This last Monday Calgary elected a new Mayor; Naheed Nenshi. If you follow me on twitter you can probably guess that I am pretty happy about this- he was my vote. The whole things got me thinking about politics and leadership and I thought I would share some of my random thoughts.
First up, let me tell you how weird it felt to vote for the winner. That doesn’t often happen for me. I live in Alberta. Which, for those of you who don’t live in Canada, is kinda like living in Texas. Alberta = conservative. The stereotype of Alberta is red neck, gun carrying, cow boy boot wearing, pull yourself up by your boot straps, go it alone, get the government out of my pocket book and my oil rigs, lock the bad guys up in jail and throw away the key, not in my backyard, don’t tell me what to do, kinda people. Now, this sterotype is far from the truth, but I will certainly admit to its general validity as a representation of the political culture in Alberta. Anyway, back to my point. Since I have a tendency to be pretty left of centre, living in Alberta means protest voting only. Provincially and Federally, we have been voting pretty much the same for, well, as long as I can remember. The elections are decided before the first ballot is cast. Right of center, fiscally conservative, socially conservative. Really, the elections are just a futile exercise.
But not this time! I got to vote for the winner. And more than that, I knew going to the polling station that even if Nenshi didn’t win, that my vote would count because it was going to be close. All the polls leading up to the vote showed a 3 way tie between the top runners. Exciting!
What was even more exciting was that people really got inspired by this race. On the day of the vote our entire office wore purple (Nenshi’s colour) to work. That’s right, we were excited enough and wanted to show our support to wear a particular colour. We were all talking to friends and family trying to convince them to vote Nenshi. This was a Civic Election, but all counts usually the one people pay the least attention to- and yet everyone was talking.
A politician that is inspiring is a rarity. Love them or hate them. The really inspiring politician in Canada that I know of was Pierre Trudeau. In the US, it is Obama. Not everyone agrees with these leaders, but they both got people really engaged in politics. Which is what we need both sides of the border. Nenshi, albiet on a smaller scale, has done this in Calgary. People VOTED. A lot of people. Voter turnout almost doubled and much of that was lead by young people, people who don’t traditionally vote. We know now, after Nenshi’s win, that many of those young people voted to vote for Nenshi.
What we need is more leaders who can get people inspired and engaged in politics.
The other thing I thought was so interesting is what voting for Nenshi says about the changing culture of Calgary. Yes, Calgary still has elements of that conservative political culture that I was talking about. But Calgary’s culture is also young, innovative, entrepreneurial, risk taking, vibrant and not interested in the status quo or the ‘old boys club’. Calgary is a city where people go out to fancy places to eat wearing jeans. Calgarians are not particularly fussed about hierarchy. Calgarians are highly educated and highly skilled. We like the grassroots. We are diverse. Nenshi represents all these things.
Post election there was a lot of talk about Calgary (with its redneck reputation) electing the first Muslim Mayor in Canada. But to me, that wasn’t what this race was about. It bothers me that this got so much focus. I am all for diversity in politics, I want politicians to reflect the diversity that exists in Canada. But we voted for Nenshi not as a vote for diversity, but a vote for someone who is well educated, well spoken, experienced, and has new and innovative ideas. The bigger story, I think, is that is shows the changing face of Calgary. It is hard to describe, but it is a shift between two sides of a similar coin that represent Calgary’s culture. Electing Nenshi doesn’t mean that Calgary isn’t still a fiscally and socially conservative oil town, but it is shift to focusing on the entreprenurial, grassroots, innovative and risk taking side of us. The part of us that wants something new and rejects authority.
Still, this vote represents a change for Calgary. For a long time our civic government has focused on urban sprawl, roads, parking and development. With Nenshi we are looking at the focus changing to vibrant urban communities, public transit, housing, culture and sustainability. I can’t wait!