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Metro column: Time to step up, Calgary

By DJ Kelly November 5, 2010

The municipal election is over. The shine of our brand new council still shows our reflection. But if history repeats itself, that reflection will no doubt fade within the next few months.

For years, sure, we had a council we voted in to represent us —but following an election, we were inclined to “let them get to it and make the city better”.  Then, down the road when they weren’t doing exactly what we had wished, we’d chastise them.

This time around, I get the feeling we’re experiencing something a little different: A sense that they can’t do it without us, and they’re actually willing to let us help.

I think we’re all starting to realize it’s the general public that actually makes the decisions, and we really can affect the way Calgary grows and betters itself.

The one thing that we know Naheed Nenshi’s supporters — and Calgarians at large — created through their vote on Oct. 21 is a newfound sense of permission to participate.

For generations, we’ve deferred away our responsibility to an elected official. However, just because we elected them, that doesn’t absolve us of responsibility.

I get the sense that many in Calgary see the election of Nenshi not as a saviour of some kind who will lead us in the way we wish, but instead as an end to that era.

Nenshi himself used the occasion of council’s swearing-in ceremony to call for greater participation from the public.

“This council will be more open,” he said.

“We’ll make it easier for you to engage in our conversation. We’ll better understand your needs and your priorities and we’ll act on them. We’ll listen. But you have to do your part. Hold us to account. Tell us when we’re devolving into the politics as usual. Tell us when our priorities are not your priorities. Get engaged and stay engaged.”

He finished his speech by calling on Calgarians to do this by joining their community association or work with an advocacy group like CivicCamp, a group he helped to co-found.

In the end, it’s our city and we have a responsibility to ensure that our council hears us not just once every three years, but in an ongoing way.

They won’t always do exactly as we wish — and we shouldn’t fault them for using their wisdom to make decisions, even when we disagree — but Nenshi’s promise to show that city hall is hearing us, even when we think they’re wrong, is a big step in the right direction.

This is where the real work in building a better Calgary begins.

All of us in the public have to commit ourselves to helping this new council succeed by giving them as much information as possible and working with them to come up with solutions.

The days of belly aching and not accepting the responsibility to educate our leaders has to come to an end.

City council — and indeed the entire City of Calgary administration — must also commit themselves to the same thing.

No more whining about our complaining, and not having enough information to know what’s going on.

It’s time to open the doors to city hall and let us see inside. Things will only get better if we work together.

And if we do, this could be the beginning of a brand new era in Calgary.