Calgarians and their mayor rise to the occasion

Lana Payne
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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.

Until now.


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

Twitter: @lanampayne

Her column returns July 27.

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Jay
    July 02, 2013 - 15:36

    Have we, as Newfoundlanders, become so petty, bitter, and jealous that we can't tip our hats to residents of a province which just went through a terrible disaster with grace and courage. I lived in Calgary years ago and I still remember the kindness and courtesy which the people showed to Newfoundlanders while I was there. In a similar vein, I've read the posts about our own disaster in western |Labrador (the forest fire) and all I see is whining and complaining about what government didn't do. No wonder Harper talked about our culture of defeat.

    • david
      July 03, 2013 - 08:56

      Standing O.

  • david
    July 02, 2013 - 12:16

    Today's news item: recreational fishermen in Calgary, volunteer protectors of the wonderful Bow River resource ---- mostly non-millionaires ----- are busy trying to save dozens of trapped fish and get them back into the Bow River. Ponder this one: What would wonderful Newfoundlanders be doing here in the same scenario?

  • Townie
    June 30, 2013 - 11:06

    Lets all pitch in and send money to oil rich Alberta to help the people with millions dollar homes who failed to get proper flood insurance!

    • david
      June 30, 2013 - 12:41

      Well, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it. The quintessential Newfoundland ungrateful jerk. A complete, smug, allegedly ex-parasite. Forget the simple unavailability of flood insurance....look that one up for yourself. Let me ask you a question: how do you think those "millionaires" got to be that way? Better EI? Unionizing, and crippling the economy with long strikes for more money every few years? Owned cable TV or KFC franchises, like the HOF titans of Newfie commerce? Lottery winnings? What else could it possibly be?

    • red
      June 30, 2013 - 13:25

      Townie, nowhere in Canada can you get insurance for overland flooding. Not all the people who got flooded out are rich or working in the oilfield. Since the cost of living is so high in Alberta there are alot of working poor who lost their homes. I hope this isn't the attitude of all townies. These are the sort of comments that tourists should pay attention to because it is becoming the attitude of NL'ers lately.

    • david
      July 01, 2013 - 14:17

      Red: Good post. One issue......the idea that things here should or must be done, or not done, or thought, or considered primarily with an eye towards impressing the "tourists". Why is it that these seasonal transients among us must be shown a "fake" Newfoundland, an image of a province that is better than the reality? Where else are people urged to hide their true colours for the sake of complete strangers? Especially for those who claim this place is so great as it is, why do we have this collective urge to deceive people about how things really work here, and what people really think?

  • crista
    June 29, 2013 - 14:17

    It has nothing to do with any Governments do it David, would you like your mind refreshed and not saying nothing about the Calgarians and has nothing to do with Governments do it???? reading comments???? and you did not do to bad for your self when it comes to admitting and revealing, another cent or two????

  • Glenn Jarvis
    June 29, 2013 - 12:29

    Did someone leave David's cage open again? Sounds like Wild Rose spouting off.

  • chantal
    June 29, 2013 - 09:24

    Considering your hatred for everything Newfoundland, perhaps you should consider moving there. You might be a happier man.

    • david
      June 29, 2013 - 10:09

      Ah, socialist stalker who can never win her arguments on merit! But no matter, this is another trait of the thin-skinned Newfoundlander....."You don't share our myopic view of the world? Well then take your fancy, educated thoughts, your potentially mind-expanding opinions, any world experience you might have, and get out!" We prefer to have a completely homogenous, albeit severely under-educated, debilitatingly inward-looking society that is oblivious to any modern society values. And this obviously works just fine. Just look around you. Why, anyone could easily mistake this place for Singapore. or Disneyland, or Silicon Valley! Shout down and eradicate any higher IQ types....makes the rest of us look bad! And that's really the nub of it isn't it, Chantal? (Incidentally, I always marvel how you can pass the same destroyed wharf every spring, getting rebuilt in the exact same spot, the exact same way after the winter storms.....Doing the exact same thing, over and over and over, expecting a different result. The definition of insanity.)

    • david
      June 29, 2013 - 10:34

      BTW, does one take a compliment of Calgary and twist it around into an implicit "hatred" of Newfoundland? You've admitted and revealed a lot about your own thoughts on this place, honey....not mine.

    • Jeffrey
      June 29, 2013 - 12:23

      I'd say, David that your response only served to underline Chantal's point. Psychologists call it 'projecting.'

    • david
      June 30, 2013 - 12:51

      Jeffrey: Thanks for the dimestore diagnosis. But psychology? You really want to go there, on this tangent of a sub-thread? Newfoundland delusions, grandiose mythologies, deliberate misperceptions, over-sensitivity and defensiveness, mental isolationism, bullying... Really? You think you got a 'winner' here?

  • david
    June 29, 2013 - 08:21

    If you'd spent any time at all in Calgary, you'd know that the people would react EXACTLY as they have, and it has nothing to do with any level of government, or who or what the mayor was or did. Calgary is Canada's greatest city, a beacon of self-reliance, of can-do resourcefulness, of personal ambition and accountability, of independence, and of community spirit. Calgarians expect very little from government: just get out of our way, we can do better without the BS and meddling. People have "accused" Calgary of being more American in its character than Canadian....all I know is that Canada needs a lot more Calgary's.