Calgary Flames may have ‘handed’ election to Nenshi: political analyst

Click to play video: 'Race for Calgary’s mayoral seat underway'
Race for Calgary’s mayoral seat underway
WATCH: Political analyst David Taras joins Global Calgary to discuss the race for Calgary's mayoral seat that is now underway – Sep 20, 2017

A number of political analysts believe the Calgary Flames inadvertently helped Mayor Naheed Nenshi in his re-election campaign by engaging in a public dispute over the funding of a new arena. One is even arguing they may have “handed” him the election.

The dispute started when Flames president Ken King said the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) was no longer pursuing an arena deal with the city after hitting an impasse.

READ MORE: Flames no longer looking for new arena in Calgary

Nenshi then publicly refuted King’s comments and followed up by releasing details of the arena funding proposal put forth by city council members. Afterward, King spoke publicly, saying the Flames were “not interested” in the offer, and would be releasing their desired funding proposal this week.

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Speaking to Global News on Wednesday, Mount Royal University professor of Communication Studies, David Taras, said arena funding seems to have become “ground zero” for the election.

“To some degree, I think there’s an argument that the [Calgary] Flames handed the election to Nenshi, because if you look back at the last election, Nenshi positioned himself brilliantly as ‘I’m fighting for the little guy against the big developers.’ In this election, he’s positioning himself as ‘I’m fighting for ordinary citizens who don’t want to subsidize billionaire business people – and I’m fighting for them against the super-rich.’”

READ MORE: Nenshi promises to release Calgary arena offer details after Flames pull out of deal

While he agrees that the arena arguments have put Nenshi at an advantage, Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt thinks it’s “way too early” to say the election has been “handed” to Nenshi.

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“Obviously [Ken] King did this to disrupt the election. King did this to hurt Nenshi. If on Oct. 16 Nenshi is re-elected on this issue and the Flames have to negotiate with him — that will be a very awkward conversation.”

WATCH: Ken King responds to the City of Calgary’s arena proposal

Click to play video: 'Ken King responds to City of Calgary’s arena proposal'
Ken King responds to City of Calgary’s arena proposal

Associate professor of policy studies at MRU Lori Williams agrees that King seemed to take aim at Nenshi. 

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“Clearly he was trying to put pressure on city council and to call out Mayor Nenshi,” she said, adding it’s “quite clear” that the city’s funding proposal “was a credible, fair offer.”

“It actually made Mayor Nenshi look quite reasonable and Ken King look unreasonable.”

“The arena deal makes [Nenshi] look out to be that fighter for taxpayers’ dollars,” Bratt added. “Nenshi has also exploited it by saying ‘all right if you don’t like the plan that the city organized and negotiated and we have released, what would be your plan instead?’”
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READ MORE: Ken King ‘not interested’ in City of Calgary’s NHL arena offer

“The city isn’t in a great financial place right now, because we had a bit of an economic downturn as most Canadians know, and it’s really difficult to argue effectively that Calgarians – some of whom are feeling the pressure of increased property taxes – to agree to pay more,” Lori agreed.


Nenshi is facing off against nine other mayoral candidates in the civic election.

Out of the 10, Taras said the three to watch are Nenshi, Andre Chabot and Bill Smith.

“I would even say it’s the mayor and it’s Smith – basically that’s the game.”

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READ MORE: No ‘knock-out blows’ at MRU mayoral candidates’ forum

Taras believes the topic of arena funding has put Nenshi at a distinct advantage over his top competitors.

“He takes Smith’s issues away. Smith was going to be the tax guy – and here’s Nenshi saying ‘yeah but it’s me who’s fighting for the ordinary person, and looking at the dollars and cents, and being tough.’”

“It’s boxed in Bill Smith a bit,” Bratt agreed. “It splits his brand, which has been strong on sport and also strong on taxpayer protection.”

“It’s put him much more on the defensive by splitting his brand – and it’s fallen in the lap of Nenshi. It’s Nenshi fighting against the billionaires.”

“It has given him an opportunity to really shine,” Williams added.

LISTEN: Andre Chabot has another idea of how Calgary could build a new arena. 

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“It puts everybody else sort of off balance,” she said. “Anyone who is either agreeing with him makes it difficult for them to distinguish themselves as a better candidate than he is, or if they’re disagreeing with him it looks like they’re siding with greedy developers.”

“He looks like he’s being responsible with taxpayer dollars … and I think it’s really given a bit of a boost to his brand.”

GALLERY: Calgary 2017 election mayoral cadidates

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