University of Calgary alumnus and former Students' Union president Naheed Nenshi captured 40 per cent of the vote Oct. 18 to become Calgary's next mayor. Many are looking at the youth of the city as partially responsible for the record turn out of roughly 53 per cent of eligible voters.
SU vice-president external Hardave Birk said he's not surprised by the turn out and support of students. Birk organized advance polls in MacEwan Student Centre which he said were a great success in getting the campus community engaged.
"At the U of C, we had a total of 1,784 voters, which is extremely positive considering that this year there was 23,700 turning out for the advance vote," said Birk. "That's a substantial chunk I believe, about 7 per cent of the advanced voting happened here at the University of Calgary."
Birk said that the level of involvement at the U of C overwhelmed his expectations. He recalled the number of calls he received from students on election day asking how they could vote and residence students being bussed to polling stations as indicative that students are involved in the election process.
U of C political science professor Lisa Young agreed youth turnout was an important factor in the election and that Nenshi's mobilization of a generation of Calgarians who weren't interested in electoral politics brought him his victory.
"We'll never know for sure but it certainly looked like there were more younger voters showing up, and by younger I mean university age but also younger adults, as opposed to a typical municipal election where you really do tend to see a lot of older folks," said Young. "All of the pundits were saying that high turn out meant good news for Nenshi and it certainly seemed to play out that way."
Birk expects the strong support from students leading up to the election will allow him to work with Nenshi and the new council on student issues like affordable housing and transit.
"He definitely reached out to youth during his election campaign. I think he's going to try and continue that throughout his time as mayor," said Birk. "He's quite a big supporter of secondary suites and we'll hope to work with him moving forward on that for sure."
Both Birk and Young agreed the election would change the dynamic of city council and Calgary itself.
"We're going to have a really interesting, young cosmopolitan mayor of the city," said Young. "The one thing that we saw through the campaign and certainly through the last weeks of the campaign is that Nenshi truly does have a remarkable capacity to engage with all kinds of people."
Nenshi and the new city council take office Oct. 25.