The Power of Purple

In a tight race, that polls showed to be a three way tie, Naheed Nenshi pulled off a convincing win and will be serving as Calgary’s 36th mayor. The large voter turnout in many ridings delayed the results coming in, which served to only heighten the dramatic effect when Nenshi took the lead late in the night. He went on to win with 40% of the vote and a lead of almost 28,000 votes. Without question, this was a definitive victory for Nenshi in a campaign many thought he could never win.

Ric McIver, the three term alderman who had long been considered the ‘front runner’ (a term used by the media to express their own conceited opinions) finished second and was understandably emotional in his concession speech. The fiscal conservative has been a strong voice of opposition to outgoing Mayor Dave Bronconnier but fell flat in the latter stages of the campaign. Finishing third was Barb Higgins, who electrified the campaign with her late entry in July. Ultimately, she lost momentum in the last weeks of the campaign and while leading the initial returns, fell to third and quickly lost ground to Nenshi and McIver.

Unofficial Results:
Naheed Nenshi           140,291 (40.0%)
Ric McIver                  112,374 (32.0%)
Barb Higgins                 91,359 (26.0%)
Joe Connelly                     2,477 (1.0%)
Bob Hawkesworth              1,502 (<1%)

Unofficial results (the official results are not released until Friday) can be accessed here directly from the City of Calgary and show that voter turnout was above 50%, a very impressive thing for a city known for its political apathy. The increase in turnout can be attributed to a couple of factors. First, turnout is generally higher in a race with no incumbent. Residents are generally more inclined to express their opinion when the seat is up for grabs. Second, polls showed the race to be a three way tie, and therefore with no clear winner it was apparent that every vote would have an impact. Once again this helps to bring people to the polls and increase the feeling that their vote is important. Third, younger voters (an age group difficult to actually define) participated in much higher numbers than they normally would. This can be attributed to the close race, but also to Mr. Nenshi, excuse me, Mayor-elect Nenshi, who used social media to develop a large electronic following, the majority of which were younger voters. While I am not sure this trend will transfer to the provincial and federal levels for subsequent elections, it was a positive sign for Calgary.

This begs the question about what Nenshi did right and what McIver and Higgins did wrong? Nenshi ran a flawless campaign, hence why he won. The traditional aspects of his campaign helped to gain him supporters. Nenshi attended every debate, never shied away from sparring with his rivals and gained many supporters through his articulate debate responses. He was the undisputed king of the social media networks, having strong followings of supporters on Facebook and Twitter. And of course, it was impossible not to notice the ‘Purple Revolution’ that swept across the city, the most visible aspect of Nenshi’s campaign.

Ric McIver ran early and ran hard. Early polls showed him in the lead and it appeared as if he was going to be the next mayor. But it seems as if McIver underestimated his opponents. He touted his experience on council, stating this was not the time for on the job training. An error though, seeing as how many Calgarians wanted ‘change’ (a term that has been used so often now, it has lost all meaning). Instead of being associated with the positive aspects of the last council, McIver was saddled with the negative attributes. He also never strongly attacked Nenshi, even as the poll numbers showed a narrowing of the gap. In all, McIver appeared to have lost much of his drive by the end of the campaign. Visibly tired, he failed to recognize the threat that Nenshi (and Higgins to a lesser extent) posed. McIver ran a textbook campaign, that in other years perhaps would have been enough to get him elected. But as the results show, 2010 was anything but textbook.

Barb Higgins, like her two closest rivals, at one point looked to have the election firmly within her grasp. The downfall for Higgins was twofold. First, she entered the race a bit too late and lacked a firm foundation upon which to declare. Regardless, by the time she announced her platform in September, she was beginning to win over sceptical voters. She followed that up with some decent debate performances and the momentum was building for her. She got a boost when polls showed her with a slight advantage over McIver and Nenshi. Unfortunately, things unravelled in the last weeks and both she and her campaign stumbled near the finish line. For her first political campaign, Higgins did very well. But unfortunately, her name was not enough to give her the momentum she needed to ultimately be a serious challenger for the job of mayor.

I can’t help but draw comparisons (however corny it may be) between this race and the 2008 American presidential election. Nenshi is of course Calgary’s Obama. A visible minority who used technology to his advantage, and ran a very well articulated campaign, dramatically increasing political participation in the electoral process. The two also have less political experience than their competitors, ran as a candidate of ‘change’ and have high expectations for that they will do in office. McIver would be likened to John McCain in this comparison, the political conservative with more than enough experience for the job, but who ran a lacklustre and uninspiring campaign. Lastly, Higgins is similar to Hillary Clinton. A very well liked and inspiring female candidate who was ultimately brought down by her own campaign.

The fact that Nenshi is both a visible minority and muslim, while being of importance, should really have no relevance in this story. Nenshi was elected because of the ideas and new direction he promised to bring to city hall. In the most ethnically diverse neighbourhoods in Calgary, it was actually Higgins who gained the most support. Nenshi himself has never shied away from his ethnicity and religion, but rightfully so, stated they are are only a few of the many qualities that make him who he is.

Going forward, Mayor-elect Nenshi has many issues to deal with. He has a chance to define what kind of mayor he will be, and he will likely establish that early on. The relationship he has with council will obviously determine how successful he will be. While he has 5 new faces he can look to for support, his challenge will be to forge relationships with the existing members, none of whom he has ever worked with. Hopefully the veterans on council will give him a fair chance to lead and show what he can do. His mandate, while not huge is larger than many expected and he should be able to use it as a strong position from which to argue.

Meanwhile, McIver and Higgins should be congratulated. They both put all of their effort into their campaigns and each would have been a strong leader for Calgary. It is highly unlikely that these two individuals will go quietly off into the sunset. They need to be thanked for the contributions they have made to Calgary so far, and it will be exciting to see where they go from here.

In all, the spotlight belongs to Mayor-elect Nenshi, who will be sworn in next week as Calgary’s new mayor and will have Calgary, Canada and possibly the world talking for a long time. Good luck!


About Chris James

A student of political science at a Canadian University sharing stories of interest on Canadian and American political and social issues.

Posted on October 19, 2010, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Similar to Obama, Nenshi is in a position of unlimited potential. He will either change the city for the better, or he will completely fall flat on his face, but nothing in between. For the sake of Calgary, lets hope it is the former…

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