Calgary

Nenshi 'race card' tweet by W. Brett Wilson prompts boycott call from comedian Andrew Phung

Calgary-based comedian and actor Andrew Phung is urging non-profit organizations not to take donations from W. Brett Wilson and says he'll boycott any that do, after taking offence at a tweet from the Calgary philanthropist and entrepreneur that he called "terrible and offensive."

Wilson apologized 'without reservation' on social media Thursday evening

Calgary-based comedian and actor Andrew Phung, left, was offended by a tweet about Mayor Naheed Nenshi by fellow Calgary-based philanthropist and entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson, right. (Andrew Nguyen, CBC/CBC)

Calgary-based comedian and actor Andrew Phung is urging non-profit organizations not to take donations from W. Brett Wilson and says he'll boycott any that do, after taking offence at a tweet from the Calgary philanthropist and entrepreneur that he called "terrible and offensive."

Wilson's tweet came as he weighed in on whether the city should go ahead and build the $4.9-billion Green Line light rail transit megaproject, which was a key election issue when Naheed Nenshi won re-election for a third term as mayor in 2017.

Back then, Nenshi's chief rival, the more conservative contender Bill Smith, had called the project a "boondoggle" and said that if elected, he would want to re-evaluate the Green Line plans, then pegged at $4.6 billion — particularly how to go about its first phase.

This week, responding to an assertion that Nenshi's 2017 win represented Calgarians' endorsement of the Green Line project, Wilson tweeted: "No. The NE voting block that rose up when Nenshi play the race card was what won the day. Smiths views on the Green Line were irrelevant."

Phung, who stars in the CBC sitcom Kim's Convenience, tweeted Thursday to ask non-profit organizations to stop accepting donations from Wilson.

"Calgary non-profits, this guy is the worst. Please stop taking his money. This, along with many of his comments, are terrible and offensive," Phung said on Twitter.

"I'm no longer emceeing/hosting events run by any organizations still receiving money from or are working with him," Phung said on Twitter.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi called the tweet by W. Brett Wilson regarding his last election win a cheap insult. (CBC)

In a statement posted to social media on Thursday evening, Wilson said he apologized "without reservation" to Calgary's mayor. 

"I posted a thoughtless and inflammatory tweet about the 2017 Calgary municipal election that upset Mayor Nenshi and many others," Wilson wrote. "I apologize without reservation. My track record of support for Canada's many forms of diversity is very strong.

"I look forward to future thoughtful and respectful debates with the mayor and council over the future of Calgary."

Wilson was a co-star of CBC's Dragons' Den from 2008-2011. He has also occasionally appeared as a panelist on CBC's Calgary Eyeopener and other programs.

In 2018, CBC Calgary decided against using Wilson as a future commentator in light of his social media comments around the hanging or lynching of what he described as traitors, in the context of their opposition to energy development.

Phung's call to boycott Wilson garnered 683 retweets, but he told CBC News he had no further comments to make on the matter.

Nenshi, though, replied to Wilson's comment about his election win.

"I generally ignore hateful people but wasn't I just saying yesterday about how the cheapest insult is 'playing the race card'? (I also won 12 of 14 wards and biggest margin was in Mr. Wilson's neighbourhood if memory serves)," the mayor tweeted.

Speaking Thursday during a news conference, Nenshi brought up Wilson's comments when referencing the challenges of handling casual racism in the community.

"Last night, we had a very prominent Calgarian, someone who has been supported and coddled by the establishment for so very long despite a history of incredibly hateful comments, basically say I don't deserve to be the mayor because only ethnic people voted for me," Nenshi said. "It's so wrong on so many levels."

The Twitter spat comes as thousands of Calgarians have poured into the streets for demonstrations against police brutality and racism in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

Wilson has been active on social media voicing concerns about the Green Line megaproject, which is awaiting a key vote at city hall that would put its first leg on track for a spring 2021 construction start.

Wilson says he has many concerns about the Green Line, including rising cost-per-kilometre since it was proposed, its alignment and its ridership forecasts.

With files from Terri Trembath

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