Calgary

Calgary mayor hires lobbyist to help win over UCP government

Calgary's mayor says provincial government officials take his calls. However, his office has hired a lobbyist to help open doors in Edmonton.

Nenshi says government MLAs are misinformed about some Calgary issues

The City of Calgary has retained New West Public Affairs on behalf of other municipalities in the area, something Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says will help the city get information to dozens of MLAs and cabinet ministers. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Calgary's mayor says provincial government officials take his calls. However, the mayor's office has hired a lobbyist to help open doors in Edmonton.

Naheed Nenshi tells CBC News it's a more effective use of time and resources to have a government relations firm get information to dozens of MLAs and cabinet ministers than for him to do that job.

On behalf of Calgary, Airdrie and Cochrane, the mayor's office has retained New West Public Affairs. The firm's principal is Monte Solberg, a former federal Conservative MP and cabinet minister.

The firm is being paid with funds from the mayor's office alone.

The assignment: to inform the UCP government about the role of the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board (CMRB), which is currently developing a growth and servicing plan for the greater Calgary area.

According to the Alberta Lobbyist Registry, New West will do that by holding meetings, giving presentations and calling various government officials.

The target list includes the premier's office as well as the departments of municipal affairs, transportation, infrastructure and environment. Additionally, UCP MLAs will be contacted.

Tiny contract

The mayor calls it a tiny contract, one that's not expected to cost taxpayers more than $15,000.

But Nenshi calls it money well spent.

"There's been a vast misinformation campaign on what the CMRB is and does," said Nenshi. 

"So, for example, [Airdrie-East] MLA Angela Pitt recently stood up in the last week in question period and alluded to a project that the CMRB stopped — which was rejected by Rocky View County council four years before there was a CMRB."

He said it's the first time the city has hired a government relations firm during his 10 years as mayor.

Nenshi calls that partially a reflection on Premier Jason Kenney's government, rather than saying anything about Calgary.

"There are a bunch of people out there who are making a lot of money based on the fact that this province will take their calls," said the mayor.

"I have never seen a lobbyist culture like this in the provincial government before."

Nenshi said New West has been "extremely helpful" to Calgary's cause in getting factual information about the CMRB to the UCP government.

Still, at least one council member wasn't happy they weren't informed of the lobbying ahead of time, particularly as it was listed on the lobbyist's registry as representing the City of Calgary. 

Jyoti Gondek said she was also concerned that neither Airdrie, nor Cochrane, was chipping in funds. 

"I guess my larger concern is we have an intergovernmental affairs team who do very, very good work. They have a lot of good contacts and connections," she said.

Not just saving time

A political scientist calls it unusual and sad that one publicly funded organization would use taxpayers' money to lobby another publicly funded organization.

Duane Bratt, who teaches political studies at Mount Royal University, said he doesn't think this is just about saving Calgary or the mayor some time.

"It's about who he thinks they will listen to. And it's clear he has decided a lobbyist firm with ties to the provincial government is a better bet than the mayor's staff," Bratt said.

Typically, Bratt said governments have their own intergovernmental affairs staff to meet with other government officials, which paves the way for elected officials to discuss issues.

So Bratt said the fact that isn't happening on this subject says something.

"Obviously, the City of Calgary felt that they needed to do this. That the old channels were not working, the traditional channels were not working, that they needed to hire an outside group to work on their behalf," said Bratt.

Political scientist Duane Bratt says the city hiring a lobbyist suggests traditional channels between the city and the provincial government were not working. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Nenshi rejects that, saying he just doesn't have enough hours in the day to effectively lobby 28 different MLAs from the Calgary region.

"If you've got a lot of work to do and there's some smart people willing to do it for cheap, may as well use them."

Besides Monte Solberg, the province's lobbyist registry lists Matt Solberg, Michael Solberg, Sonia Kont and Keith McLaughlin as being engaged on the file.

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story said the lobbying was being done on behalf of the City of Calgary, but it is the mayor's office specifically that instituted the plan and is paying for it.
    Nov 12, 2020 3:19 PM MT

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