It would be understandable if Calgary's top job might have few contenders vying for the challenge to lead the city's rebuild, but not so. As of early May, 14 candidates have filed their nomination forms and still more are expected to join the race.
In answering a request by Alberta Prime Times to discuss issues facing the incoming mayor and city council, one prominent voice from Calgary's political past says he's optimistic the city will rebound from the lingering double-whammy of the pandemic and an economic downturn. (Other former mayors didn't respond to APT's request to participate.)
"We need to dig deep and find the compassion, understanding and commitment required to raise ‘all’ our fellow citizens up," said former mayor Al Duerr, 70, who held the post from 1989 to 2001. "But economic sustainability is probably top of mind for most Calgarians as it speaks to livelihoods and our overall capacity to rebuild."
"We have been through difficult times before. When the bottom fell out of the oil and gas sector in the early 1980’s the impacts from that carried on well into the late 1990’s."
Duerr, CEO of Calgary-based General Magnetic International, says Calgarians are resilient and will help the city bounce back after COVID-19.
“Strong people make strong communities, and strong communities make strong cities," he said. "I saw Calgary come together through the 1990’s in a way that made me extremely proud. We didn’t have the resources to build a lot of infrastructure, but we built what we could. Our consecutive tax increases through that period were some of the lowest in Calgary’s history.”
When he announced he wouldn't seek re-election earlier this year, Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi said the city would need a leader 'to meet the moment', facing the economic fallout from the pandemic and downturn in the oil and gas industry. Those issues join downtown woes--high vacancy rates--and Green Line expansion on the growing 'to do' list for rebuilding the province's largest city.
Nenshi told Global News last month, "I hope whoever takes over this chair will continue to reach not across the aisle but in all directions, to try and build what’s best for the city.”
The first Muslim mayor of a Canadian city, Nenshi also told Global “There are new voices, diverse voices that don’t feel heard in our current system. It makes sense to give them some space now, to make room for these new ideas and new voices.”
“There is great uncertainty about the lasting impacts of COVID-19 that needs to be factored in to a long-term economic development strategy," added Duerr. "While our energy sector has been hugely impacted, our small business and service sector has been impacted as significantly, if not more. These are our neighbours who own and run businesses. And they need our help."
Duerr says he has been disheartened by how political discourse at all levels of government has degenerated over the years.
"I believe the emergence of ‘populist’ politics has slowly destroyed the potential for a thoughtful, reasoned, fact-based discussion," he said. "I sincerely hope we can have an open, transparent and candid sharing of ideas and aspirations for this special place we call Calgary.”
Though Nenshi says he has no plans to endorse any candidate--for now--he added "I will continue to help people understand the issues. I will not hesitate to call out candidates who are misrepresenting the issues so that citizens really know what the choices are before them.”
At least seven of the 15 seats around the table at City Hall are open, between councillors retiring, not running again or vying for the mayor's chair.
The 2021 Calgary municipal election will be held on October 18, 2021 to elect a mayor and 14 city councillors, along with seven trustees for Calgary Public Schools and seven trustees for Calgary Catholic Schools.