On Nov. 7, Calgary’s beloved mayor, Naheed Nenshi, announced he will be running for re-election in 2013. This news was not surprising, as Nenshi now seems to be as much a part of Calgary as cowboy hats and urban sprawl. With his approval ratings currently at an impressive 88 per cent, and high-profile candidates, including Alderman Andre Chabot already announcing that they won’t run, it seems safe to say that Nenshi, a former Students’ Union president at the University of Calgary, won’t have much trouble getting re-elected.
While he is now seen as one of Calgary’s most popular and influential public figures, Nenshi was initially an underdog in the 2010 mayoral election, running against Alderman Ric McIver and local news anchor Barb Higgins. Nenshi ended up winning by a landslide — 28,000 votes ahead of the runner-up — but at the time many people were still unsure of his ability to lead. Since then he has proven himself to be more than worthy of the title of Calgary’s mayor, helping to improve the city in ways both big and small.
Transportation is, no doubt, the area that Nenshi enacted the most change. Through his efforts, it is becoming much easier to get around Calgary by car, bike and public transit. One of the biggest steps forward is the deal he made with the Calgary Airport Authority to begin construction on the much needed airport tunnel, which was one of Nenshi’s biggest plans for new infrastructure in the city. He has also implemented a new ice and snow removal program, which has been a noticeable improvement from previous years. Parking has also been improved, with Nenshi removing the $3 park-and-ride charge at Calgary CTrain stations, and advocating for more short-term parking solutions downtown.
Some of Nenshi’s improvements to Calgary’s public transit are relatively minor, such as improving the transit fare machines so that they give change and accept debit and credit, and the addition of electronic signs at CTrain stations that display train times and delay warnings. Long-term goals have been made as well, with a new 30-year capital plan being developed for public transit and the approval of a new strategy for the city’s cycling infrastructure.
Another major part of Nenshi’s first term in office has been his push to increase transparency in .Calgary’s municipal government. With the Peace Bridge debacle still fresh in people’s minds, it has been refreshing to see Nenshi make public his expenses and a list of people he has met at his office, as well as creating a video archive of city council meetings.
However, despite Nenshi’s impressive list of achievements, his record is not quite perfect. One of his main promises while campaigning was to legalize and regulate secondary suites across Calgary, which has yet to be accomplished.
All of the things that Nenshi has managed to achieve in the last two years are impressive, but what makes him so special goes beyond his achievements. Because, in a way, he has done something once thought of as impossible: he has made Calgarians love their city. Nenshi has made it clear how much he loves Calgary and, through his continual dedication to improving this city and engaging its residents, he has made it easier for the rest of us to love Calgary as well. From large scale additions, like creating the Community Investment Fund, which allocates funds to community associations and social recreation projects, to smaller things like his food truck initiative and bringing in the Car2Go service, Nenshi has made Calgary a more interesting and exciting place to live. Plus, being able to brag that we have Canada’s first Muslim mayor — one who routinely shuts down his critics on Twitter — is an added benefit.
Armed with an unceasing drive to improve the quality of life of his constituents and an absolutely overwhelming amount of charisma, Nenshi seems destined to go on to bigger and better things in his political career. But, for now, we’re perfectly happy to have him in Calgary for at least three more years.