Nenshi cut his teeth on civic politics by opposing sale of ENMAX
By Julie Vincent
Calgarians should use their own expertise to make change in their communities. That was the message Mayor Naheed Nenshi brought to some 250 people gathered at Mount Royal University’s Leacock Theatre Thursday over the lunch hour.
Obviously enjoying a return to his academic turf, Nenshi talked about expertise, innovation, community involvement and change.
With a brush of the off-beat humour he is known for, and going well over his allotted time, Nenshi quipped, “Even though I am a very, very, very smart guy, there may be other people who understand stuff better than I do; and that is the challenge.”
Known for his collaborative leadership style, Nenshi was forthright in his assertion sometimes he isn’t the right expert for a given decision.
“Community leadership means exactly that: that the leadership has to live within the community,” he said. “That is how we can really take control and ownership of our own expertise.”
On his return to Calgary in 2001, after a decade of what he termed “a very nomadic life,” Nenshi committed to becoming an active part of the community of Calgary.
“I realised I had some ability to influence change in this community and I’m going to use my voice to do that,” he said.
Despite his career as a beloved professor at Mount Royal University, where he is still employed but on sabbatical, and his current gig as mayor for Calgary, Nenshi suggests he is no more or less able than any citizen to effect change in the community.
“Politicians always say you should write them a letter and people always say young people should be more involved,” Nenshi said.
So, he he did just that. He found says he found ways to be involved and engage communities.
The mayor says much of his attitude stems from understanding what really matters, and finding other people to get into the conversation.
“Who am I?” Nenshi asked; “I’m some kid from Marlborough who happened to have become a professor.”
Referring to his foray into civic business, Mayor Nenshi related the story of having written a letter to Calgary city council stating that a certain then-for-sale city utility was vastly undervalued. Nenshi admits at the time knowing nothing about utilities, but, having worked in finance, he had some expertise in that area.
“I looked at the amount the city was going to get for utility and I thought, ‘that’s way too low!'” he said.
Instead of saying “I must be wrong,” Nenshi sent his letter to a friend, a finance professor, who confirmed his calculations.
“I didn’t wait for an ‘expert’ to tell me what to do,” he noted, adding the experts who should have known better, didn’t. As a result of his taking action, sale of the utility became a key issue of that year’s civic election and the sale did not proceed.
During the question period following his address, one of Mayor Nenshi’s former students summed up his views on personal expertise by saying, “So, I should stop sending you my questions and start sending somebody else my answers?” to which Nenshi responded an enthusiastic, “I love it!”