Local politics are important

Suppose — just as an example, you understand — a local non-profit wanted to host a fundraising event. Let’s say it’s a 100-km bike ride on Aug. 27 sponsored by a local architectural company, and they invited a famous celebrity to attend. That non-profit would be expected to pay the celeb’s travelling expenses.

Suppose — just as an example, you understand — a local non-profit wanted to host a fundraising event. Let’s say it’s a 100-km bike ride on Aug. 27 sponsored by a local architectural company, and they invited a famous celebrity to attend. That non-profit would be expected to pay the celeb’s travelling expenses.

It’s only right they should do that.

So, if a private company, say, Kasian Architecture (with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto) decided to fly Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to Toronto and host an event, it would make sense that they pay the mayor’s expenses to do so.

The people who reap their share of benefits should pay their share of costs, right? Otherwise, it’s charity.

Interest in Nenshi’s trip took off like a rocket, and the popular new mayor ended up staying in Toronto for a whole week of meetings and speaking engagements. He’s taken on rock star status with Toronto’s business and chattering elites, not to mention the city’s substantial immigrant population.

The taxpayers of Calgary are paying some of the costs of Nenshi’s trip, through the mayor’s travel allowance in the budget. It’s reasonable they should expect a return on this successful investment.

But it was not unethical for Kasian to host an event at which Nenshi would be speaking, and it is not unethical for them to pay some costs of the trip. Which they did. They paid the plane fare: $720.

But, as the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation commented, this is getting close to the ethical line.

Celebrities helping out non-profits at fundraisers is one thing — even if they might be politicians in office (we’re not closing any doors here). But for a sitting politician to accept business dollars to attend an event that profiles the business (even if that’s a secondary effect), you’ve got to be careful and you’ve got to be public.

No problem for Nenshi, who seems to post everything anyway.

There was some huffing and puffing about that $721, especially if the company involved might want to bid on a civic contract some day.

But with taxpayers forewarned, our watchdogs will keep an eye out to see how much preferential treatment $721 can buy.

Fame is fickle, but the Calgary mayor is about as good an ambassador for Alberta as we have these days.

And for cities in general. His election was a game-changer for municipal politics and his Toronto swing only solidifies that. Nenshi has raised the bar for how a local politician needs to connect with people — and his widespread public credentials affect how cities will interact with other levels of government on issues of investment in infrastructure, crime and culture.

He’s not the kind of person cabinet ministers want to disappoint.

People are cheering for him in Calgary and they’re definitely cheering for him in Toronto. Heck, we’re even cheering for him in Red Deer, if a dynamic and popular figure can make civic politics more important in people’s lives.

All the important decisions that affect your life are made in cities, often by your city councils. Nenshi is making people pay more attention to that.

As long as good advisors and better watchdogs can keep our civic leaders on the straight and narrow, Canada needs more people like the mayor of Calgary.

I wonder. . . does he ride a bike?

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor (who also sits on a committee organizing a non-profit’s fundraiser bike ride).

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