Calgary election 2017: What would it take to unseat a sitting councillor or mayor?

Calgary City Hall. Global News

A government and public relations firm in Calgary said Wednesday that it expects campaigning will ramp up significantly after Labour Day as the municipal election draws closer.

“We’re in for a barrage of communication,” said Marc Henry, president of ThinkHQ Public Affairs Inc.

Janet Brown, an independent pollster, admits that the mayoral campaigns of those trying to unseat Naheed Nenshi have been relatively quiet until now but added that it may be part of a strategy to make the most of their campaign resources.

“Most candidates have a finite amount of money and they need to spend it effectively,” she said. “Spending it during those dog days of summer isn’t really effective.”

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Both Brown and Henry said unseating an incumbent mayor, especially a “popular” one like Nenshi, will be difficult. Even Andre Chabot, who has been a longtime member of Calgary’s city council, does not have the same name recognition as Nenshi said Brown.

“Certainly you’re up against a real heavyweight there,” said Henry, adding that candidates will have to find “creative ways” to set themselves apart.

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LISTEN: Building a successful campaign during a municipal election

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Brown added that going back over the past decade, there have been few cases of an incumbent mayor or councillor being dethroned. She also pointed out it is even harder to unseat an incumbent mayor in municipal politics than in provincial and federal elections.

She said that’s because there’s no party infrastructure behind the candidates.

“If Bill Smith or Andre Chabot are going to be able to topple Nenshi, they’re going to have to run flawless campaigns and they’re going to have to hope that Nenshi has a big implosion,” she said, adding that in past elections Nenshi has done a great job of connecting with Calgary voters.

She pointed to Nenshi’s first election victory in the 2010 municipal election as an example.

“He was working behind the scenes, building up a network, you know, long before the media started to take him seriously.”

LISTEN: Janet Brown on the difficulty of unseating an incumbent mayor or councillor

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Henry said for candidates looking to connect with voters social media is instrumental.

“I don’t think you could get away with running a campaign without a more significant online presence,” he said.

But Brown said candidates who hope to set themselves apart have to go “beyond social media.” What’s really important she said, is the ability to attract the attention of the mainstream media and ultimately, connect with voters. On top of that, she said, it helps to have a significant communications budget.

That is what makes traditional campaign tactics like candidate forums important, she added.

“Far more people are going to see it through the media than actually be there. So, you know, it’s really important that candidates give the media the sound clips they need so they can be covered in an effective way,” she said.

“It really is about name recognition and there will likely be multiple candidates running for mayor. So, you really have to distinguish yourself as somebody who’s really in the running as opposed to an also-ran.”