Three candidates battle it out in Calgary mayoral race

In Alberta, it’s all about potty politics. Crappy Cornflakes and public urination have grabbed attention in the two major cities as voters across the province go to the polls Monday to select new mayors and councillors.

EDMONTON — In Alberta, it’s all about potty politics.

Crappy Cornflakes and public urination have grabbed attention in the two major cities as voters across the province go to the polls Monday to select new mayors and councillors.

In Calgary, the bubbling rancour in a nail-biter, three-way mayoral race spilled over with just days to go when candidate Barb Higgins demanded, rhetorically, “Who crapped in everyone’s Cornflakes?” after a tense TV interview.

In Edmonton, the angry debate over the closure of the city’s historic downtown airport has been leavened by long-shot mayoral hopeful Daryl Bonar sleeping in the park and peeing in an alley to show he’s one with the homeless.

Higgins, an anchor staple on local supper-hour TV news for two decades before quitting to run for city hall, is one of 15 candidates who signed up to replace outgoing Mayor Dave Bronconnier. Some dropped out as recently as this past week and late-race polls say Higgins is one of three contenders running neck and neck and neck.

One of the other front-runners, veteran alderman Ric McIver, has dismissed Higgins as a blow-dried parvenu with a fatal lack of experience in the political trenches.

His point seemed to resonate Thursday after Higgins stomped off the set following a tense TV exchange with a morning news reporter and members of a studio audience.

Higgins said she was appalled by the suggestion that she was a de facto puppet candidate because others had urged her to run. And, she said, she was annoyed by the charge that firing her manager in mid-campaign showed poor political acumen.

After the interview, Higgins slammed her notes on a desk and berated her questioner with the Cornflakes comment.

Higgins said her meltdown was a long time coming.

“I had reached the limit of my patience with the negativity. Some may say I am being unrealistic to think politics can be respectful. I disagree and will continue to speak out for what’s right.”

McIver was clearly in need of a popularity boost at her expense.

The three-term alderman known for his fiscal hawkishness was the front-runner at the starting line but has since fallen back.

Critics have labelled him “Dr. No” for his strident, some say knee-jerk, opposition to many proposed ideas and bylaws — a man who knows how to stop a project but lacks the vision to make one happen.

Both have been blindsided by Naheed Nenshi, a 38-year-old business professor who has used Twitter and other social media to get out his message on what he says is a rudderless, misspending city council.

Nenshi has proven himself an adept political showman.

His supporters stand out at rallies in their grape-hued “Purple Revolution” T-shirts. His website includes a self-deprecating video of people trying to pronounce his name (NAH’-hed NEN’-shee).

In Edmonton, the fate of the City Centre Airport has become the election battleground.

The airport, first licensed in pre-Depression 1929, helped define the city and opened up Canada’s North, but has since been eclipsed by the larger international version, a 20-minute drive south of the capital.

Major flights are now centred at the international, but the people fighting to keep the downtown airport open say it’s critical for charter service to the oilsands and medevac flights.

Mayor Stephen Mandel, running for a third term, and other city councillors voted more than a year ago to close the facility and create in its stead a flagship environmentally sustainable mixed-use business-residential district.

A group calling itself Envision Edmonton is fighting that plan. Last month, it submitted a petition to get the issue on an election-day plebiscite. Council rejected the list as months too late and thousands of names short.

Envision then went the political route.

It is now backing pro-airport candidates such as mayoral hopeful Dave Dorward,and has gone on a media blitz.

“It’s Time to Speak Up!” shouts a half-page Envision Edmonton newspaper ad illustrated by a plaid-shirted Everyman with his mouth duct-taped shut.

To response, a pro-closure group titled “Yes For Edmonton” has sprung up.

“We need to get out the other side of the story,” said group member Pat MacKenzie, a former Edmonton alderman. “What could be done on the airport lands would actually be a model of where we want our city to go.”

Mandel won a landslide victory with 65 per cent of the vote in 2007 and Dorward is expected to be hard-pressed to unseat him.

Bonar, meanwhile, has made headlines by literally taking his campaign to the streets.

The entrepreneur and martial arts enthusiast pretended last week to be just off the bus from Vancouver, bumming smokes, sleeping in a park and peeing in an alley, which carries a $250 fine.

Bonar said it helps to walk in the shoes of those you want to help.

“If I don’t reduce homelessness by 80 per cent within three years (if elected mayor) I’ll fall on my own sword in disgrace,” he said.

Elsewhere in Alberta:

— In Grande Prairie, incumbent Mayor Dwight Logan is facing four other contenders, including two councillors.

— In Red Deer, Mayor Morris Flewwelling is seeking a third term in a city where polls suggest people want action to fight a rise in property crime.

— In Lethbridge, six candidates are battling to replace Bob Tarleck, who is retiring after nine years as mayor.

— In Medicine Hat, two candidates are challenging incumbent Mayor Norm Boucher.

— In Fort McMurray, Mayor Melissa Blake is running for a third term against two challengers in a city still grappling with catching up the infrastructure to rapid population growth spawned by the oilsands.

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