Nenshi vs. business: Is corporate opposition helping or hurting incumbent mayor's re-election bid

Longtime local political watchers think opposition from the business community to Naheed Nenshi may end up helping to re-elect the incumbent mayor.

'There are... voters in Calgary, who appreciate that Naheed Nenshi is standing up to businesses'

Is opposition from the business community helping or hurting Naheed Nenshi's bid for his third term as mayor of Calgary. (CBC)

Longtime local political watchers think opposition from the business community to Naheed Nenshi may end up helping to re-elect the incumbent mayor.

"The criticism of Nenshi is that he has always raised taxes, always raised property taxes, was not business friendly, was careless with taxpayers' money," said Duane Bratt, the head of Mount Royal University's economics, justice, and policy studies department.

Nenshi was an outspoken advocate in the last election for ending what he labeled the "sprawl subsidy."

Developers were angry about having to assume the full cost of municipal infrastructure for new neighbourhoods.

Nenshi also waged a public feud with developer Cal Wenzel that resulted in a defamation lawsuit.

Criticism could backfire

These fights have led to the perception that businesses have teamed up against the mayor in the coming vote.

But Bratt thinks that criticism of Nenshi may, in fact, backfire.

Especially after Nenshi raised concerns about spending too much public money on a new arena for the Calgary Flames. 

"There are people in Calgary, voters in Calgary, who appreciate that Naheed Nenshi is standing up to businesses, and so the public fight with the Flames has actually helped him with much of the electorate," said Bratt.

"There aren't enough angry, rich guys in Calgary to defeat the mayor," he added.

Opponent's pro-business agenda

One of Nenshi's opponents, Bill Smith, trumpets his pro-business agenda.

Smith wants to stop what he calls the city's reckless spending, and rein in excessive tax increases.

"I think I will be better at representing the interest of businesses because I understand what it's like to run a small business," Smith told CBC News.

"I understand what you have to go through at city hall to get things approved. I understand the impact of taxes on your business," he added. 

Earlier this week, Smith sat with big names in the Calgary business community as the head of the Calgary Flames addressed the Chamber of Commerce about the future of the team.

Efforts to defeat Nenshi 'disorganized' says prof

Mount Royal communications studies professor David Taras says businesses's efforts to defeat Nenshi seem disorganized.

In the fight with the Calgary Flames, Taras believes Nenshi has positioned himself as the "protector of taxpayers against the billionaire business people, the billionaire owners."

Taras said he believes Nenshi's position on building a new arena has hurt his main opponent.

"It's defanged Smith. Taxes were supposed to be Smith's issue. That was the bludgeon he was going to use to defeat Nenshi," he said.

Voters go to the polls on Oct. 16.

Early voting begins next week. 

With files from Scott Dippel