Calgary mayor says road to Ottawa 'travels through Alberta'

In an interview airing on CBC Radio's The House, Calgary's outspoken Mayor Naheed Nenshi says that while Justin Trudeau's apology was "good," the road to becoming prime minister "travels through Alberta."
Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi walks past city hall the day after being elected to the office in Calgary, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, Calgary's outspoken Mayor Naheed Nenshi said that while Justin Trudeau's apology was "good," the road to becoming prime minister runs through his province.

Asked if he was satisfied with Trudeau's apology for comments he made about Albertans in 2010, Nenshi told host Evan Solomon "I don't know that I heard much of an explanation there. Certainly an unreserved apology — which is good."

However, Nenshi cautioned "if you really want to be prime minister, it doesn't matter what party you are... the road to being prime minister travels through Calgary and Edmonton, it travels through Alberta."

"I think that you have to understand this place, but particularly understand the two big cities here well. And that would be advice I'd give to anybody who wants to be prime minister regardless of party," the mayor said.

"I should say, if we are being charitable, that [Trudeau] was in Calgary on the first day of his campaign and he actually gave what I thought was a very interesting speech about Alberta and the future of the energy industry."

On Friday, Trudeau offered an apology for comments he made in French during a November 2010 interview on the Télé-Québec program Les Francs-tireurs, but continued to argue his comments were being misinterpreted and that they were directed at the government of Stephen Harper and not Albertans in general.

"I'm sorry I said what I did. I was wrong to relate the area of the country that Mr. Harper is from with the people who live there and the policies that he has that don't represent the values of most Canadians," Trudeau told reporters in Vancouver.

"It was wrong to use a shorthand to say Alberta, when I was really talking about Mr. Harper's government, and I'm sorry I did that."

In the 2010 interview, Trudeau took aim at Alberta politicians and argued Canada was better off in the hands of leaders from Quebec.

"Canada isn't doing well right now because it's Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda. It doesn't work," Trudeau told interviewer Patrick Lagacé.

When asked whether he thought Canada was "better served when there are more Quebecers in charge than Albertans," Trudeau replied, "I'm a Liberal, so of course I think so, yes. Certainly when we look at the great prime ministers of the 20th century, those that really stood the test of time, they were MPs from Quebec. There was Trudeau, there was Mulroney, there was Chrétien, there was Paul Martin. We have a role. This country, Canada, it belongs to us."

Days earlier, Trudeau's caucus colleague Liberal David McGuinty also apologized and resigned his role as Liberal energy critic after he said Conservative MPs "really should go back to Alberta" and run for the provincial legislature or municipal office if they weren't willing to adopt a national vision on energy policy.

All eyes on Calgary-Centre

Trudeau and McGuinty's comments have put a national spotlight on a what has become a competitive byelection race in the Conservative stronghold riding of Calgary-Centre.

"Who knew this byelection would be so interesting," Nenshi told Solomon.

The Calgary mayor said the odds are that the Conservatives will win Monday's byelection but that they will probably do so with "the lowest plurality" in recent memory.

"Is it possible that the Liberals or, believe it or not, the Green Party is going to come through and win in that riding? It's not outside the realm of possibilities," Nenshi said.

A poll released last Sunday by Forum Research in Calgary-Centre found Conservative Joan Crockatt was leading with 35 per cent, followed by Liberal Harvey Locke with 30 per cent, Green Party Chris Turner with 25 per cent, and New Democrat Dan Meades with 8 per cent.

The findings represented a 13-point drop for Crockatt, who was at 48 per cent support in a similar poll conducted a few weeks earlier.

'Precursor to what we should expect'

Nik Nanos, pollster and President of Nanos Research, told Solomon in a House interview that even with various factors at play in the race for Calgary-Centre, this byelection will give Canadians a glimpse of what to expect in the next general election.

"I think it's a bit of a precursor as to what we should expect in the next federal election as the opposition parties try to push back the government and whether the Stephen Harper Conservative-led party will have to fine tune their strategy," said Nanos.

When asked if Trudeau and McGuinty's comments will have an impact in Monday's byelection race in Calgary-Centre Nenshi said "who knows."

"Would the average Albertan have any idea who David McGuinty was before this week? Probably not," Nenshi said.

According to Nanos, "one comment gets people's attention" but it's "an accumulation effect" that can motivate voters to come out and "punish" the culprits.

Nenshi, who was elected in 2010 following a grassroots campaign, said voters no longer define themselves along party lines.

"That whole left-right centrum is completely irrelevant to people's lives. They're looking for good candidates and good government and people who are going to lead them well. And I think that's what you're seeing in Calgary-Centre," said Nenshi, who is the first Muslim politician to be elected mayor of a major Canadian city.

When it comes to byelections, the question is, according to Nanos, "who can deliver the vote, who can convert their supporters and the good will that they have on the street into the ballot booth?"

Voters in British Columbia and Ontario will also be going to the polls in two other byelections on Monday.