Inspirational Mayors? Look west

Canada is home to many successful, commendable civic leaders

In the past couple of weeks, and by the time this goes to print, I’m sure you’ve heard about the story and scandal engulfing the city of Toronto and the bizarre yet rather (un)predictable behavior its mayor, Rob Ford. 

Engulfed in a crack cocaine scandal, it is safe to say that 2013 is definitely a year when Googling the term “Canadian Mayor” or “scandal” consistently produces entertaining results. From Ford in Toronto, to Sam Katz’s choices of dining in Winnipeg, it has not been a positive year for Canadian mayors. 

Let’s try to stay focused for a moment, however, and pretend that this column isn’t purely about the antics of these civic leaders. While Canadian mayors east of Regina continue to befuddle us, lets consider the active roles of a new generation of Canadian mayors, currently holding office in Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton, all of whom are extremely pragmatic and govern with a progressive urbanist focus.

In Vancouver, it might not surprise you that the Mayor, Gregor Robertson, is in favour of environmental sustainability and strong urban policy. In a progressive vein, Robertson recently announced that his government will provide 102 new units of social housing, in addition to 67 additional units of new affordable housing. In an age where even the Royal Bank of Canada is noting that houses are less affordable than ever, Robertson shows a clear vision of governance in constructing policy that actually helps the average citizen that he is elected to serve.

In Alberta, Naheed Nenshi was recently re-elected in a landslide victory in Calgary and 34 year-old Don Iveson is taking the reins in Edmonton in an historically conservative dominated province. Both mayors show a strong urban sensibility in their desire to take on development in sprawling cities, while also working to expand rapid transit services.

For Nenshi in Calgary, this means facilitating an interactive budgeting process. In that city, 20,000 Calgarians participated in directing its long term fiscal plan. Secondly, Nenshi has been active in improving the C-Train, the Light Rail (LRT) system for Calgary, especially towards the southeast quadrant of the city, while also making large investments in cycling advocacy and infrastructure. At the same time, he has taken on developers and started to charge them the full rate for the costs of their developments.

In Edmonton, newly elected mayor Don Iveson has also focused on the expansion of the city’s LRT system, from the one existing line to a system that encompasses rapid transit for the entire city. Five total lines are slated for completion by 2030. Combined, the estimated cost of LRT expansion in both cities is projected at over $23 billion, of which both Iveson and Nenshi are jointly lobbying the province to help fund.

So while the headlines may be dominated by what Mayors shouldn’t be doing, remember: there are several mayors in this country that focus on providing strong, competent governance and a long term vision for their cities. It might be worth while to follow what they’re up to.

Zach Fleisher studies politics at the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 68, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 13, 2013)

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