Views / Calgary / Krause Encounters

Mayor Nenshi needs a worthy opponent for the 2017 election

Recent poll numbers suggest the time is ripe for a new mayoral candidate to step up

Mayor Naheed Nenshi is (so far) the only candidate for mayor in Calgary's 2017 municipal election.

Metro File

Mayor Naheed Nenshi is (so far) the only candidate for mayor in Calgary's 2017 municipal election.

Though Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi is still enjoying strong support, according to a recent poll, it's lower than past surveys, and it could mean one thing: he's vulnerable.

Despite this, there are no legitimate challengers to Nenshi's purple reign.

The most recent Mainstreet poll, done for Postmedia, showed Nenshi's approval rating at 57 per cent. This is markedly lower than a ThinkHQ/Metro Calgary poll done on the topic in March, showing a 69 per cent approval rating for the mayor, but still the same numbers as a Mainstreet poll from June 2015. In March 2014, Nenshi was at the peak of approval, according to ThinkHQ, at 71 per cent - after being re-elected with 74 per cent of the vote in 2013.

While Mainstreet's Quito Maggi said that this is still a strong number for any politician, the disapproval rating jumped four per cent and the number of Calgarians who strongly approve of mayor Nenshi's performance dropped substantially, from 38 per cent down to 24 per cent.

Does this mean mayor Nenshi is ripe for the picking in October 2017? Probably not. But maybe.

There's no doubt, much like Premier Rachel Notley's popularity nosedive, Nenshi's dealing with a discontent electorate suffering from the province's economic malaise.

But it shouldn't be ignored that there are still some things that dog the mayor - including dealing with secondary suites and the prolonged hang up with Uber (which appears to have been solved). And there's no secret he's had some run-ins with folks due to his proclivity for social media debate.

Sometimes the citizenry tires of the same person leading their city, and in times of economic woe, they're looking for a bit of a spark from someone who can energize them.

It's the same spark Nenshi gave this city while campaigning in 2010. 

While we're still 11 months from a civic election, names should surely have popped up to square off against Nenshi. Fundraising needs to be done; a $1 million campaign war chest is essential to making a serious run for mayor given the long odds. Anyone looking to run for mayor needs to start building name recognition, yet we hear nothing on important matters from even the meekest of combatants. Crickets.

I probably don't need to lecture you on the importance of having a credible opposition in any election. Thanks to the late Jon Lord, who campaigned as the primary opposing voice to Nenshi in 2013, Calgary voters at least had a viable option. As of Nov. 29, 2016, I'm not sure we even have a Jon Lord ready to put their name forward.

That's alarming to me.

Aside from Mississauga's Hazel McCallion, who was acclaimed twice in her 36-year tenure as mayor, you'd be hard pressed to find any major Canadian city in recent memory where a mayor was essentially given the keys to the office without a vote.

Sure, there'll be the usual cast of folks who pop up without a snowball's chance in you-know-where of being elected, but no one to stand opposite Mayor Nenshi.

A healthy and engaged democracy relies on two or more political gladiators ready for an ideological slugfest vying for leadership.

Mayor Nenshi is no doubt a daunting foe for anyone - a legitimate David and Goliath scenario.

But these recent Mainstreet poll results, more than ever, show that though Nenshi has healthy approval in Calgary, the right person might be able to expose that vulnerability and give him a run for the mayoral seat.

Volunteers?