April was an exceptional month of faux-outrage, hyperbole and a fabricated political controversy spurred on by none other than His Worship Mayor Naheed Nenshi himself. A grainy recording of a speech by a Cal Wenzel (founder of Shane Homes) in front of 150 attendees of an industry meeting (hardly a hidden conspiratorial group) was released to the media some months after the fact. In the secret recording, it was revealed that Wenzel did not like the direction that some members of council were going in and was encouraging others to use legal political means to try and facilitate the election of council members who have a more favorable outlook on the home development industry. There really was utterly nothing wrong with this and special interest groups have been participating in elections since the very beginning of elections.
This whole episode was really a non-issue until Mayor Nenshi spotted and took advantage of the opportunity to try and create local outrage against a well respected and established business in Calgary in hopes of polarizing the electorate in His Worship’s own favor. If nothing else, Nenshi has proven himself to be a canny political player if not a principled one. Nenshi even puffed up and scheduled a press conference where he reported that utterly nothing had changed aside from his remaining outraged that people in Calgary may hold a view differing from His. It was a striking spectacle indeed to watch our Mayor create such a fuss over so little.
An ongoing irritation over the course of this conceived dustup was the abuse of the word “partisan”. The Manning Institute was dragged into the whole affair as Wenzel had spoken of developers and homebuilders contributing to the institute to aid in the training of candidates. The manufactured indignation was repellent as “partisanship” was decried by our Mayor and his legion of hipsters supporting him on social media.
To begin with, there are no parties in civic politics in Alberta. While the word can be used in broad definitions, it really is not appropriate when speaking of Calgary civic candidates or interest groups. What we have happening in Calgary civic politics is a clash of ideologies which while more subtle, is far more concerning than partisanship will ever be.
To begin with, partisanship is not all that bad a thing and naturally evolves in every democracy whether people like it or not. While parties are usually founded and and run based on ideologies, the parties and party supporters themselves are often pragmatic and capable of changing their policies and ideologies when needed in order to represent the wishes of the electorate. Another advantage of parties is that the policies are usually documented and open as well as the formulation process of them.
The Alberta Party was built by Chima Nkemdirim (Naheed Nenshi’s Chief of Staff) to be a post-partisan party. What that contradiction meant was that the party would mask all forms of coherent policy through fluffy, broad and feelgood platitudes in hopes of masking the left-wing ideology of it’s supporters. It was recognized that Albertans soundly reject hard left wing policies at the polls so this consensus style party was created to try and slide their ideology past the electorate. With Nenshi’s unexpected win as Calgary’s Mayor, the Alberta Party lost the leader expected to take them to the 2012 election and Nkemdirim fled along with Nenshi into City Hall. By masking their partisanship and in having no real leadership, the Alberta Party fizzled to a dismal 1.3% finish in the 2012 Alberta provincial election. The voters were not fooled. Real partisanship has a role and the electorate demands it.
Part of why Nenshi has been decrying a non-existent partisanship within the Manning Insitute has been to mask the hypocrisy in his being a founder of and supported by CivicCamp which is an ideological special interest group that is trying to influence the Calgarian civil political government exactly as the Manning Institute is. Both groups are exactly the same in their basic nature, the only difference is a wide gap in the ideologies.
The Manning Institute is at least honest in their ideology. They say outright that they want to encourage and facilitate conservative policy in municipal politics. There is utterly nothing wrong with that.
CivicCamp on the other hand is very disingenuous in their goals. While they spit out the term “partisan” as a pejorative and try to paint themselves as being a democratic service in municipal politics, they are very clearly ideologically driven with some pretty distinct goals. CivicCamp takes strong and direct stands on policy initiatives such as the ideologically extreme PlanIt document which was spawned from the outright insane ImagineCalgary pap. If you are going to take direct policy stands as a group, you have moved well out of the public service role and right into ideologically driven advocacy. Again there is nothing wrong with this but CivicCamp should be more honest about what they are. Reading through the site quickly indicates the hard-left lean of the group.
CivicCamp carefully tries to avoid mention of the names of the people involved with them as well. One can hide the policies of the group but it is hard to hide the intent when the names of the founders can be seen. Just as the name Manning makes it clear that the Manning Institute is a conservative leaning group, the heavy involvement of occupy Calgary organizer and extreme left-wing activist Grant Neufeld in CivicCamp gives a strong indication of just how far out there the group’s ideology really is. Calling Neufeld a left-wing extremist is hardly an exaggeration when you consider that the guy wants to actually ban air-travel and compared people who use flight to travel to murderers. The hyperpartisan Green candidate for Calgary Centre (Chris Turner) is heavily involved with CivicCamp which is rather telling of the group’s nature as well.
Naheed Nenshi and his followers are ideologues and the clash that is happening in Calgary is ideological rather than partisan despite Nenshi’s attempts to deflect from that. There is an ideology that is heavily stuck on environmentalism, big intrusive government and massive increases of city density and it is pretty clear that Nenshi and some other council members are strong adherents to this ideology. This is not shadowy conspiracy, it is right in the open if people want to look at it. Nenshi helped build ImagineCalgary and the agenda is more than clear in that document. Hiring density zealots such as Rollin Stanley is among the least of the things Nenshi wants to do. Look at how fervently he wants broad municipal powers granted in a City Charter and to increase the taxation reach of the city. Nenshi needs these things if he hopes to meet the goals in ImagineCalgary.
Ideologues are inflexible and linear in the pursuit of their goals. They do not care about collateral damage on the way to what they see as an end and will stop at little to get there. Ideologues tend to be thin skinned when it comes to any critique of their agenda as was seen in Nenshi’s now legendary tantrum with a local developer.
Like it or not, we need parties and the partisanship that comes along with them. We need ideals and idealists too to set goals and broad agendas. Let’s call things what they are though and not try to hide agendas.
The only thing more troubling than an ideologue is one who is trying to hide their nature. Deflecting and pointing at the ideology of others while hypocritically pursuing one’s own ideology is hardly productive.
Among the buzzwords that have been so overused such as “vibrant” and “sustainable” is the word “transparency”. Despite that word being used so much by our Mayor, we have more in-camera council meetings than ever and the top man seems to be anything but transparent in his ideology. That is unfortunate as the ideology is what it really is all about in the end.