‘A fundamentally different place’: Naheed Nenshi on his 11 years as Calgary’s mayor

Click to play video: 'Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi reflects on his achievements'
Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi reflects on his achievements
Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi joins Global News Morning Calgary live via Skype to reflect on his achievements during his tenure, as he prepares to leave office. – Oct 15, 2021

After 11 years in office, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi will be setting down that title in just a matter of days.

The first Muslim mayor of a major North American city, and the first Muslim mayor to be elected in Canada, Nenshi netted many awards for his leadership over the years, including being named Best Mayor in the World in 2015.

Nenshi was at the helm for each of the four states of emergency that were declared in the city’s 136-year history — most notably, the ones called amid the 2013 flood and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Flooding in Calgary. Global News/Tim Lee

Speaking with Global News and 770 CHQR on Friday, Nenshi said seeing the city come together during those hard times gave him a real appreciation for the work public servants do every day to make Calgary a safe and enjoyable place to call home.

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“We can rely on government at the best of times, we can rely on government at the worst of times,” he said.

“(I thought), we have these public servants doing this work, and I’ve got to be as good as they are.”

In his three terms as Calgary’s 36th mayor, Nenshi said his favourite moments were those spent attending events in the community on Saturdays and spending time with residents, or being a part of special celebrations like Canada Day and Neighbour Day.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi speaks at the city’s first ceremony marking the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Nenshi said he’s loved watching the city grow and flourish in his years as mayor, both in physical size, but also when it comes to the residents that make up the city’s demographic.

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“We tend to forget how much the city has grown — so we’ve grown by almost 50 per cent in that time and those 11 years,” he said.

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“And of course, the economy has completely shifted. Energy, for better or worse, has become less of an issue. It’s still the most important, but a less big part of our economy.”

He also pointed out the city is more diverse than it was when he took office, and that “one in three of us are not white now.”

“It’s really a fundamentally different place.”

‘The envy’ of all other governments in Canada

Nenshi said he’s proud to have been part of transforming Calgary’s municipal government into one that “is the envy of every government in Canada.”

“We have reduced the cost of government over the last 11 years by $1 billion and taken $1 billion out of the system without cutting frontline services,” he said.

“I’m very, very proud of the fact that we have built the most efficient government at any order of government — any federal, municipal or provincial in Canada — and a zero based budget.

“I really hope that whoever comes in on council understands what they’ve got and doesn’t mess it up.”

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Nenshi encouraged Calgarians yet to cast their ballots for Monday’s election to ask themselves: “Who can solve these problems? Who can meet this moment? Who can represent Calgary on the national and on the international stage?”

‘Living the mantra of the city’

He is also proud of the historic infrastructure projects brought to Calgary in his tenure as mayor, including the new Central Library, the extension of Airport Trail and the airport tunnel, recreation centres in communities across the city, as well as large investments in public transit and roads.

“Ultimately, it’s all been about living the mantra of the city, which is making life better every day for everyone.

“And I hope people think their life is better now.”

Nenshi said a thank you to the citizens who believed in him 11 years ago, and in the two other elections that saw him keep his seat in the time since.

“I want to say thank you to the public. Thank you for your support. Thank you for taking a risk on a nerdy, schlumpy professor 11 years ago. But more importantly, taking a risk on the future.”

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Click to play video: 'Catching up with Naheed Nenshi: Calgary’s first Muslim mayor, 11 years later'
Catching up with Naheed Nenshi: Calgary’s first Muslim mayor, 11 years later

He added he’s typically not one to pay attention to the polls, but he “had a secret smile” when he learned he’s leaving the mayor’s office with a 65 per cent approval rating, “a number that most politicians never get today.”

As for what’s next, Nenshi said he doesn’t think it’ll be politics.

“But I sure do hope that there is a way that I can continue some kind of service — with my limited skills — to help Calgary (and) Canada move forward.”

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