Stockholm Syndrome In Calgary 

August 1st, 2015 | T. Norris 

It’s hard to understand how Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi ever got elected. Calgary is the most conservative major city in the entire country, and Nenshi is anything but a conservative. Time and time again, without failure, Nenshi has found ways to spend more and more money. Of course, when you can continually raise taxes, it isn’t hard to find that money and then use all this new spending in some twisted attempt to justify these tax increases. Nenshi’s flaws go far beyond his policies. He may possibly be the most thin skinned politician in Canada. He’s a continual source of anger and embarrassment on Twitter, stooping as low as to lob personal insults at other people on his own council (namely fiscally conservative councillor, Sean Chu). Of course, any Nenshi Twitter rant isn’t complete without his sister, Shaheen Nenshi-Nathoo liking and retweeting half of his tweets in some sort of Bates family fashion. Nenshi has even been the subject of a libel suit from a long-time Calgary business owner who has given thousands upon thousands of dollars to local charities and causes, effectively doing more for the city than Nenshi ever has done or ever will do. I suppose the best way to sum up Nenshi’s two-time election as Calgary mayor is to label it as a twisted case of political Stockholm Syndrome, in which taxpayers are held hostage by poor government, so intensely that many have grown sympathetic to the cause of high taxes and insane spending.

Nenshi’s poor policies are best viewed when looking at spending and taxation trends throughout his regime. In his 2011 rookie year as Calgary mayor, the Alberta government reduced Calgary’s share of property tax by $42 million. Nenshi responded to this reduction by saying that Calgarians should not be paying less property tax, but rather that they should have to pay for “social infrastructure”. Whether it has been unnecessary bridges, public art or bike tracks, Nenshi keeps finding ways to spend money and increase property taxes, rather than giving some relief to the city with the fourth highest cost of living in Canada (125th in the entire world). In the case of the $24.5 million Peace Bridge previously approved by former mayor Dave Bronconnier, Nenshi had the opportunity to set a tone of restraint. However, instead of choosing a cheaper alternative or scrapping the project altogether, Nenshi opted to keep the expensive and unnecessary art project. Later, in 2013, Nenshi approved a $5.5 million dance facility. Nenshi has been a strong proponent of bike lane and cycle track construction in downtown Calgary, which has caused massive headaches for commuters within the city’s core. In 2014, these cycle tracks were pegged at a $15 million cost to taxpayers over the course of a one-year trial alone. Nenshi has also refused to make any concessions on public sector salaries. 45% of Calgary’s expenditures go towards salaries and benefits for public employees, and its pension contributions doubled between 2000 and 2012. When petitioned for pension reform (such as an end to full pension payments on retirees at the age of 55), Nenshi showed no interest, instead lobbying against the Redford government’s planned public sector pension reforms entirely. Property taxes have skyrocketed under Nenshi’s governance, increasing by a whopping 45.5% since he became mayor in 2010 (although 2014’s 6.1% increase was deferred to 2025 due to unused tax dollars returned from the provincial government, so Cagarians will not actually pay 2014’s portion of the increase until that year). To expand by such a massive number, Calgary’s annual property tax increases under Nenshi have been well above the rate of inflation. As economist Mark Milke explained in December 2014, “in 2010 and 2012, the tax hike was five times the rate of inflation, and almost eight times the rate of inflation in 2013 (when the city raised property taxes by 13.1 per cent with inflation at just 1.7 per cent).” All of this amounts to a flagrant abuse of the very people who gave Nenshi his job and pay his salary. 

In 2011, current Calgary Councillor, Andre Chabot, summed up Nenshi’s attitude as “quick with a judgment and a witty put-down” and went on to explain that Nenshi “often doesn’t do the homework to understand why a system or a program is the way it is”. It’s sad to see that not much has changed since Nenshi’s rookie year. He seems to take some kind of sick pride in making elitist statements in response to anyone who disagrees with his policies, rather than fairly and maturely debating such policies. Nenshi’s broken moral compass (or lack of any morality at all) has been on public display throughout his term. When questioned on the city’s $340,000 contract given to the anti-oil Pembina Institute in 2013, Nenshi asked The Rebel founder Ezra Levant, “When did you stop beating your wife?”  Nenshi has been known to seek out his name on Twitter and verbally assault anybody who questions anything that he’s ever done. He has a tendency to promote himself through bragging about the 74% of votes he attained in the 2013 election or mentioning outdated approval ratings. 

In 2013, Cal Wenzel, a prominent Calgary businessman and philanthropist, launched a lawsuit against Nenshi alleging slander. Wenzel had been working with other home builders in the Calgary area to lobby for more development. Nenshi compared Wenzel’s lobbying to The Godfather character Vito Corleone. In early 2015, Nenshi joined councillor Druh Farrell in accusing a number of other councillors of being “totally drunk”, “blotto” and abusing narcotics at a “wild party”. Councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart claimed to have smelled liquor on other councillors' breaths during council meetings. These accusations ran rampant through the media for a number of weeks. Mike Hinds, council office coordinator responded, “Let me put it this way. I don’t recognize the place that’s being described in the media the last couple days as this place.” Hinds followed up by saying that he had only seen alcohol consumption in city offices “five or six times”, mostly at Christmas parties. It was later revealed by Councillor Andre Chabot that the party in question had occurred in 2007, and it was only one council aide who had actually gotten “totally drunk”. Councillor Ward Sutherland wanted to focus on more important, factual issues, stating, “It's really unfortunate we're even talking about this right now. With the turning of the economy and what's going on, we have much bigger priorities.” Sutherland went on to explain, “I have never seen any councillors drink at lunchtime, drink at the break. I've never seen any councillor drunk, ever. People have been very, very responsible.” Nenshi and Farrell, of course, continued to press their accusations rather than heeding Sutherland’s advice. Nenshi’s accusations go far beyond his own councilors, of course, as Albertans will remember his comments upon Allison Redford’s resignation. He accused Albertans of being responsible for Redford’s resignation, and said that Albertans were “bullies”. Of course, as Albertans will remember, Redford resigned over deep scandals that plagued her time as premier. 

When observing all of the above, it’s no surprise that Nenshi’s approval rating plummeted to 57% in June of 2015. While that number is still quite high, Nenshi has been trending downward very quickly over the past couple of years since the 2013 election, and this trend is expected to continue. It’s important that Calgary’s more responsible councillors hold Nenshi to task for his blunders and commit themselves to working hard to defend Calgary taxpayers from Nenshi’s tax and spend policies. Most important, perhaps, is for Calgary to have a strong candidate to run against Nenshi for mayor in 2017. This candidate must be fiscally conservative and well-educated on Nenshi’s many stumbles over the years. Only a truly strong, precise and commanding candidate will be able to free Calgary from their political Stockholm Syndrome, and if that candidate does not come along soon, it’s going to be a long and bumpy ride for Calgary for at least another 6 years. Nenshi has ridden the wave of popularity that he experienced after making a few witty comments following the 2013 floods, but all waves must come crashing down eventually. By all accounts and popularity ratings, that wave has crested and the right mayoral candidate will push it over that crest in 2017.