You could probably do this for any two cities in Canada but since I lived in Calgary and am now back in Regina, those are the two cities I’m most familiar with.
And they truly are two cities that share many similarities – oil & gas-based economies creating boom times, comprised of many people of solid prairie stock (including the fact that the number of Sask-expats living in Calgary means it often gets called “Saskatchewan’s third largest city”) and quickly changing demographics.
As the Regina election developed over the past few months, I couldn’t help but notice the strong similarities between the top candidates in each of their most recent mayoral races as well.
In Calgary’s 2010 race, the top contenders were Ric McIver, a businessman and long-time city councilor; Barb Higgins, a well-known personality from the local arts & entertainment scene with a business education and Naheed Nenshi, a highly educated member of a visible minority group with a special interest in municipal governance.
In Regina’s 2012 race, the top contenders were Michael Fougere, a businessman and long-time city councilor; Marian Donnelly, a well-known personality from the local arts & entertainment scene with a business education and Meka Okochi, a highly educated member of a visible minority group with a special interest in municipal governance.
There was even a major building project as the top local issue in each election – construction of an airport tunnel in Calgary, construction of a new football stadium in Regina (although I don’t remember the YYC Airport Authority wading into the fray!)
In both races, the long-time city councilors were the initial front-runners but that’s where the stories diverge…
As has been well-documented, Naheed Nenshi came from a distant third-place in the last couple months of the race by using social media, a swell of grassroots support and a focus on a post-partisan approach to politics that led to him winning the top job and becoming Canada’s first Muslim mayor.
In Regina, there would be no similar come-from-behind victory for Okochi. Instead, Fougere, the initial front-runner held that position for the entirety of the race right up until election night when he was declared the winner.
So, the question I find myself asking, for all the similarities, what was different?
- Calgary has a reputation as a conservative city but the reality is that Regina is probably both more broadly conservative and more deeply conservative in many ways than Cowtown at the present time.
- This is partly because Calgary is both a much more ethnically diverse city than Regina but also a more youthful and more well-educated city as well. (There’s a good chance that Calgary Centre could give Canada it’s second Green Party MP in an upcoming by-election. Chris Turner is the author of the best non-fiction book I read last year, a regular on many of the same community web sites I visit and so I’ll take off my NDP-supporter hat for second and say that I hope he succeeds!)
- These analogies aren’t perfect – comparing Donnelly to Higgins because both were in the “entertainment” field is a bit of a stretch. Donnelly is more “arts & culture” in her background whereas Higgins was more “infotainment” in her background as a well-known Calgary supper news anchor.
- For that reason, if the race had developed differently, there’s a good chance that Okochi would’ve been the person I supported rather than Donnelly. Don’t tell anyone but my pencil even hovered over Okochi’s name for just the briefest of seconds as I filled out my ballot!
- I didn’t intend for this post to be “why did Fougere win in Regina instead of Okochi while Naheed won in Calgary instead of McIver?” but another sad reality is that I think Regina’s probably not as open to the idea of a person who’s a visible minority in the top chair – both because of the lower level of ethnic diversity in Regina generally but also unfortunately, because Regina has been identified as one of the most racist cities in Canada (and that’s a serious charge and I can’t find the citation. I think there was a study a couple years ago that found Prince Albert as the most racist city in Canada and Regina was right up there too – maybe #3? Again, even wondering how you define “most racist” but whatever Regina’s “rank” in this terrible category, it is a part of our reality.)
- In Regina, the highly popular out-going mayor was outspoken in his support of Fougere whereas in Calgary, my memory is that their highly popular outgoing mayor didn’t anoint a successor in the same way.
- Calgary 2010 had 15 candidates running but only three got more than 1% of the vote.
- Regina 2012 had 8 candidates running but in our city, a fourth, Dr. Liz Brass, managed to be the only other contender to get more than 1% of the vote. Her 5% of the vote would’ve have been enough to vault Okochi past Donnelly or Donnelly past Fougere even if all had broken for a single other candidate. But her strong campaign did add a different dynamic that didn’t exist in Calgary’s three-way race.
- Final rankings in Calgary 2010: Nenshi: 40%, McIver: 32%, Higgins: 26%
- Final rankings in Regina 2012 : Fougere: 42%, Donnelly: 32%, Okochi: 18%