CALGARY — Municipal elections are being held in Alberta today and the race for the mayor’s chair in Calgary is drawing the most attention.
Naheed Nenshi is seeking his third term, but a victory is far from guaranteed.
Nenshi was the first Muslim mayor of a major North American city when he was first elected in 2010, and his popularity and affable style gave him a national profile.
But a number of polls have shown that the race this time between him and Calgary lawyer Bill Smith is too close to call.
“I have no idea if this election is close. That’s actually the big challenge here. This is an election that is being run in the absence of evidence,” Nenshi said in the final days of the campaign.
He said he always expected it would be a close race, but added this one has been nasty. He shrugs off critics who say he has become arrogant and difficult to work with.
“If I wanted to be universally loved, I would have been a pet groomer. You don’t want to go into politics if you want to be universally loved,” he said.
“You go into politics because you want to try and do what’s right for people every day.”
Smith said Calgarians are frustrated by high taxes, excessive spending by the city and a continued downturn in the energy sector.
Nenshi’s campaign has been avoiding the problems the city is facing, Smith suggested.
“He’s been doing a job of trying to deflect a lot of things since the beginning of his campaign. I’ve been trying to focus on the results of his last seven years,” said Smith.
“I didn’t expect this campaign to get as personal as it has and it wasn’t from our side.”
Pollster Janet Brown says a mayoralty incumbent hasn’t lost in Calgary since 1980.
Another race to watch is for the mayor’s job in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes Fort McMurray. Melissa Blake, who has been mayor since 2004, is not running again.
She was praised for her grace under pressure after a devastating wildfire swept through the city in 2016 and also advocated for more housing and expanded infrastructure when Fort McMurray boomed before the last oil downturn.
In Edmonton, incumbent Don Iveson is expected to handily win a second term as mayor.