Oftentimes, crisis brings out the very best in people; when humanity is bursting with compassion.
A crisis will also make or break a leader.
It was Abraham Lincoln who said when the moment is piled high with difficulty it is then that we must rise to the occasion.
In recent days, Canadians have witnessed their fellow citizens do this over and over again as the people of Calgary and Alberta have come together to take care of their own during what has been the worst flooding in memory. Damage has been estimated in the billions of dollars, with the province’s premier, Alison Redford, predicting it will take the city and surrounding areas a decade to rebuild.
And yet amid the devastation and a state of emergency, Calgarians have impressed with their awesome display of humanity and solidarity. Their selflessness has been unfolding on our television screens, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages as Albertans embrace social media, sending messages of support and organizing volunteer efforts while inspiring each other to action. And they have acted, in glorious fashion.
They have done so under the almost otherworldly leadership of their mayor, Naheed Nenshi, who put a call out for volunteers last week and over 2,500 people came, filling a stadium.
In the past days, the Calgary mayor has been cheerleader, consoler, decision-maker. He has also scolded when he needed to. But throughout it all, Mayor Nenshi has been there: accessible, huggable and so very proud of the people of his city.
And boy did Canadian politics need such leadership, need such a political hero at such a time.
Expense scandals. Dirty politics. Eroding democracy. Election fraud. Abuse of power. Coverups. Charging charities speaking fees. Driving through stop signs. Accusations of crack cocaine use. Criminal corruption charges. Fake protesters. Fake open-line callers. Robocalls. Ninety-thousand-dollar cheques. Having your picture taken with people suspected of being involved in the drug trade.
Let’s face it. Politicians have not exactly been exemplary as of late.
Of course, there are many politicians who continue to work extremely hard to make politics about something bigger and better, but sadly their efforts have been drowned out by all the nastiness and ugliness, a good chunk of it coming straight from the top.
A true leader
The flooding in Calgary could have been an even bigger disaster without effective political leadership.
Instead, the mayor has turned a crisis into a moment of hope and courage. A moment the people of the region will be able to look back upon with pride because an entire community came together.
Mayor Nenshi has inspired his fellow citizens to rise to the occasion and, in turn, he has been inspired by their hourly acts of selflessness.
It is during times like these when we are called upon to act, not as individuals, but as neighbours, as citizens, that we see there is a different kind of political leadership. We see that our country and its people deserve so much more than the divide-and-conquer spitefulness we have been getting. And we see what people are capable of when they get it.
This is politics of hope. Mayor Nenshi has shown us all that it is not only possible, but that we are thirsty for it; parched for the real thing.
The mayor’s understanding of humanity and human kindness, his ability to reach out to people, has completely overshadowed those in leadership who lack his authenticity.
A child gave Mayor Nenshi a card last week. It said simply: “Thank you for keeping Calgary strong.”
It is no wonder he has said that his heart is full.
The handling of the crisis is a reminder that people will always respond to the real deal.
He sincerely praises public servants for going beyond the call of duty during the city’s worst crisis. He effectively scolded those few who went joyriding on the dangerous river.
He told the media that he had three jobs: making sure people
have the information to stay safe; giving people hope; and staying
out of the way as relief efforts continue.
He has also used the crisis to praise his city and its people. “This is Calgary. This is the spirit of this community.”
Since being elected, Mayor Nenshi has defied conventional wisdom. He is not a politician that can be easily labelled. He wanted to show the rest of Canada that Calgary is so much more than an oil town, but a diverse city with plenty of soul and culture.
This week, it took a crisis and a mayor’s big heart and effortless leadership for the rest of Canada to see what he meant.
We need more of this in politics. More heart.
Lana Payne is president of the
Newfoundland and Labrador Federation
of Labour. She can be reached by email at
Her column returns July 27.