Politicians leave Stampede duds on the shelf for 2020

Calgary’s Stampede may be the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth for its rodeo, but it’s also a chance for federal, provincial and municipal politicians to parade around the city.

With pandemic measures and without the main event, glad-handing in Calgary is at an all-time low

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi rides a horse during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary in July 2017. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Calgary's Stampede may be the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth for its rodeo, but it's also a chance for federal, provincial and municipal politicians to parade around the city.

Like many aspects of the annual 10-day event cancelled and hampered by a global pandemic, Stampede didn't draw a crowd of political party leaders, backbenchers or councillors.

An election year or not, Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt says that for some politicians, Stampede is the one time of year they make a stop in Calgary.

Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, left, and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi share a laugh at a 2013 Stampede breakfast. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

"It's probably better that there's no election on the horizon," Bratt said. "[Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau used to always come to Stampede. Now, granted, he had seats here and had events here. Now he doesn't. So he's probably, as I said, not going to regret having to come to Calgary."

Bratt said it's not just an opportunity for face time with constituents, but a big fundraising opportunity too — and likely part of the reason some parties had to apply for federal funding assistance to keep staffers employed.

Politics has always been a big part of Stampede in the past, with all eyes on photo-ops and fashion faux-pas — like showing up in loafers instead of cowboy boots, Stephen Harper's critically panned fashion choices, or when NDP Leader Rachel Notley donned her cowboy hat backwards in 2015.

"One of my other memories during the Stampede parade, back when Joe Clark in his comeback was an MP in Calgary, his vintage car stopped working so he and his people had to push it," Bratt said. "Of course that's the photo that showed up in the paper. So, the opportunity for screwing up has been removed." 

Last year, Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer flipped pancakes the same weekend former Green Party leader Elizabeth May made an appearance, both as a push for the 2019 federal election. 

Trudeau turned up later too, making two stops: one at a Laurier Club event for donors and another community breakfast. He didn't visit the grounds themselves.

In the same 10-day span, five like-minded Canadian premiers stood elbow-to-elbow flipping flapjacks, invited by Premier Jason Kenney to meet ahead of the Council of the Federation meeting.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer flips pancakes in Calgary in 2019. (Helen Pike/CBC)

This year stands in contrast. 

Without a parade to kick things off, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi didn't ride a horse this year and his first pancake flip was Friday, days before the scaled-down celebrations were set to wrap up.

He said typically he's got back-to-back events, hundreds throughout the week — this year his total will be under 10.

That kind of connection with constituents, Nenshi said, can't be replaced with zoom calls.

"We've got to figure out ways that we can continue to make sure that politicians are hearing the voices of the people because they're sure not hearing them on Twitter," Nenshi said. 

Kenney marked Stampede with a video on his Facebook.

And while there may have been drive-thru pancake events with politicians attending, they weren't well advertised this year.

On Saturday, a number of constituents and politicians attended Conservative MP Jasraj Singh Hallan's Stampede breakfast in partnership with MaKami College at Marlborough Mall.

Hallan said most of the events planned for his Stampede circuit had to be cancelled. He's still trying to be there for constituents virtually and over the phone, but in-person events are best.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, second left, hosts a Stampede breakfast with visiting premiers, left to right, Doug Ford, of Ontario, Blaine Higgs, of New Brunswick, and Scott Moe, of Saskatchewan, in Calgary in 2019. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

"Obviously all the Stampede events this year look a lot different than in the past, but we're so glad to see the spirit is still alive," Hallan said.

"It's so important to know what's happening, what are the issues on the ground."

Nenshi made a stop at the breakfast, along with Leela Aheer, Alberta's minister of culture, multiculturalism and status of women. 

"It's one of those amazing times where you get to meet folks from absolutely every walk of life and everybody's out enjoying each other together," Aheer said.

"You don't realize how lucky you are, how important that is until you just can't do that anymore."

Calgary-Forest Lawn MP Jasraj Singh Hallan delivers pancakes through a car window as part of his 2020 Stampede breakfast. (Helen Pike/CBC)

A spokesperson from Alberta's NDP wrote Stampede has always been a time for MLAs to connect with Calgarians. 

"Like many events and festivals, COVID-19 has forced the Stampede to shut down and we know that will be hard on Albertans, particularly business owners, and the arts and culture sector," the spokesperson wrote. "That's why one of the things Alberta's NDP Caucus will be doing is a virtual arts showcase to support local artists and performers." 

CBC News tried to reach the Conservative Party of Canada and did receive a response. 

In a statement to CBC News, the Liberal Party of Canada wrote while Stampede is cancelled, they are still working to make a better future for Calgary families.

"Stampede is a chance to celebrate our province's history and cultural traditions," said Morgan Breitkreutz, the director for operation in Alberta, Saskatchewan and North. "Even though we won't be together in person this year for pancake breakfasts or the parade, we'll still be celebrating what Stampede is all about."


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