Calgary’s mayor weighs in on race remarks by Wildrose candidate

An Alberta mayor has injected himself into a fevered election battle in his city by calling out a candidate who claimed an advantage in the race because he’s white.

CALGARY — An Alberta mayor has injected himself into a fevered election battle in his city by calling out a candidate who claimed an advantage in the race because he’s white.

Wildrose candidate Ron Leech, running in the multicultural constituency of Calgary-Greenway, apologized this week for his remarks on a Calgary radio show last weekend.

“I think as a Caucasian I have an advantage. When different community leaders such as a Sikh leader or a Muslim leader speaks, they really speak to their own people in many ways. As a Caucasian, I believe that I can speak to all the community,” Leech said on CHKF-FM, a multicultural station in Calgary.

He clarified Tuesday that he was trying to say he wasn’t at a disadvantage being a white man representing a multicultural community.

That wasn’t good enough for Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who took to Twitter to express his dismay.

“It’s not that he shouldn’t have said it. It’s that he shouldn’t believe it. He has not yet said whether he does,” said Nenshi.

“His clarification did not in any way address the content of his comments. Does he believe ethnic (politicians) speak only to some?”

That set off Leech’s supporters, chief among them Rob Anderson, one of four incumbents running for the Wildrose. Anderson is up for re-election in Airdrie, just north of Calgary.

Leech has been serving new Canadians in northeast Calgary for 30 years, Anderson said. The party has pointed out Leech runs a private school which has a large number of people with different ethnicities.

“Surely forgiveness for a verbal flub up has been earned over those 30 years no?” Anderson tweeted.

“All I’m saying is don’t say ’I shouldn’t have said offensive thing,”’ Nenshi fired back. “Say ’I don’t actually believe it!”’

After his election victory in 2010, attributed by many to his mastery of social media, Nenshi was widely held up as the first Muslim mayor of a large Canadian city. His victory was extra significant to some because it came in Calgary, a city that has long dealt with being stereotyped as conservative.

The mayor had a news conference earlier in the campaign at which he went to great pains not to endorse any one party in the provincial race that will be decided Monday. His officials went so far as to issued a clarification when stories in the local media suggested he favoured one party over another.

Nenshi said he still considers himself neutral, but he feels Leech should be more specific in his apology.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith has said she doesn’t have a problem with Leech’s remarks.

At a campaign stop in Chestermere east of Calgary on Wednesday, Smith reaffirmed her support for all of her candidates.

“I don’t expect Albertans expect politicians to be perfect. I do think they expect them to be people of goodwill and they do expect them to believe that they have the public interest at heart, and that’s why I have such confidence in my candidates,” Smith said.

“They are good people. They are in this for the right reason. They may not always be able to express themselves well in the media or in their public ridings. I stand by our candidates. I think that they’re terrific.”

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