David versus Goliath – the plight of the aldermanic candidate

The last few weeks as @ppilarski and I have been driving through yyc our conversation often ends up reflecting upon the aldermanic races – perhaps it’s because of all the signs we have seen, especially throughout Ward 1 (a side of the city we spend a lot of time in). The topic was natural for our first collective blog. As we banter back and forth we hope that you will engage too – and perhaps point out the points we’ve missed. Peter has written the meat of this blog – and is passionate about the topic. You’ll find my commentary in italics throughout. CR xo



Given the controversy and problems with the last city council, it amazes this political animal that more of the new aldermanic candidates aren’t gaining traction against incumbents – especially since several incumbents have opted for sleeper campaigns.  While many of the polls released thus far have the undecided vote at as high as 50 or 60 percent, several pollsters have already concluded that most of the current council will return to office.  While I don’t quite believe those polls and conclusions just yet, I can appreciate just how difficult it is for Aldermanic wannabes to get the electorate’s attention.

In a municipal campaign like the one we are experiencing in Calgary, these soldiers of democracy really are up against the world.  Sadly, many of them would make great Aldermen but will instead end up a fading memory.  In some cases, these brave people will be victims of circumstance and in others, their fate a product of their own naivety and lack of experience, team, strategy and execution.

Sleeper campaigns doesn’t even begin to describe the poor turnout from our current aldermen during this campaign. I am constantly disappointed by the lack of awareness they are sharing with their constituents. In my own ward I received a poorly put together 1 pager from my incumbent – grammatical errors and all. And I’ve heard of no one who has pounded the pavement and dedicated time to doorknocking. It’s upsetting. In my opinion, incumbent or not, it is detrimental to show you care about the people as a politician. I have more hope we will see a few upsets in these races to council.

One problem is a lack of volunteers.  With such a crowded and high profile Mayoral campaign, politically active bodies are spread thinner than the reasoning behind the need to build the over-priced Peace Bridge.  All three leading Mayoral campaigns have told me they each have about 900 volunteers.  While I don’t believe numbers are that high, there are a lot of people actively helping mayoral candidates, leaving the aldermanic races with leftovers, family members and the occasional experienced campaigner who chose to help in their own community and stay away from the big show (@crontynen and I).

I’ve really enjoyed focusing attention on an aldermanic race this time around – it really has reminded me, personally, about how important the community is. Calgary is a place made up of great communities. Our ties to them are what make our ties to this city so strong. It’s sad that more volunteers, and voters, have no idea how key an alderman is in making things happen close to home.

Money, like volunteers is very hard for these community leaders to come by.  Between mayoral campaigns, provincial political fundraisers, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and so many other organizations and causes fighting for our dolla bills, these little known candidates can’t raise the kind of capital it takes to build the brand and political machine it takes to win.

Getting recognized in such a crowded race is also extremely difficult.  There are SO many candidates in this race.  The average Calgarian’s head has got to be spinning when trying to decide who to support.  At the end of the day, the citizen do-gooder who votes in every election is most likely to check the name they remember.   Not to mention the vote splitting that will occur amongst the 6 – 12 candidates in each riding that believe they are the change the City needs.

This conversation was one we had with family over Thanksgiving. We asked one living in Ward 6 who she was voting for … the only name she could remember was her current alderman Connelly – and as we know he is attempting to fry bigger fish this time around.

Another barrier to success for many of these Candidates is the candidates themselves.  Getting elected to political office is not something you just pick up and do.  It takes planning and a lot of effort.  It takes a personality type.  It takes money and people.  Most importantly, it takes a hell of a lot of work.  I lived in the Edmonton-McClung provincial constituency before I moved to Calgary.  Rookie PC campaigner, David Xiao, managed to beat popular Liberal incumbent Mo Elsalhy.  David knocked on every door in his riding to win the PC nomination and knocked on every door again between the nomination and election.  He worked very hard, but that’s what it took to win.  David also had the benefit of the PC franchise and very strong provincial campaign.  In most cases, these aldermanic candidates are just some guy or gal that has lived in the community for a long time and knows a lot of people.

It’s becoming clear that aldermanic campaigns take 4 3 years. Strong runners up (and I’m assuming there will be a lot of them) need to keep pressing hard, keep meeting the people, keep volunteering, pounding on doors, and remaining visible. Hard work pays off – that’s karma – and I’m confident that dedication will lead to Xiao like success the next go around.

The good news is that if Calgarians pick the right person for Mayor, we should have a less noisy race next time around.  If these Aldermanic candidates are serious about getting elected, they have time to build their brand, assemble their team, and develop their strategies and policies.   They can attend events and knock on doors – take the time to listen and learn about people’s experiences and concerns.  While I strongly believe we need wholesale change at City Hall, my confidence it will happen this time diminishes daily.  Here’s to hoping I am wrong!


The ‘Real’ Calgarian Candidate on Skates: Thursday Evening with Craig Burrows

I first met Craig Burrows through a mutual friend. It was shortly after my original blog about discovering the real people behind the mayoral candidates that I “bumped” in to him at the Barley Mill in Eau Claire Market. He was immediately interested in the idea of showing people the real him. “I’m an avid golfer. When I’m trying to relax before getting to sleep I dream about being on the green,” he explained while beaming. I told him to take me out for a round – after all I’m a firm believer that everyone’s true colours come out on the course.

Time passed … and our terrible month of weather continued. Craig contacted me, personally, still eager to show Calgary the man behind the mayoral candidate. He was playing hockey at the Westside Rec Centre on Thursday evening with his team the Stumplejumpers. Yes, I did ask right away what that team name meant, and the response – “Don’t ask!”

Craig has been playing with this group of guys since the Westside Rec Centre opened. Many of his teammates are made up of the volunteers and board members that were responsible for the construction of the Centre. “I literally had to try out [for this team].” Burrows admits it was a tough crowd. But he clearly had what it took to impress them – at least it looked that way on the Thursday evening I went to watch him play.

The team very much looks like a team on the ice and on the bench. They seem to be in sync with one another, and happy to be playing together. The Stumplejumpers are in white jerseys – Craig happens to be wearing his Team Burrows jersey (I’m sure you’ve seen these if you’ve been to at least one of the many mayoral forums). No audience, no cheerleaders. It really is just men and their hockey sticks. A Thursday night away from home being guys, having fun, and letting off a week’s worth of steam. The Thursday night at 9pm ice time is ideal – late enough to spend time unwinding with the family after work and early enough to enjoy some “chicken wings and beer” after the game. “We’ve had the ice time since the Centre opened up. We were able to get it as being one of the first groups to organize. Actually, we were offered $10K for the ice time but this is so important for us that we would never sell it. Thursday at 9pm is perfect.”

This particular game was quite special for the Stumplejumpers – not just because I was there but because the CBC was covering their story as well. This hockey team stacked with real Calgarian boys were receiving their 15 minutes of fame.

The game begins.

Craig starts the game on the bench; he is chatting with the CBC reporter. The black jersey wearing team they are playing against is quite aggressive and the Stumplejumpers are a little lacking on their defence – and losing. Craig comes out in the second period after his CBC interview is completed. I couldn’t help but wonder if this reporter knew hockey … clearly not. If she were a real sports fan she would have gotten Burrows on the ice as soon as possible. You can tell a lot about a man by the way he plays hockey – I happen to know because I was one of those girls in high school that somehow always ended up dating the hockey playing type. By the way Burrows fires himself on to the ice it is clear he was itching to get out there. He successfully breaks up a play by the black team and assists a goal during his first shift. During his second shift it was clear Craig wants the puck. He is one of those guys banging his stick on the ice and constantly moving around. I was impressed that he was always looking for the pass and was quite skilled at staying open.

The game continues. You can imagine it to be similar to any amateur hockey game you’ve attended. These guys are serious but they are having fun. Craig is always congratulating team members, the first to laugh when someone (including himself) takes a tumble, and drops the occasional “f-bomb”. The last always made me laugh … wonder how many times he has wanted to let one of those slide during the mayoral forums. Burrows is overall very vocal on the ice – I would confidently call him the most vocal on his team.

He is a good hockey player; he appeared to be tiring half way through his time on the ice, but quickly caught a second wind early in the third period. He is able to play fairly long shifts, clearly an asset to the team. Burrows tells me he started playing hockey as a kid, and played Triple A his whole life. His favourite memory is when he played in front of 16000 people at the Quebec Pee Wee Tournament at 12 years old. He played hockey in university for McGill’s team but quit after school. “I quit right after until I started up again with these guys. I missed it. I love this game.”

The CBC cameraman was making his way around the entire rink during the game. He was taking shots of Burrows on the ice doing his thing. The Stumplejumpers were very conscious of this – and it was hard not to notice the fact that they were trying to give their teammate, Burrows, every opportunity they could. It was endearing. I can’t imagine this is a regular occurrence. The conversation in the locker room, whether Craig was aware or not, was about making their buddy look good. This speaks volumes to me about the attention and respect Craig commands from his hockey playing peers. Craig took every opportunity his boys gave him – including assisting on several goals, and a pretty sweet breakaway ending with a shot on net that bounced off the post.

The last thing I ask Craig is about his favourite NHL hockey player. His team is the Flames (as a sports fan running for Calgary’s mayor I’d say he better be…), and favourite player is Jarome Iginla. “He is a modern day Gordie Howe. If you don’t understand, then you don’t know hockey!” he continues by talking about the Flames. “My fav team is hands down the Flames – no broken ankles from jumping on and off the bandwagon for me.” He says this with a big smirk on his face.

The real Craig Burrows? I’m impressed by him. And surprised by the lack of attention he has gotten in this race. He is clearly a ‘real’ Calgarian boy. Passionate about the city the way he is passionate about hockey. He is respected by his team mates – an indicator of his character. He is true to his commitments – obviously a valuable member of this team, and obviously in campaign hyper drive he makes sure he is at the game giving his all. He is the teams on ice captain – seeing opportunities and playing strategically. His mind is sharp – he is a politician, a planner, and eager. If his real life on ice tactics translate in to his abilities in the mayoral arena I can see why this team agrees he would be the right choice to lead this city.

CR xo


(this has been cross-posted from CalgaryPolitics.com on October 11, 2010)

‘Real’ Conversation with a ‘Real’ Calgarian: Saturday Night with Naheed Nenshi

It’s Saturday evening, I’m sitting on the couch with iPhone in hand. I was awaiting an important email – an email from Naheed Nenshi.

His “people” had originally planned a get together a week ago – was suppose to be a casual morning meeting at his favourite Calgary cafe. A few days beforehand I received an email rescheduling for the following Saturday night; Mr. Nenshi needed a tag along to the Calgary International Film Festival Closing Gala. My casual coffee had turned in to a night out on the town … I was assured that I would get a chance to see the real Naheed in his element.

“Ding” – it was the email I had been waiting for.

“9:30. And bring a plus-one. We’ll talk our way in. I’m wearing a suit but dress hip and cool if you like … ”

I already had a big spoonful of the man behind the candidate. He is emailing me directly and including smiley faces, and encouraging me that getting in would be no problem – I could only assume that he was just as excited for this meeting of the minds as I was.

As any 20-something girl would do I ran to my closet and tried to personify hip and cool. As well as texting my plus-one (@ppilarski) making sure he was doing the same. I settled on a dress and blazer; in my mind typical Saturday night on the town citizen-blogger attire.

Walking down 8th Avenue towards Seven Restolounge I can already hear Nenshi politicking. His easily recognizable voice was meeting and greeting passersby as he waited for us. Big smile, big confidence, and big energy. He knew it was me right away – I was flattered. He explains that this really is a typical event for him to attend. “I’m a big movie buff. I usually have a pass to the Film Festival and spend the entire 10 days watching films. This year I wasn’t so lucky because there is tons of work to do.” He’s not kidding – with the election a little more than 2 weeks away his time needs to be spent on meeting the people and GOTV-ing.

This place is hip – and its guests certainly are what I would define as the cool of Calgary. We walk in and immediately Nenshi is greeted by several different people. But these people aren’t recognizing him from his big purple signs … these are his people. They are excited for him, relaxed around him, and all willing to spend time helping him. Throughout the entire evening we watched this candidate being embraced by Calgary’s film community: From old acquaintances yelling, “This Guy! This Guy for Mayor!” over the loud music, to lots of hugs and canoodling. This was a glimpse of his social circle and it was increasingly clear that whether he was running for mayor or not he was the big man on this campus. “I’d normally be talking film here. I would have just seen the last movie and came over to meet with my peers and pick it a part. Instead I’m talking politics. This is just as important.”

Between his chats with gala attendees he surprised me by how much he knew about me. He took genuine interest in what I was doing online through this series of blogs; it was clear that he had read what I had posted to date. He also knew of my political background with the PC Party and a few tidbits about my MA work. Needless to say this was impressive to me. Having this information allowed our conversation to flow, he knew where to meet me on certain points, and he knew what questions to ask of me. This was something I asked for in my first blog … I was curious how a mayoral candidate would engage someone like me. After all as a voter I shouldn’t have to do all the work … they are the ones after my checkmark! At this point, of course, I wonder if he just has great staffers with the ability to brief him as if he were a provincial Minister.

“We have no one on a paid salary. My entire campaign is made up of volunteers. It’s incredible to me and I still don’t believe it.” He goes on to explain that volunteers are made up of people from all political persuasions, from all pockets of the city, and even from outside Calgary. It is clear he is overwhelmed by the support he is receiving, and has been receiving since he made his official announcement to run in April of this year. “We weren’t going to do any door knocking. We just figured it would be impossible to cover all the doors while trying to prioritize everything else. But we have had so many respond to our continued call for volunteers we’ve been able to start getting them out to doors.”

By this time in the evening I had bumped in to a former student. She was volunteering for the Festival and was a bit of a lost sheep that evening. Nenshi invited her to tag along with us. He didn’t think twice and treated her as if he knew her well. I was impressed that he was so natural around people … all people. So natural in fact he was invited upstairs to a private birthday party. Upstairs he does more politicking – including with a former student who thought it was “neat” that his former prof was taking a run for the mayor’s office.

As Nenshi chatted, I found myself in a strange conversation with a Calgarian making sure he was making the most out of his Saturday night. This almost coherent conversation came to an end when Naheed whisked us away to sit and finally chat one on one. “Looked like you needed some rescuing,” very perceptive of him and appreciated by me. The four of us sit down, @ppilarski, my former student, myself and Nenshi. He has a diet Coke in hand, while my beau and I finish our beers (I’m a born and raised Calgarian girl, you shouldn’t expect I’d be drinking anything else).

Naheed is giving me his utmost attention. Hands folded on top of his glass and his chin resting on top. The only word I can use to describe his posture is cute. He begins telling me his story of beginning to search for the perfect mayoral candidate; those searching with him began realizing he was exactly what they were all looking for. “When Dave announced he would not seek re-election my phone was ringing off the hook. People asking when I would be announcing I was running. People asking if I was running. And people telling me they needed to meet with me as soon as possible so they could convince me to run.” After conversations with family and close friends it was clear that a run at mayor was something Nenshi needed to do. He was, and is, confident he can usher in the change the city needs. So confident in fact he believes it is a two horse race: McIver and himself. He repeated this several times throughout the evening.

For the next hour we talked provincial politics, aldermanic races, towing party lines, social media, Calgary, and Calgarians. He was open, transparent, and honest. He let me know his honest opinions when I asked. It was like talking to a friend. No awkward pauses, moments, just a fluid conversation.

I was impressed that Naheed Nenshi really did let this Calgary blogger see the real him. The real Nenshi is a passionate guy – passionate about his friends, his students, his network, and this city. “I was just a kid who grew up in NE Calgary. I know what it is like to live in this city, to make this city your home. I’ve lived here longer than any of the other mayoral candidates.”

I was most impressed that he gave me so much time. Just as I was impressed that Derek McKenzie was so conscious of being late. To me time is the most important thing you can give to someone. He was never rushed or looking at his watch. At midnight we all decided to call it a night, very Cinderella of us.

CR xo


(this has been cross-posted from CalgaryPolitics.com on October 8, 2010)

A ‘Real’ Candidate becomes a ‘Real’ Voter: Coffee with Derek McKenzie

I’m going on my seventh year of roaming the halls of the University of Calgary. As a Masters student I don’t get out much … around campus that is. Yesterday was the first time in a long while I had headed out of my office and over to Mac Hall, a hub for undergraduate students – they gather there for the essentials of university including: books, bathrooms, burgers, beer, babes, and coffee (by the buckets full).  Derek McKenzie, recent mayoral race dropout, was going to meet me at Tim Horton’s for an afternoon caffeine rush before his 3 o’clock class.

McKenzie had set up this meeting with me nearly a week ago. It was his way of responding to my previous blog. He wanted to show me his real self. He wanted Calgarians to meet the single-dad behind the politician. When my TweetDeck lit up with notification that he had called the race quits Monday morning I was nervous my first blog interview would be cancelled – but he very much still wanted to share his experiences with me. That excited me; this guy, busy guy, still wanted to make time for a young Calgary blogger.

Just as I began getting thirsty Derek appeared – right on time. His striped scarf, glasses, and bag certainly helped him play the role of the student well. He picks up the tab for my peppermint tea and his XL coffee. Conscious of the time Derek suggests we walk and chat through the university. He doesn’t want to be late for his class. I make a brief note to self about his dedication to anti-tardiness. Something rare among political types; in my experience many forget that your time (and in this case his teacher’s time) is just as valuable as their own.

As we walk Derek explains to me that he is definitely the quirkiest on out of his network. His “real life” circle of family and friends were taken by surprise at his decision to run for the mayor’s seat – but he explained they quickly came to terms with the fact that this is just something Derek would be crazy enough to do. His mom finally took him seriously when the website went up and flyers went out. His son was over the moon to see his dad in the Herald … but not excited enough to make it his show and tell at school.

“I’m a weekend dad. Campaigning takes away from the only time I have with my son,” says McKenzie. His decision to pull out had a lot to do with that. At this point in his son’s life he needs to be around as much as possible. “It wasn’t an easy choice. I didn’t sleep this weekend.”

He did very much want to lead this city though. We walked through the crisp September air (where the heck did the sun go anyways?) and he explained that the job of the mayor will be a challenge, one that he was up for. “The mayor has to be willing to herd,” McKenzie explains. He believes that the job of the mayor isn’t just another voice on council, but the voice that is able to bring all the voices together, make tough, but firm, decisions on split-votes, and “herd” aldermen together in to a strong, reliable team.

“The future of Calgary has always been important to me. I truly wanted to make a difference in City Hall and affect the future. The future depends on what we are doing now.” At the point in our conversation I saw Derek McKenzie: dad, show his true colours. His investment in the city’s future was pure, genuine, passionate, and came from a place that only a parent could conjure.

McKenzie’s platform had a strong focus on sustainability. His work in the past for the PC Party included drafting energy policy, his current research on water, and his future ambitions to look at air all demonstrate to me that he is invested in a sustainable future, or at least in understanding it. He wasn’t just trying to get attention by using a sexy word. “I take the train to university. I carpool every morning.”

Derek expressed how lucky he felt to be a part of the race the last several weeks. In regards to my quest to find the real people behind the candidates, he said he had been given the opportunity to do exactly that. “My opinions about some candidates have definitely changed.” He was surprised by the kindness of some and annoyed by the sliminess of others. “I got to see most of the people behind the politicians.” The ones that didn’t seem to have a real person behind the political face did not impress him.

So what’s next?

McKenzie has decided to support Naheed Nenshi for mayor. “I will be supporting him in whatever capacity I can, and I will definitely be attending future forums”. Derek sent an email to Nenshi’s office early Monday morning and quickly received a reply from the man himself. Derek feels that Nenshi would provide the change this city needs and did see a real person, with real passion behind the politician.

Personally McKenzie feels as if he has become more polished, and more prepared for the world of politics. “I’ve gotten to sit down with so many people, businesses and boards. This opportunity has allowed me to meet people and to get a sense of what it is to speak and truly get your ideas across in an effective way to a room full of people. “

At this point Derek and I are sitting in his classroom. It’s beginning to fill up and the clock is counting down. With a few minutes left he tells me about a friend he wrestled with on his high school team. “He said once that people never really care where you’ve been; people care about the relationship they have with you. That’s what politics is all about for me; relationships with people. I want to understand people, and I want them to understand me. That’s how you make a great city greater.”

After a line like that it was no surprise to hear that McKenzie had put his name forward for the nomination of the PC MLA candidate in the constituency of Calgary-Varsity. He sent an email with his intentions to run immediately after his email explaining he would not be running for mayor. What do I think about this? It’s great. After sipping a hot drink with this ex-mayoral candidate it is clear to me he is passionate about more than winning an election, but the ‘real’ Derek McKenzie is passionate about making our world a better place.

We raise our drinks, “Cheers!” and I’m gone … back to my office.

This ‘real’ mayoral candidate drop-out is now a ‘real’ voter, ‘real’ Nenshi volunteer, and ‘real’ hopeful for provincial nominee.

My search continues … inspire me candidates. Do you eat pizza on Friday night? Get nervous before a speech? Why are you running and why has your life led to this point?

CR xo


(this has been cross-posted from CalgaryPolitics.com on September 22, 2010)

It’s Saturday Night… Do you know where your Mayoral Candidates Are?

I sit up on a Saturday evening … and like the nerdy, politically astute female I am I wonder what my mayoral candidates are up to. Saturday night is the stereotypical date night; the night away, the night off, the night checked out from the world of politics.

Looking through my TweetDeck I find that the hashtag #nomnomnom brings me to find individuals enjoying funnel cake, chocolate chip cookie dough, and @eliz_rocks enjoying “deep fried cheese curds”. Obviously the single people of the world are connecting via terrible food this evening. I flip over to #yycvote and find that people are all a buzz talking about Burrows’ hired plane circling GlobalFest with a “Vote Burrows” banner behind it (via @djkelly), Kent Hehr at his fundraiser being interviewed by one of our own, @oberhoffner, and Hawkesworth reminding us to sign up for his fundraiser supporting a sustainable Calgary … whatever that means.

But aren’t our candidates real people? How do they enjoy their Saturday night … honestly …

I ponder the idea of the rich, successful, suave politician – entering an exclusive Calgary bar (do we even have one?), talking to the “common folk” with a martini, a smirk, and all the right answers. I feel myself instantly being swayed as I hear their vision for a better Calgary and realize that they like going out and socializing just like I do on a Saturday night. They are honest and not bashful about the fact that they are just as typical as I am in this city.

Now the nail is hit on the head – why haven’t I picked a candidate to support yet? Why haven’t I been wooed by a potential front runner? Why haven’t I gotten excited about the potential of a future leader in Calgary? It all comes down to the fact that I just can’t see these candidates as real people.

Ok – a bit harsh, I know. So I open up the video file of the last mayoral forum online. I witness Craig Burrows talking about growing up as a boy in neighbourhood of minorities, Joe Connelly being excited about wearing Pilipino garb, Nenshi giving the same speech I saw on his YouTube video, McIver saying no, and Barb Higgins reminding me I was but a little person that she was willing to listen to. I imagine sitting down for coffee with each of the 14 candidates … what would they think of me? A born and raised 23 year old graduate student at the University of Calgary, passionate about social media and excited about the future of this city. I know what I would ask them, but I wonder what they would end up asking me. A key idea that we often overlook; we always have questions for them – but really they should have questions for us too. We are the people they want to represent.

And as I strive to make a decision about which candidate to support, I realize I am looking for an actual person. I’m curious if they are sitting on TweetDeck on Saturday night, or out with a loved one, or sharing their evening with a room of passionate volunteers. I realize that I’m looking for a real person to represent me; someone who understands that it is important to be honest and authentic when answering questions on Twitter and key to be assuming that the average Calgarian has never heard their name before.

I keep looking to Twitter for glimpses of this real person. Hoping for responses to questions that don’t sound negotiated or developed by staff; replies to direct messages for coffee invitations; twit pics featuring their Saturday night enjoying this marvelous city. Where are these indications of real people? Am I missing something? Or are my fellow Calgarians waiting for the same thing?

Why do I want a real person representing this city? Because I’m a real person – my parents are real people – my colleagues are – and my friends are. I want someone who gets what it is like to be in Calgary on a Saturday night and truly feel privileged to be here.

Candidates – I’m waiting to hear why you love this city. Of course it is because of the great people – but why? Why are you the real person that should represent Calgary? And why are you the real person that should win over my support and admiration? Why are you the mayor that is willing to support me, the passionate citizen?

Inspire me mayoral candidates … I’m begging for it.

CR xo


(this has been cross-posted from CalgaryPolitics.com on September 1, 2010)