Last week I began my list of newsmakers and the top city hall political mistakes of 2010. As the year comes to a close, we reflect back on the year that was by finishing the countdown. (Visit metronews.ca to see part one.) [Or here.]
No. 2 on the list also doesn’t belong to a politician. To call Tracy McTaggart an “embattled auditor” does not do justice to what the former city financial double-checker had to endure throughout 2010. Not only did the City of Calgary have big questions needing investigating by her department — such as the Louise Station land deal, missing funds, projects going over budget and the Calatrava bridge, along with other sole-sourced projects — but her department kept getting further and further behind in the projects they were assigned last year. Eventually an external review found she didn’t even meet the bare minimum of auditing standards, and she was fired.
But the reason McTaggart is the not-so-proud owner of the second-biggest city hall mistake of 2010 is the one little sentence she uttered to the audit committee on May 20, when she said she could “pretty much guarantee there is some procurement fraud going on.” The problem was she had no proof — a big no-no in the land of auditing — and so began rolling the ball down a path leading to her dismissal and tarring.
And No. 1 on the list of 2010 city hall mistakes: Barb Higgins’ Thursday, Oct. 14. As good as the week the police chief criticized Naheed Nenshi was for him, this one day was as bad for Higgins. It started with the now-infamous Mike McCourt Citytv interview, during which Higgins responded poorly to overly harsh questions from the cantankerous interviewer, and then, after walking off camera, she gave a verbal lashing to volunteers who asked her questions about her arts policy on air. Her bad day continued with another two poor interviews courtesy of some tough questions at X92.9 and a caller to AM770 inquiring as to why she would not do a televised debate with Nenshi and Ric McIver. The headlines just two days before the election were suddenly about Higgins not being tough enough to be mayor and having a short fuse. This gave many Calgarians enough reason to vote another way. One day undid weeks of hard work and led to a thirdplace finish.
Aside from the odd new councillor’s, the only campaign that can really claim to have gone off as planned was that of Naheed Nenshi. Mayor Nenshi is the undisputed newsmaker of 2010 for Calgary City Hall. His “politics in full sentences” was the right campaign at the right time for Calgary. They took advantage of the opportunities presented to them and they rode a wave of momentum to victory. His election made national and international headlines and, unlike past years, hundreds showed up to see him sworn in. However, more impressive has to be how Nenshi is governing since taking over. In stark contrast to our expectations of politicians, Nenshi is proving to be an Everyman so far, and is actually accomplishing what he said he would do during the campaign.
2010 was perhaps the most exciting year in Calgary city hall political history, with lots of newsmakers and lots of mistakes. As I toast the new year this weekend, my wish will be for 2011 to be a little less dramatic. Cheers to that!
The unofficial results are in and we have seen a mix of change and returning of the old guard happening. It’s a whole new ball game now; an entirly new dynamic. Here’s the list of who the fifteeen around the table will be:
Mayor – Naheed Nenshi
Ward 1 – Dale Hodges
Ward 2 – Gord Lowe
Ward 3 – Jim Stevenson
Ward 4 – Gael Macleod
Ward 5 – Ray Jones
Ward 6 – Richard Pootmans
Ward 7 – Druh Farrell
Ward 8 – John Mar
Ward 9 – Gian-Carlo Carra
Ward 10 – Andre Chabot
Ward 11 – Brian Pincott
Ward 12 – Shane Keating
Ward 13 – Diane Colley-Urquhart
Ward 14 – Peter Demong
The biggest question facing how this new council will work together is what kind of a chair will Naheed Nenshi be. Will he be a bullying mayor (not likely) or more laissez faire in his control of meetings? Or might he be more like Bronconnier and give alderman some leeway, but keep them on a short leash if they stray too far outside what is prescribed in the procedural bylaw. An alderman like Druh Farrell will live and die by the answer to this question. Nenshi could help focus her and turn her into one of the most productive aldermen on council. Diane Colley-Urquhart could be one to struggle if she doesn’t bring herself prepared to meetings with a plan on how to present her requests.
Of course the new faces on council will provide an interesting dynamic as well. How will Gian-Carlo Carra implement his vision? He’ll have to do the same as Colley-Urquhart and be prepared to have a plan too, otherwise he could find himself as the next Druh Farrell of council: someone with great ideas but struggling to get people to understand or enact them. It will all come down to clear communication with their colleagues for all three of these alderman. The same could be said of Shane Keating and Richard Pootmans as well. Both are strong aldermen, but could find themselves floundering if they don’t get into Nenshi’s good books or find a way to focus their asks into a clear, straightforward way. They could end up being at odds with the mayor and the majority of council and thereby getting themselves – and their voters – thoroughly frustrated if they don’t.
Gael Macleod is a bit of an unknown. I think she will probably fit well into this group and will be an effective alderman as Hawkesworth was before her. Look for her to do a lot of listening and learning in the early days before she proves to be one of this group’s steadiest members – provided she finds her niche.
Peter Demong is another big question mark. With McIver and Connelly gone he provides councils most conservative voice. Whether he ends up as the strong fiscal hawk on council or a “right wing nut job”- as he has been painted by some – will entirely be up to him. I expect he will buddy up to Jim Stevenson and Dale Hodges to look for some wingman support. If he gets this, and stays consistent in his messaging, he could prove to be a very effective voice on council just as McIver was for 9 years. I hope it goes this way as the alternative is becoming a laughing stock, dragging Calgary down with him. And no one wins in that scenario.
Provided Nenshi (as mayor) and Brian Pincott (as the “elder statesman”) find a mutual respect for one another and each others talents, Pincott could prove to be council’s best member. If Nenshi figures out how to keep his campaign followers engaged, Pincott could be one of the biggest beneficiaries by following the new mayor’s example and engaging his constituents in a way he hasn’t up until now. If Pincott was more transparent and had a bit more of a following like Nenshi, he could do some amazing things that would surprise even the most steadfast ideologue. This will take a lot of work on Pincott’s part and a willingness from Nenshi to help him. Pride will need to be swallowed.
The same as Pincott holds true for John Mar. If Nenshi and Mar find common ground Mar could be a leader on council. If they don’t, he could very well become Nenshi’s biggest pain. Unfortunately this would rob Calgarians of much Mar has to offer. The exact same could be said of Chabot. Mar and Chabot have often been “swing votes”. It will be fascinating to watch what way they swing now.
The one thing that I think is probably a given is that – provided they agree on the budget – Gord Lowe could become a de facto “second in command”. I’m confident Nenshi will look to him for guidance and, for lack of a better term, fatherly advice. (Nenshi won’t need political advice. Not that he’d listen to it anyway.)
We won’t have to wait long to see whatever new dynamic emerges because being locked in a room together for organizational meetings in their first week together followed by the lengthy budget negotiating process will force them to get to know one another before we every really get a chance to know them ourselves.
PS – Did you see the 2007 Helene Larocque redux? Incumbent Linda Fox-Mellway took a beating and ended up placing forth in ward 14. Just like ward 3 in 2007, it looks like ward 14 REALLY wanted a change this time around.
Cross posted to CalgaryPolitics.com
“Throw all the bums out!” Remember one year ago when that was all we heard from our friends, neighbours and media?
Well, Ric McIver is still polling in first place for mayor. True, Naheed Nenshi and Barb Higgins are not that far behind, but the results of a recent poll of who we might vote for alderman shows a much wider gap between the incumbents and their challengers.
According to the O’Connell Enterprises poll, in every single ward where the incumbent is running again, they are leading. And not just a small lead — in most cases it’s gigantic.
For a city that just nine months ago was swept up in palpable anti-council sentiment, this is a striking 180.
Take Ward 1 as an example. In 2007, Jennifer Banks came surprisingly close to defeating Dale Hodges, an incumbent who, even three years ago, was believed to be well past his prime.
If Calgarians really believed it was time for a sweeping change, you might think council’s longest serving member would be first on the hit list. Of residents who say they have chosen their candidate, Hodges currently has 80 per cent support. That’s crazy high considering this was supposed to be the year of the angry voter.
It doesn’t end there. Ald. Lowe has 72 per cent of decided voters, Ald. Stevenson has 67 per cent, Ald. Jones 88 per cent, Ald. Farrell 52 per cent, Ald. Mar, 74 per cent; Ald. Chabot, 88 per cent; Ald. Pincott, 55 per cent; and Ald. Colley-Urquhart, 81 per cent.
Only Linda Fox-Mellway in Ward 14 has less support than all of her competitors put together, at 37 per cent. Even so, she’s currently leading the race, according to the poll.
Have we really changed our minds this much in just one short year? In wards where there is no incumbent, every race is much closer, with not a single candidate even coming close to having majority support.
The biggest story, though, could be the number of undecided voters. In every ward the number of voters who haven’t made up their mind vastly outnumber those that have. “Undecided” describes 34-64 per cent of voters in each area.
So the big question is, who will the “undecided” vote for? Will they go with the incumbent they know, or will they tap into the rapidly disappearing ‘fresh start sentiment’ and pick a newcomer?
All it will take is one snowfall to remind us of how we felt last winter. One dumping of snow and we could have a whole new council.
If next week is sunny, I suspect we’ll have the same council we’ve had for the past three years.
An election is the ultimate exercise in personal branding.
If you try to be something you are not, people will figure it out pretty quickly and you’ll see your vote totals affected accordingly.
Most of the candidates in this election have this down to a science. Ric McIver for nine years has been the common sense-style conservative. He pledges to cut spending and ensure we are only paying taxes for necessary items. He doesn’t stray from this mould very often.
Barb Higgins is a friendly face who Calgarians have invited into their living rooms nightly for years as a respected newscaster. On the campaign trail, Higgins is friendly and always happy to have a conversation. In the style of a television journalist with only a minute and a half for a story, her manner is very frank and she cuts to the chase.
Naheed Nenshi is the professor, the guy with the ideas. He knows what he’s talking about and how those things apply to Calgarians. He talks about city hall as only an outsider with intense understanding of the inner workings can.
As any first-year marketing student knows, candidates can’t play against their brand. It’s called “going with your strengths.”
This is why the behaviour of the Bob Hawkesworth campaign has been so bizarre this past week.
Even more than Ald. Gord Lowe or Ald. Dale Hodges, Hawkesworth has been city council’s statesman. You may not always agree with him, but he’s always willing to explain his position and why his view is important. In the meantime, he’d pick apart opponents’ positions with sound logic in a stern, matter-of-fact tone. He’ll put his thoughts up against anyone’s and let the best argument win.
He’s our Uncle Bob.
However, this past week his campaign has gone in a direction I doubt anyone saw coming.
They began attacking all three candidates ahead of him in the polls using clipped videos, anti-candidate websites and attempting to boil down complex issues to “you’re either with me, or you’re against me.”
The new direction is so striking that it turned off many election followers. I can only imagine it is turning off some of his long-time fans, too.
The contrast is not the Bob we all have grown to know and respect: A man always willing to listen and explain why he disagrees with you. Now people who disagree get shouted down by his campaign team.
But Hawkesworth himself still isn’t behaving this way. In each forum he’s been a feisty man of grace, steadily setting himself apart from the others by taking principled stands on issues that often don’t prove popular.
One can only hope his campaign finds the right balance soon. Otherwise the election might not be the only thing Uncle Bob loses.
Today Naheed Nenshi has announced he will be running for mayor. On Monday we can expect a similar announcement from Bob Hawkesworth. The big winner from these announcements? Ric McIver.
As recently as yesterday, things were not looking great for Mr. McIver’s chances of becoming Calgary’s next mayor. As each mayoral candidate announced (Joe Connelly, Jon Lord, Craig Burrows) observers could see small parts of McIver’s assumed lead chipping away. Once Kent Hehr announced, enough had been chipped away that we were looking at a very real two way fight between McIver and Hehr.
With Nenshi and Hawkesworth entering the race, it’s fair to assume Mr. Hehr is now the one experiencing the chipping away of potential voters from his target group. It’s my guess that when it all plays out, enough will have been chipped away to return Mr. McIver to a healthy leading position once again.
What are your thoughts?
Cross posted to calgarypolitics.com