Nine candidates seeking the mayor’s chair squared off in MacHall on Sept. 20 in the second debate of Calgary’s 2017 municipal election. The sold-out event, hosted by the University of Calgary, the Students’ Union and the Graduate Students’ Association, heard candidates share their views on a range of issues during the two-hour forum.
The event was MC’d by SU president Branden Cave and GSA president Brit Paris. U of C president Elizabeth Cannon spoke about utilizing university campuses as hubs for “free flow of ideas.” CTV Calgary news anchor Tara Nelson moderated the forum.
Among the topics discussed were leadership on city council, taxes and encouraging more women to run for office — a question which received heated answers from the candidates, who were all men.
“We only have two women on council, which is less than it has been in decades. It’s a failure. We need to not just ask her, but also fund and support,” said current mayor Naheed Nenshi.
Other responses to the question were less supportive of measures intended to bring more women onto council.
“There are no women here tonight because they see enough femininity,” responded candidate Larry Heather. Heather, who also ran for mayor in 2013, drew boos from the crowd throughout the evening.
Other polarizing questions revolved around safe injection sites and the Calgary Flames’ proposed new arena. Safe injection sites are places where users are provided a safe space to inject drugs under medical supervision. Those in favour of the sites say they help prevent overdoses.
“We’ve seen results in places [safe injection sites] have been implemented,” candidate Bill Smith said.
“We’re talking about real human lives here. I don’t believe safe injection sites are the answer. You need to deal with the situation,” responded candidate David Lapp.
A new arena for the Calgary Flames became an election issue last week when the organization announced they were no longer pursuing an arena in Calgary. The city reportedly offered the Flames a deal that would have seen the cost of building the arena split three ways between the city, the team and ticket-buyers.
“Our mayor didn’t take ownership when it came to talking with the Flames,” said current councillor and mayoral candidate Andre Chabot.
The dominant theme of the night was candidates criticizing sitting council members Nenshi and Chabot. Candidates attacked incumbent mayor Nenshi for lack of leadership and his salary.
Nenshi shot back, calling out Smith for not releasing campaign funding, referencing a $500,000 donation from Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz in 2013 to the Alberta Progressive Conservative party that Smith was then president of. Smith responded that the donation went through proper scrutiny. Nenshi responded that his donations have been disclosed, were legal, and called for the other candidates to disclose their campaign finances.
Cave said the SU’s advocacy priorities for this municipal election are secondary suites and transit access.
“Our goal all along leading up to the election has been to make sure that mayoral candidates and municipal candidates understand the issues facing students and the campus community,” Cave said.
Candidates, however, largely failed to discuss these student issues during the debate. The discussion briefly touched on student job prospects, and in a lightning round question, all candidates except Heather agreed on reviewing secondary suites.
Second-year kinesiology student Dana Jacobs said she thought the candidates were generally out of touch with student issues.
“I don’t think that anyone really stood out on student issues,” she said. “I personally don’t think that politicians in general are very in touch with students.”
Second-year political science student Caitlin Vernerey said she was surprised by candidate Curtis Olson’s performance.
“I think he has that expertise and that he has a vision, but I don’t think it’s the right time for Calgary,” Vernerey added.
Around 300 people attended the forum and over 100 audience questions were submitted in advance.
The SU is running their Get Out the Vote campaign until the election on Oct. 16. According to Cave, approximately 1,000 students pledged to vote so far.