Yahoo! Exclusive: Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi takes the high ground on mayoral scandals

·Politics Reporter
Mayor Naheed Nenshi wants more clarity on disclosure rules for gifts received by council members.

2012 hasn't been a good year for Canada's mayors.

In Toronto and London, Ont., you have Rob Ford and Joe Fontana facing court battles for their alleged improprieties. The respective mayors of Laval and Montreal mayors were forced to resign amid corruption accusations. And mayors in Winnipeg and Mississauga face conflict of interest allegations.

One mayor who has operated above the fray — so to speak — is Naheed Nenshi.

Yahoo! Canada News recently spoke to Calgary's mayor about his misbehaving mayoral brethren, about his future political aspirations (note that he doesn't deny having aspirations beyond municipal politics) and about the so-called municipal infrastructure deficit.

He also makes his pitch — to Canadians in other cities — to move to Cowtown.

Here are some excerpts of from the interview:

Y! Canada News: You just recently celebrated your second anniversary as Calgary's mayor. Since coming into office, what accomplishment are you most proud of?

Nenshi: Probably the biggest thing … is the engagement and excitement about the city.

There was a survey done earlier this summer in which they asked people in Canada’s largest cities to talk about how they felt about their cities. And … Calgary came first in quality of life in six out of seven measures.

And, when Calgarians were asked [if] your city on the rise, an incredible 90 per cent of them were optimistic and said their city on the rise.

To me that’s the biggest thing. Calgarians are feeling great about their community. They're feeling great about the level of service their municipal government gives and [they believe] only better things are on the horizon.

Y! Canada News: Cities across the country have asked for a long-term funding commitment from the federal government. You have spoken out about become less reliant on property taxes. So is there another way to fund city infrastructure?

Nenshi: Property taxes are one of the worst forms of taxation imaginable. It’s regressive, it’s particularly unfair to seniors and you simply can’t use them to fund capital and infrastructure.

Calgarians send about $4 billion a year more to the province than we get back in all provincial services. The federal government of that number is $10 billion. And our entire operating budget is only $3 billion.

So when I talk about funding from other orders of government, I talk about tax rebates on what we already pay because in order for people to want to live here, to invest here and to pay taxes here, the city has to be a great place to live.

And in order for it to be a great place to live we have to invest in things like public transit, sports facilities, recreation and so on.

I think that’s what the federal government needs to start.

Y! Canada News: Do municipalities need more taxing powers?

Nenshi: I think that’s the right way to do it.

It's not really a matter the quantity of money — we've had a lot of money to fund infrastructure from the province and the feds in the last five years or so. The problem is that its really sporadic. It’s sporadic, it’s episodic and it’s ad-hoc.

If I want to build our transit plan which will cost $13 billion over 30 years, I don’t expect anyone to show up with a $13 billion cheque next week. But what I do expect is to have a real sense of predictability for 30 years on what funding I’ll have so that I can start borrowing money to build the stuff.

It’s hard for any government to promise cash flow for 30 years but if we had some taxing power transferred to us from one of the other orders of governments then we could make some of those decisions ourselves knowing that we had that revenue source.

Y! Canada News: Some of your mayoral brethren have gotten into trouble this year with conflict of interest allegations. Are all the flurry of conflicts just a coincidence or is there something else going on here?

Nenshi: I think it’s just a coincidence but I do also think that politicians at every level have to operate on the highest possible ethical standards. It’s something I believed before I was a politician and something I believe now.

We’re working very hard in Calgary to make sure we have new and stronger ethical guidelines. I have no suspicion whatsoever that we have the problems here that we see in Quebec, for example, however I want to make sure we do everything we can to avoid that in the future.

Y! Canada News: There are recurring rumours about you running provincially or even federally. Do you have any political ambitions beyond municipal politics?

Nenshi: I was thinking marrying the Duchess of Cambridge but I understand she’s already married.

You know what, I have got the best job in Canadian politics. Being the mayor is the only role where you are elected by all the citizens and as such you get the chance to kind of hold the hopes and dream of the entire city in your hands.

I can’t imagine that there would be any political job better than that. It would be nice if the federal or provincial government gave us a little more money to do the job, but ...

Y! Canada News: You were in eastern Canada last year to head-hunt for ‘workers.’ You have a long-term labour crunch in your city. What’s your pitch to Canadians in other provinces to get them to come to Calgary?

Nenshi: This is an amazing place to live. It’s a city where as our official mission says ‘It’s a great place to make living, it’s a great place to make a life.’

Yes it’s economically doing great right now. But don’t come here just for a job. Come here because this is a place where you can be at the top of your profession, where you can live an amazing life and raise your family and also be doing world-leading things at work.

If that’s the kind of person you are — if you are willing to work hard and you bring a lot to the table, come to Calgary. Because, as I always say, here in Calgary nobody cares what you look like or who your daddy was or what your last name is or where you come from. They care about what you bring to the table. And if you have that drive to succeed, this community will help you succeed.

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