Live City Check-In: One-on-one with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi

In this candid conversation with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, find out how his city is dealing with the challenges of COVID-19 and what the short, medium and long-term impacts on the city could look like

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. Community building during COVID-19

Mayor Nenshi emphasized the diversity embedded within Calgary and highlighted the important role community building has had in the City’s COVID-19 response. “In times of crisis and in times of trouble, we are reminded of the importance of community building and what we can do in order to understand that even when we are physically separated, we are, in fact together and we need to be together in community in order to continue this experiment of building,” he said. He also made a direct promise to his community: “It doesn’t matter what you look like or where you come from or how you worship or whom you love, you belong here and you have the opportunity here to live a life of dignity and potential.”

2. The quintuple whammy

While Mayor Nenshi said the he expects the effects of COVID-19 on Calgary to be similar to other places in the developed world, he highlighted that Calgary is facing a “quintuple whammy” of factors that can potentially worsen the effects of COVID-19 on the city. In addition to the public health crisis, he talked about the fallout from a global recession and the ongoing challenges in the world’s energy markets, a reduction in tourism, and the delayed discussion of racism and what it means in a Canadian context.

3. Tax reform and a new fiscal federalism

Mayor Nenshi discussed the urgent need for tax reform in Calgary. “The problem here is that the property tax is grotesquely unfair. It’s a terrible way of raising revenue. It’s unfair to people on fixed incomes who happen to have lived in their house for a long time in a neighborhood that . . . suddenly became trendy,” he said. “And it’s particularly unfair for businesses, for small businesses, because they’re [municipalities] taxing you on your landlord’s wealth, not on how well your business did this year.” With regard to a new fiscal federalism, he said that he hopes COVID-19 opens up the conversation for a shift towards a new fiscal federalism in which revenues are shared in different ways.

4. Striving to end homelessness in Calgary

Homelessness is a prevalent issue faced by “4,000 Calgarians a night on any given night” according to Mayor Nenshi. In response, he posed a fundamental question: “What if at the end of the pandemic, nobody goes back to emergency shelters?” To address the prevalence of homelessness in Calgary, Mayor Nenshi proposed making Calgary the first city in North America to seriously address housing issues and “end functional homelessness through the use of rent supplements, affordable housing, permanent supportive housing for some folks and addiction treatment for some folks.”

5. A necessary shift towards being actively anti-racist

“The lived experience of Canadians in this marvelous place is different based on the colour of your skin,” remarked Mayor Nenshi. He called for a shift in the conversation of systemic racism from “being not racist to being actively anti-racist.” To illustrate his point, Mayor Nenshi highlighted a discussion he had with teenagers of differing backgrounds from Western Canada High School on the lessons they receive about driving from their parents. He candidly stated “every person of colour gets two parts of that lecture”. We have to listen to the experiences of people in our communities, but listening and learning is not enough on its own. Said Mayor Nenshi, listening and learning is the pre-requisite to the work. We have to ensure that our actions as leaders and as a community are empowering people to live up to their full potential and dignity.

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