Nenshi's legal bill fundraising finds support outside Calgary

The committee that's raising money so Mayor Naheed Nenshi can repay the city for covering his legal bill is finding success, outside of Calgary.

Committee finding cash in Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto

The city agreed to cover the $300,000 cost of defending Naheed Nenshi against a defamation lawsuit filed by home builder Cal Wenzel, which Nenshi requested the city order him to repay. (CBC)

The committee that's raising money so Mayor Naheed Nenshi can repay the city for covering his legal bill is finding success — outside of Calgary.

The city agreed to cover the $300,000 cost of defending Nenshi against a defamation lawsuit filed by home builder Cal Wenzel.

That suit was settled out of court.

However, city council decided last year — at Nenshi's request — to order the mayor to repay the city that same amount.

So far, the arms-length committee of volunteers has raised more than $200,000.

Documents obtained through a freedom of information request have more information about those donors.

Of 61 donations to the fundraising effort this year, just six came from Calgary.

Hello Edmonton!

The mayor seems to have fans in the Edmonton area. 

The committee pulled in 30 donations from the Alberta capital and 11 more from nearby communities like Sherwood Park and St. Albert.

Five donations came from the Lower Mainland of B.C. One donation of $300 came from the tiny community of Chetwynd, B.C.

There was also a $2,500 supporter in the Toronto area.

In 2016, 94 per cent of the funds raised came from Calgarians.

It's a different story so far in 2017. Calgary donations only accounted for about a third of the total. A full two-thirds of the money came from outside of the city this year.

Although the city has not released the donors' names, Nenshi has committed to making public the identities of anyone who gives more than $100 — once the fundraising effort is concluded.

Unlike provincial rules for municipal election candidates — which prohibit out-of-province donations — there is no rule against the committee taking in money from outside of Alberta to cover Nenshi's debt.

Is it about Nenshi or the fundraisers?

Political scientist Lori Williams said without more detail, it's hard to know why more cash is coming in from out of town. 

She said it could be related to a drop in Nenshi's popularity shown in recent public opinion polls.

"It might also have something to do with the fact that there are a handful of people that are fundraising through their own networks," said Williams.

"This may tell us more about their networks than it does about what's happening in Calgary."

Nenshi had intended to repay the full amount by the end of 2016.

In a May 2016 letter to Nenshi approving his proposed fundraising plan, city council's ethics advisor Alice Woolley wrote: "The year-end deadline seems reasonable."

Concurrent fundraising campaigns

Nenshi recently kicked off fundraising efforts for his re-election campaign.

Williams pointed out that means Nenshi has two fundraising efforts going with his name on them at the same time. She expects he'll want the legal fee matter resolved as soon as possible.

"The longer this goes on, the more likely it will be on people's radar as they go into the next election," said Williams.

"It's clearly not going to help his candidacy. I don't know how badly it will hurt it, but if at all possible, he wants to get this out of the way before people start thinking about the October election."

The fundraising effort is being led by businessman Dean Koeller.

Last month, he said he thought there would have been more people willing to donate. 

"We're finding the supporters. It just hasn't been as quick and easy as we thought it would be."

If non-Calgarians want to pay

Coun. Shane Keating said he has no problem with money coming in from out of town to help Nenshi repay his debt to the city.

"Regardless of where the money comes from, the one positive thing is that the funds are coming back to the City of Calgary," Keating said.

"The benefit is that the taxpayer of Calgary is not on the hook for these bills."

All donors get a tax receipt from the city for their contributions.

The maximum allowable donation is $10,000 — which is double the annual maximum allowed for municipal candidates.

There have been eight donations of $10,000 so far and all of them have come from Calgary.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?