Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Calgary Teaches a Lesson

Here's a bit from The Atlantic about the result of a mayoral race in Calgary, Alberta earlier this week:
Yesterday, Calgary elected a new mayor. His name is Naheed Nenshi. ... Here's one of his first interviews since being elected.

Nenshi, 38, is a professor at Mount Royal University. He graduated from the University of Calgary, where he was president of the students' union, and holds a master's in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School. He's also Islamic; his parents immigrated to Canada from Tanzania. Here's how one account in the Canadian press summarized it:
[W]hile much was being made of Nenshi being what's believed to be the first Muslim mayor in a major Canadian city, experts, supporters and even leaders in Calgary's Muslim community were downplaying the role Nenshi's faith played in his election.

"I think it's an overblown situation," said Calgary Imam Syed Soharwardy, the founder of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada.

"He's a Muslim. Yes, well so what? Why does it have to be identified that we have a Muslim mayor? I think the most important thing is we have a new person who has been elected by Calgarians."
I enjoyed the Naheed Nenshi interview on CBC. He made the point that religion was not and is not significant in his politics or his campaign. He won because he out-organized, worked harder to bring in a broad coalition, and he fired up the youth vote.

Here's a mini-summary of the election campaign from the Globe and Mail:
His win also proves that the Internet is a key tool in politics and does indeed deliver support – Mr. Nenshi had far more Facebook friends than either of his main competitors, who themselves dismissed that support, saying it wouldn't translate into actual votes.

But Mr. Nenshi had 39 per cent of the vote with 229 of 241 polls reporting, followed closely by alderman Ric McIver with 32 per cent and former CTV anchor Barb Higgins with 26 per cent. Ms. Higgins raced to an early lead before her numbers collapsed, while Mr. Nenshi started slow and then spiked.

Mr. McIver, meanwhile, had campaigned essentially since the last election in 2007, preparing to challenge outgoing Mayor Dave Bronconnier, a bitter rival. When Mr. Bronconnier elected not to run, Mr. McIver became the race’s de facto front-runner, with a significant war-chest and plenty of backing among Calgary's conservatives.

Ms. Higgins entered the race late with little experience but significant name recognition, and tried to position herself as a moderate able to build consensus on city council, which has been bitterly divided for the past three-year term largely because of Mr. Bronconnier and Mr. McIver. Had Ms. Higgins won, she would have been Calgary's first female mayor. However, critics insisted that she didn’t have the experience to take the top job, unlike Mr. McIver the alderman and Mr. Nenshi, a veteran observer of city hall.
There is something special about Calgary. If you look at my earlier post, Religious Tolerance, and click on the link "the Canadian approach" you will see that Calgary is a special kind of town, a very tolerant town. If you read the article, you find bits like this:
There isn't enough space in Calgary area mosques for all the Ramadan worshippers so some Christian churches are opening their doors to Islamic worshippers.

One worshipper, Waqar Butt Islamic, told CTV Calgary, "They really cooperated with us. I met with them and they said warm welcome to you guys. You guys pray here, this is a good opportunity for us, for you guys to pray here."

The reverend of the Airdrie United Church claims hosting the Muslim prayers doesn't conflict with his congregations Christian values, rather it enhances them.

Rev. Dave Pollard of the Airdrie United Church, says, "We are sort of like long lost cousins, so to be able to promote an environment that would mend a rift as opposed to tearing it even further was, I think, a unique opportunity."

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