Calgary mayor-elect downplays egghead image

Calgary's new mayor-elect wrote the book on how to make Canadian cities work better — literally.

Harvard-educated professor co-founded citizens groups, advised Fortune 500 firms

Mayor-elect Naheed Nenshi tells the Calgary Eyeopener on Tuesday morning that he's bringing a new business model to city hall. ((CBC))

Calgary's new mayor-elect wrote the book on how to make Canadian cities work better — literally.

Naheed Nenshi — a business professor at Calgary's Mount Royal University — was the lead author of Building Up: Making Canada's Cities Magnets for Talent and Engines of Development, a 2007 report on how cities can better attract and retain young talent and become engines of economic development.

Seen as an underdog in Calgary's municipal election on Monday, 38-year-old Nenshi came from behind to get 40 per cent of the vote.

His nearest competitor, longtime alderman Ric McIver, received 32 per cent of the vote.

Speaking with CBC Radio's Calgary Eyeopener on Tuesday, Nenshi said the days of a city council fundamentally divided over almost every issue are over.

"We're going to have open, honest, fair discussions in the Calgarians' public eye, with the best possible facts on the table," Nenshi said.

"Then, we're going to make decisions, and then we're going to move on. And I am thrilled about bringing this new model into city hall."

'I think this is a pivotal turning point in Canadian politics.'— Bruce Cameron, pollster

While Nenshi's recent background is as an academic, he has also worked in the private sector. He spent a number of years with the international business consulting firm McKinsey & Company before forming his own consultancy business.

"I actually came to academia very late in life," Nenshi told CBC News in the run-up to election day. "I worked in business, in very big business, on large organizational change with Fortune 500 companies, typically on projects that had budgets of $100 million and up, for many years."

Nenshi, who holds a master's degree in public policy from Harvard University, has also advised the Calgary Foundation and the United Way.

He has been a frequent critic of city council through the Better Calgary Campaign and the CivicCamp citizens group, both of which he co-founded.

Nenshi's win shows city 'grown up': pollster

One Calgary pollster said strategists everywhere will be looking at how the Nenshi campaign managed to get out the vote.

Bruce Cameron of Return On Insight said Nenshi was able to attract groups that often don't vote.

"I think this is a pivotal turning point in Canadian politics," said Cameron. "The first time when you could identifiably say that social media, in activating a younger audience, won an election.

"In a city that traditionally — according to most media analysts — doesn't come up with a lot of surprises, this was a big one."

Cameron said the win would change a lot of perceptions about the city.

"I think that in terms of the actual positioning of Calgary on the national and international scene, this a very interesting message," the pollster said. "It sends a message that Calgary has grown up, has become a cosmopolitan urban centre that is really ready to defy the odds."