Calgary’s incumbent mayor called the election campaign’s first debate “remarkably unenlightening,” despite two hours of answering questions on hot-button issues.
Naheed Nenshi said his five challengers were dodging questions by not giving clear answers during the forum Tuesday night at Mount Royal University. More than one hundred people attended the event held at the new Riddell Library and organized by MRU’s student’s association.
Mount Royal political science professor, Lori Williams, served as the debate moderator and pressed candidates on issues such as the southwest BRT, secondary suites, issues of diversity, Truth and Reconciliation and marijuana legalization. Along with Nenshi, candidates Andre Chabot, Bill Smith, Emile Gabriel, David Lapp and Larry Heather attended the forum, while Curtis Olson, Jason Achtymichuk and Stan the Man Waciak did not attend.
At one point, the atmosphere in the room became a little stiff when Smith was answering the first question on the topic of the southwest BRT and referred to Mount Royal as a college. However, he did quickly apologize after Williams corrected him on the slip.
When asked about increasing diversity on council, the all-male forum of candidates mainly skirted the issue on how there are no women running for mayor and there are only two women currently sitting on council.
Nenshi, however, pointed out historically there have only been five non-white members of city council, with two currently serving, adding he’s passionate about having more women run for public office.
“I’m embarrassed we have the lowest number of women on our city council that we’ve had in generations and I hope in this election people vote for the best candidate and I’m thrilled to see so many women and minority candidates running,” said Nenshi.
But Smith said he doesn’t see a need to separate out males and females or any ethnic group, a comment which received a mixed reaction from the crowd.
“I think a lot of it comes down to mentoring and you just have to take the time to help people out,” said Smith.
When asked whether the candidates would implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action on Indigenous issues, Gabriel said he could not comment on the question as he has not seen the report.
“What I would say is, reconciliation is a very important issue and I would work with First Nations to enhance the work of conservation and create a more healthy society,” said Gabriel.
Lapp said Truth and Reconciliation is a very sensitive issue and has experience working in homeless shelters where many clients have Indigenous backgrounds.
“However, every culture matters, every group matters and I believe that when you look at it from an organizational standpoint, there has to be a balance,” said Lapp.
“Not everything that certain reserves want, they will get, but if they are reasonable partners, the City of Calgary will work with them.”
With the legalization of recreational marijuana slated for next summer, candidates discussed where and how people in Calgary will be able to access it.
Chabot is concerned about the logistics of legalization and how it will be enforced once legalized.
“To date there hasn’t been anything that’s been proven that’s going to be effective in determining the level of intoxication,” said Chabot.
“And from a planning perspective, we need to make sure that it’s dispensed in proper fashion - maybe in liquor stores, but I’m not sure that’s the ultimate solution.”
Nenshi said on the retail perspective, they are advocating for a system that looks like liquor stores as well as people being able to grow up to four plants in their own home.
“I personally would not like to see marijuana retailing happening on campuses, I’d like to see how that would work. As for marijuana lounges, likely they would run afoul of our secondhand smoke laws.”
Candidates have three and a half weeks until the Oct. 16 election to get their voice out and engage citizens across Calgary. The next mayoral forum is Wednesday night at the University of Calgary.
- By Anna Junker