Rob Breakenridge: A missed opportunity for Nenshi’s opponents

Click to play video: 'Naheed Nenshi wins third straight term as Calgary’s mayor'
Naheed Nenshi wins third straight term as Calgary’s mayor
WATCH ABOVE: Incumbent Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi won his third straight term as mayor of Calgary in Monday night’s municipal election. Doug Vaessen has details – Oct 17, 2017

We had polls suggesting Bill Smith would win the mayor’s chair handily and we had polls indicating an easy re-election for Naheed Nenshi. In the end, though, it was neither.

Nenshi has won a third term as Calgary mayor, but it was no cakewalk. Four years ago, Nenshi sailed to re-election with 74 per cent of the vote, but last night he barely broke 50 per cent. It’s, therefore, an obvious statement of fact then that Nenshi won the election. But in many ways, it feels as though Bill Smith lost. Or, to put it another way, a better challenger could have won.

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Click to play video: 'Decision Calgary 2017: What’s ahead for the new city council and mayor'
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Smith was not a known political quantity prior to the election, and certainly not with respect to municipal politics. He didn’t seem to me to have a firm grasp of municipal politics or much of a passion for it, either. Rather than offering specific, detailed policies, Smith’s campaign instead offered vague platitudes.

A perfect example of this was the arena issue. Smith vowed to get a deal done with the Flames on a new arena but refused to offer any details on what sort of deal he believes the city needs to make, or what he would be prepared to offer the Flames.

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Smith and his campaign were smart enough to realize what Nenshi’s weaknesses were: the incumbent was seen as arrogant, out of touch, not willing to listen, and not friendly to business. There was certainly growing frustration in Calgary over rising taxes and wasteful spending. A more inspiring campaign with a clearer message of what sort of change is needed and how we’re going to achieve it would have gone a long way.

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A campaign of “I’m not Nenshi, I’ll do better” doesn’t seem like much, but simply not being Nenshi was enough to make this a close race. I don’t think people were inspired by Smith’s campaign so much as they were growing weary of the status quo and were ready for a change. I believe that in the end, though, there were enough doubts and questions about Smith that people stuck with the devil they knew.

Bill Smith might very well have turned out to be an excellent mayor and perhaps he’ll still have a chance in four years to prove it. If so, he’ll certainly have learned some lessons from this.

For as much as incumbent mayors in Calgary have tended to avoid tough battles, Nenshi’s victory was not a foregone conclusion. This election was up for grabs and there was a clear opportunity to replace this mayor with a more conservative challenger.

And as conservatives in Calgary gear up to try and oust progressive incumbents at the provincial level in 2019, they might also want to draw some lessons from the missed opportunity of 2017.

Rob Breakenridge is host of “Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News. 

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