Naheed Nenshi's Contradictions

July 1st, 2012 - R. Rados 

Not everyone agrees with street pastor, Artur Pawlowski. He and his Street Church have been working in Calgary for years, attempting to convert average citizens and educate them about the Bible. In 2011, during the peak of the Occupy Movement, Artur and his organization received some unwelcome attention when the newly minted mayor, Naheed Nenshi, ordered them removed from city hall for preaching the gospel during Christmas.

“To be perfectly clear, this man that holds the position of mayor in Calgary did, for months, everything that he could to support the Occupiers,” Pawlowski tells Poletical. “He deliberately allowed Occupiers to break dozens of legitimate laws and made speeches defending their behaviour and called it freedom of speech.”

Pawlowski has had several run-ins with the Calgary police, but so far none have resulted in any convictions. Some of his run-ins happened long before Nenshi took office and some judges have ruled in favour of Pawlowski, calling the city's treatment “close to excessive and an abuse of power”. In December of last year, Sun News personality, Ezra Levant, took notice of Pawlowski's plight and wrote a piece in defence of the pastor, accusing Nenshi of anti-Christian bigotry. Pawlowski still agrees with Levant today.

“When it comes to your question about the mayor being anti-Christian, I don't have to guess. I know for a fact that this man has a personal agenda against Christians,” Pawlowski says. “We know of at least 30 other municipalities in Canada that allow Christian prayer inside their city hall without any problems.”

Street Church delivers over 200,000 meals a year to Calgary's homeless and displaced residents. Earlier last month, Pawlowski was awarded the Free Speech Award by The Progressive Group For Independent Business, or PGIB.

Naheed Nenshi refused to respond to questions asked by Poletical regarding several issues, including his treatment of the Occupy protesters.

Nenshi himself had been quoted calling Calgary's city hall a “living room” for the public. He was also quoted in the media saying that the Canadian Charter Of Rights And Freedoms trumps any city bylaws and that the Occupy protesters must be respected and should not be arrested. Following their arrests at Calgary city hall, Pawlowski and his Street Church were charged for several bylaw violations. Some of their past charges include handing out goods and gathering a crowd without a permit, two things that the Occupy protesters were doing.

In February, when the city's costs for cleaning up after Occupy protesters were tallied, Nenshi downplayed the costs by saying, “Not one window was broken. At the end of the day, if there had been vandalism or broken windows, the bill would have been much higher.”

The actions of Calgary's popular mayor make some of his ideals and values difficult to pinpoint.

Much to the chagrin of Calgary councilors, in February Nenshi prescribed a closed-door psychology session to repair what he perceived as dysfunction inside of city hall. A psychologist was called in for a sit-down with councilors to make them work better together, as Nenshi put it. The mayor was pompous in his response to the contention, saying, “I would find it extraordinary if any member of council did not want to attend.”

Defeated mayoral candidate and current PC MLA, Ric McIver, called Nenshi's decision silly. “Friction is a good thing, as long as everyone's intention is to create a better city,” he told Postmedia.

In the context of his efforts to make city hall less dysfunctional and to restore civility, Nenshi's exchange with councilor, Diane Colley-Urquhart, made some news when she accused the mayor of being petulant and cutting off councilors while they were attempting to speak. She later criticized Nenshi's CBC radio interview in which he accused councilors of treating taxpayers like an ATM.

“First of all, I want the constituency in Ward 13 to know that I have a lot more respect for the citizens than to treat them as though they're an ATM,” she said. “I find these comments disparaging, I find them disrespectful, I find them dishonest.”

Nenshi then shot back while referring to his smart-phone, misquoting one of Colley-Urquhart's tweets, claiming she called some councilors “incompetent and dithering”. He also referred to her use of the word “petulant” to describe his behaviour in chamber.

“In council chambers, I just said that there was no need to be petulant about it, that was the word I used. We can talk about those other things you quoted, because I didn't say those things,” she replied.

A full transcript of the exchange can be read here. Or the video can be seen here

Nenshi has also come under considerable fire for his untamed Twitter habit. The mayor has been criticized by bloggers and media pundits for tweeting far too much.

During Calgary's Occupy controversy, Nenshi made headlines for crudely ridiculing Werner Patels, after the blogger criticized the mayor's stance on the Occupy protesters. “I know I should not bother when you're off your meds, but I love how freedom of speech is now an extreme lefty issue,” Nenshi tweeted. Some Alberta health workers were offended by the mayor's remarks, while others took offence to Nenshi's insinuation that his critic might have a mental illness. Nenshi eventually apologized.

Nenshi has also been a staunch advocate for Calgary's controversial airport tunnel, which some have criticized as too expensive and unnecessary. In June of 2011, the city struck a deal with the airport authority to begin construction on what was said to be a 295 million dollar project. A later look by some city councilors revealed that the project could top 500 million over two decades. Nenshi defended the costs in the media while expressing disappointment with those who still opposed it.

These positions held by the mayor appear contradictory against his talk of using taxpayers as ATMs, restoring function to city hall, and defending free speech.

In regards to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, Artur Pawlowski tells Poletical, “Every citizen of this great country should be troubled by what is happening in Calgary. Even if they like what we are doing or not.”

Pawlowski vows to continue his work with Street Church, unchanged.

Naheed Nenshi continues to use Twitter as a medium for communication, sometimes taking sarcastic jabs at Calgary residents and announcing timely events. His contradictory nature may or may not gain the notice of Calgary residents, but in a world of new media and growing transparency, the mayor should focus on keeping true to his word and holding himself to the same standards as he holds others.