Winning smile - Monocolumn | Monocle


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28 October 2013

If progress report cards were handed out for elections, Calgary’s reelected mayor Naheed Nenshi would be well-deserving of a high mark. Canada’s first Muslim mayor easily won the contest last week, scooping up 74 per cent of the vote to be reelected from a field of nine. He only had 40 per cent of Calgarians backing him the first time around.

So what did the left-leaning mayor in the right-leaning province of Alberta do, well, right? A quick run down his report card reveals many things.

He maintained the courage of his convictions. Nenshi is often on the losing side of council votes and has been unsuccessful in his plans to raise suburban development levies; a conservative think-tank was set up earlier this year to frame him as the nemesis of the suburb and to derail his reelection. Yet, he remains an ardent proponent of developing a robust core for the city and ending subsidies for developments on the outer fringes. It’s a divisive issue.

He’s transparent. He passed a new code of ethics requiring more disclosure from city council members and also opened his bank books to reveal who his donors were before the elections.

Nenshi seems an all-round likable guy. When the city was ravaged by floods in June, he worked so hard on the ground that his constituents created the hashtag, #napfornenshi, urging him to rest. He also joined us on The Monocle Daily, and joked about Edmonton’s newly elected mayor Don Iveson being the younger and more telegenic of the two. But for what it’s worth, there's no question in my mind that Nenshi has the brighter smile. Google him, there’s hardly a picture without him flaunting his pearly whites. And he knows how to make other people smile too – his citizen liaison signs off, tongue-in-cheek, “On behalf of His Worship, Mayor Naheed K. Nenshi.” Staffers having that much fun on the job must report to a great boss.

Yet one should not be mistaken into thinking that Nenshi is any less a politician than the next guy. When asked what advice he would give Toronto’s beleaguered mayor Rob Ford, who seems to be spending more time being caught up in scandals than actually running our city, Nenshi deftly skirted the question. “One thing we have in common is that we all love our cities,” he replied.

Considering that Naheed Nenshi was in fact born in Toronto, maybe he'd like to come back to us and give Rob a helping hand.

Jason Li is researcher for Monocle’s Toronto bureau.


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