Calgary has sworn in its first female mayor. A week earlier, less than 24 hours after winning the mayoral race, she gave her first post-election talk-radio interview to Ryan Jespersen, mostly involving a series of softball questions. He asked her the obligatory woke questions about her gender and skin colour. Toward the end, he asked what her “top priority” and “first order of business” would be. What would she “sink her teeth into” upon arrival? Punctuating the question with more immediacy, Jespersen sought to hear about “the first thing that would come across [her] desk.”
It is worthwhile to transcribe verbatim her response for content as well as for attitude.
“We [Calgary city councillors] have had a chance to declare a climate emergency for years. We have had various documents presented to us as a council and I think we have had more than enough time to review them. So let’s get serious, let’s declare this and let’s start going after the capital that we will see flow in once we make a bold move like that.”
The dream of transitioning away from hydrocarbons, though not entirely without merits, is always overstated. Its radical proponents in the Prime Minister’s Office, for instance, believe that its advent will only be expedited with the destruction of the oil and gas industry. To her credit, the new mayor did take the time to say her climate emergency and oil and gas production are not mutually exclusive “ideas.”
Ideas are the place where ideologues reside. Although the mayor believes that the emergency declaration will, almost by incantation, generate money for Calgary, she did not elaborate how. But mentioning money counters the reality she likely knows. Her wish—which many have understood as a declaration of war on the oil and gas industry in Alberta—would simultaneously decrease investment and prompt a flight of capital. She concealed the reality of money leaving with the idea of unspecified money arriving.
Curiously, the mayor did not say what her climate emergency declaration really means or how it will help the environment. The omission raises the question as to whether the emergency she wants has anything to do with the environment. Politicians now know well that “emergencies” give them new powers. Do Calgarians want to give anyone powers to create new environmental decrees on top of the existing health decrees?
And while we are on decrees, some say the new mayor is Naheed Nenshi 2.0, giving her an unwarranted level of independence from her predecessor. She seems more like a Nenshi 1.1. After working with Nenshi, the new mayor tacitly slammed him for lacking the required seriousness about the environment. She hints that she possesses the courage to do what Nenshi failed to do for years. The indirect Nenshi smear rings hollow, however. It presents as a disingenuous attempt to distance herself from him.
But is the new mayor different? Given that the emergency declaration is her first order of business, the apparent rush to declare it is highly disrespectful to the newly elected councillors, who are in the majority. There are 11 new councillors who don’t have the mayor’s familiarity with the “documents presented to…Council” and have not likely had time to ponder their content and consult with their constituents.
In addition to her implied uncollegial disrespect for new councillors, the move is devious and condescending to Calgary’s citizens. The new mayor’s dream climate emergency declaration came as a surprise. There was no reference to “emergency” among her three top priorities on her campaign website, and only a veiled bromide about “bold action” on the environment. It did appear as her second priority on a CTV News candidate’s page, so while the notion was not entirely concealed, she made no effort to put it at the forefront as her “first order of business.”
Announcing one’s top priority after the election is manipulatively undemocratic. The unstated subtext is that Calgarians need not bother debating the climate emergency the mayor wants to impose on them. She knows what’s best for Calgarians. Even before taking the oath of office, the new mayor gave herself the authority to declare war on the city’s most beneficial industry without a real mandate for “a bold move like that.”
As an attention-catching gimmick, her announcement worked. But municipal jurisdiction is in the mundane realm of streets, sidewalks, garbage and other pedestrian but importantly practical issues that affect real lives. Her straight flight to abstract planetary issues does not portend well for Calgary’s immediate future.
Marco Navarro-Génie is president of the Haultain Research Institute and senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. With Barry Cooper, he is co-author of COVID-19: The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic (2020).
Photo by Donovan Kelly from Pexels.