By Jodi A. Shaw
Naheed Nenshi’s wall on Facebook is flooded with congratulatory notes today. Elected Calgary’s new mayor yesterday, Nenshi is the city’s first from a visible minority, as well as Canada’s first Muslim mayor of a major city.
Nenshi says ethnicity and religion were not issues for him during the campaign, and he’s being very humble about his history-making election. On the streets of Calgary, however, people are talking about nothing but — and looking forward to the change.
Ghaiss Hajj (Green Party of Calgary) says Nenshi worked hard from the beginning, but really proved himself during the debates: “He had a very clear platform, that he communicated flawlessly, and answered questions without hesitation. He is a good presenter, and his ideas were aligned to what Calgarians are looking for.”
Once people started listening to Nenshi, support blossomed. A quick glimpse at his Facebook page shows that his once modest list of friends grew to over 12,000 in a matter of days.
The Harvard-educated Ismaili Muslim is especially popular among Calgary’s young adults. Jen, 26, identifies herself as a person who “knows nothing, like really nothing, about politics.” She says she voted for Nenshi because she was able to connect with him on Facebook, come to understand his positions, and finally learn a thing or two about municipal life. “It was really smart,” she says, “reaching out to people on Facebook. It made him accessible to voters and kept us informed.”
As another young voter in Calgary, I found Nenshi’s win promising not because of the historical implications, but because of his down-to-earth, direct nature, and ideas for the city. But while he’s right to downplay his ethnicity and religion, his win is an important step; it tells those Calgarians who would vote against a candidate because of colour or religion that their day is done, and tells young Calgarians, whatever their colour, that progressive ideas have a place in the city.
Hajj says Nenshi’s election defies Calgary’s sometimes infamous reputation. “Give us leaders we can believe in and we will rise to the occasion. Calgary is not the redneck town that everyone stereotypes. We are not apathetic either, [this was the] highest turnout ever. We do care who represents us. We want the best.”