With less than a week until the Calgarians elect a new mayor, outgoing Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi reflects on his 11 years in office and how the city has changed over the past decade.
Four 136-year-old emergencies have been declared. Nenshi has been mayor of them all.
“Lucky me,” Nenshi says, adding that floods, windstorms, hailstorms, economic downturns and the COVID-19 pandemic have had a constant-people coming together.
“The flood is, of course, the best example. Thousands and thousands of people are entering the flooded areas and just cleaning up in foreign basements. But through the pandemic, through every other crisis we have had, we have been number one able to count on is the kindness of people who take care of each other, “Nenshi said.
“It also meant we were able to build a very flexible government. And for me, it’s very exciting because people know they can count on their government being there in times of crisis.”
Periods of change
Nenshi said Calgary is a very different city compared to when he was first elected in 2010, when the city’s population had just grown to one million people.
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Since then, he said the city has had a lot of victories in infrastructure, transit and housing that have shaped the city to what it is today.
“We went through a transition from what I call a big, small city to a small, big city. And we really tried to find our way on the national and international stages. And I think we really went ahead with that in over the last decade, ”he said.
He has also worked on six premieres during the time he has been mayor.
“There have been ups and downs,” he said.
Upcoming citizen elections
The Calgarians go to the polls Oct. 18.
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Nenshi said he will help Calgary’s next mayor through their first council meeting and will hang on to their phone number until the end of the year.
“Then I’ll lose their phone number. They want mine if they ever need me, but I’m definitely not going to put myself in their world,” he said.
He said the most important thing he has noticed in the recent elections is growing divisions among voters.
“The only thing I’ve really noticed is that there are very few people who seem to go into the ballot box with a sense of joy and a sense of optimism. People seem to vote against something rather than vote for a better future, “said Nenshi.
He says he has been critical of this year’s mayoral candidates for not presenting an inspiring vision of the future, but said they are reacting to a voter who is tired.
“A lot of people have just asked me, just tell me who to vote for. I’m exhausted. I do not want to go through all this,” he said.
“Of course I will not do that.”
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But the one piece of advice he will give is that Calgarians think of the person who can best represent the city on a national and international level.
Nenshi said that looking 20 years back from now, there are many things he could point to and say he is proud of.
“I can point to the library that I hope will last for many generations. I can point to all the roads, the biggest investment in mobility in our history. I can point to [MAX Purple] and the largest investment in transit in our history. I can point to the four new recentre. There is a lot we built as the city has grown, ”he said.
But what he is most proud of is deeper than that, Nenshi says.
In 2010, politics in the city were much more rigid, but that election had a large turnout, he says.
“I hope it’s just a symbol that people have taken a risk for the future of their community, as I will continue to be deeply involved in the future of their community … and I really hope it is something that continues . ”
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“This is a really crucial time in the future of the city. And I’ve said that for a long time,” Nenshi said.
He says the city is dealing with five crises at the same time – public health, mental health and addiction, economy, environment and justice.
“It’s very hard to leave at this really critical crossroads,” he said.
But looking at the bigger picture, he says it’s time.
“When I have the long view, when I take the 11-year-old view of the city, it is immeasurably better in so many ways,” he said.
As mayor, you live, eat, sleep and dream about work. Nenshi said it took some toll, but it was expected.
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“Ultimately, it’s something I signed up for and I was happy to do it. I look forward to focusing a little more on physical and mental health and family in the future.”