns in Alberta, are some of a number of barriers to women jumping in.
“If you aren’t a known candidate, it’s hard to get the money,” she said.