Alberta Politics

Iveson and Nenshi in strong position for City Charters

Don Iveson Naheed Nenshi Brian Bowman Gregor Robertson Grey Cup Sarah Chan 2014
Western Canada’s Big City Mayors at the 2014 Grey Cup in Vancouver. From left to right: Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson. Photo credit: @misssarahchan

As the collapse of the Wildrose Party and speculation about Alberta’s next provincial budget dominate political discussions, one of the most politically important discussions impacting governance in our province next year could be about the creation of City Charters.

In his first month as Premier, Jim Prentice met with Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to restart discussions around the creation of City Charters for Alberta’s two largest cities.

A recent survey conducted by ThinkHQ Public Affairs Inc. and provided to shows Mr. Iveson and Mr. Nenshi with 74% and 70% approval ratings. For Mr. Iveson, this is an impressive increase from a survey in March 2014 in which respondents gave him 70% approval rating.

“The two mayors of the big cities are the second and third most powerful politicians in the province,” ThinkHQ President Marc Henry told this blogger. “The mayors are obviously the two people in the province Premier Prentice has to take into consideration,” Mr. Henry said.

The popular mayors have made City Charters a priority. The adoption of charters would be a long overdue change that could recognize the crucial roles and responsibilities that our largest municipal governments have in the lives of millions of Albertans.

“Most Albertans like the idea of a charter but don’t understand it,” Mr. Henry explained. “The challenge with the city charter is defining it,” he said.

The Centre for Constitutional Studies at the University of Alberta published a detailed explanation and background of City Charters in April 2013:

Civic charters are different in every city, but a “charter city” (a city with a civic charter) has its own stand-alone legislation, rather than following the general municipal government acts of the province.  It is a special agreement between a province and city designed to meet the demands of city governance, usually by giving a city more tax-raising powers, along with more autonomy to set policy that will allow it to meet its individual needs.

The cities of Winnipeg, Vancouver and Toronto have City Charters passed by their provincial governments granting those municipalities increased levels of responsibility and access to additional revenue.

In an October 2014 blog post, Mr. Iveson explained why City Charters are important and why they can also be an abstract concept to explain:

The City Charter process can be an abstract concept; talking about roles and responsibilities with another order of government probably isn’t the sexiest thing for many people. But – I would argue – delivering on this is one of the most important factors in Edmonton’s future success. Correcting the imbalance in responsibility and authority with the Province is one of the most critical city building things we can do because it enables the ‘real work’ like building LRT lines and keeping our cities safe to actually happen.

Rather than a broad increase in taxation powers, City Charters in Alberta could include a more serious commitment to revenue sharing by the province as recognition that our big cities are no longer tiny localized organizations. They are important levels of government that provide services and infrastructure that also benefit millions of Albertans living outside the city boundaries.

Discussions about City Charters began in 2012 while Premier Alison Redford was in office but slowed down as political scandals engulfed the Progressive Conservative government. A Memorandum of Understanding signed by Mr. Iveson, Mr. Nenshi and Mr. Prentice on October 7, 2014 laid out the following timeframe for City Charters:

  • Phase one will address matters specific to the two cities and Municipal Affairs (MA) by Spring 2015;
  • Phase two will address matters between the two cities, MA and any other Government of Alberta ministries by Fall 2015; and
  • Phase three will address the development of a new fiscal framework for the two cities by Spring 2016.

The ThinkHQ online research panel had a sample size of 1656 people and was conducted between November 26 to December 1, 2014.

The Yards Podcast
In episode one of The Yards podcast, host Omar Mouallem talks with Mayor Iveson about downtown memories, bike culture and whether downtown development can survive another oil crash.

Alberta Politics Calgary Politics Edmonton Politics

Alberta politics 2013: Big City Mayors

Don Iveson Edmonton Mayor Election
Don Iveson

A generational shift in Edmonton

Framed as a lacklustre and uneventful campaign, local media and many mainstream pundits missed one of the most important stories of this year’s mayoral election in Edmonton.

The city’s crusty local establishment has lamented for years about the constant stream of locally-raised young talent choosing to build their careers and start their families in other cities like Calgary, Vancouver or Toronto.

But Alberta’s booming economy and a growing sense of optimism in Edmonton has led to an increasing number of young folks choosing to stay in our city, build their careers and plan to raise their families here. This important shift is a key part of what Don Iveson represented on the campaign trail this fall.

Supported by a diverse army of young Edmontonians who want to claim this city for the next generation, Mr. Iveson proved that substance and a positive campaign – or “politics in full-sentences” – can win elections.

And despite nearly all the local media and opinion page pundits predicting a horserace until the moment the polls closed, Mr. Iveson earned a stunning 63% of the votes counted on October 21. His closest challengers, councillors Karen Leibovici and Kerry Diotte, earned 19% and 15% of the vote.

Nenshi versus Manning

Naheed Nenshi
Naheed Nenshi

In Calgary, a weird proxy-war between popular mayor Naheed Nenshi and conservative godfather Preston Manning dominated this year’s election campaign.

The conflict was sparked by a leaked video recording of high-powered wealthy developers – the Sprawl Cabal – explaining their plans to take over city council by funding Mr. Manning’s conservative political training centre.

Mr. Manning’s group wants to bring a libertarian brand of conservative politics to municipal government in Canada. The “Municipal Governance Project” plans to grant private-sector developers increased powers while limiting the ability of city governments to implement long-term growth plans. This directly contradicts Mr. Nenshi’s plans to address the challenges caused by Calgary’s suburban sprawl problems.

Mr. Nenshi quickly shot back at the sprawl cabal, describing their actions as “shadowy, weird and unpleasant.” The developers attack quickly turned into an election issue, with Mr. Nenshi taking aim at the subsidies granted to suburban developers. Mr. Nenshi says his long-term goal remains to eliminate the subsidy completely.

The developers howled in protest.

Preston Manning (photo from
Preston Manning (photo from

Mr. Nenshi was re-elected with the support of 73% of Calgary voters on October 21, 2013.

Soon after the election, Cal Wenzel, the star of the leaked video, filed a lawsuit against Mr. Nenshi, claiming he defamed the businessman for political gain.

Big City challenges in 2014

Funding for infrastructure like light rail transit remains a priority for Alberta’s big city mayors, as does the promise by the provincial government to create big city charters.

The charters could give Alberta’s two largest cities new fiscal powers and responsibilities to address the growth challenges created by the province’s booming economy.

In June 2012, then-Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths signed a memorandum of understanding with Mayor Stephen Mandel of Edmonton and Mayor Nenshi to formalize their commitment to develop a big city charter.

“This charter will position our two largest cities for the future,” Premier Alison Redford said on June 18, 2012. A year and a half later, the city charters have yet to be released.

New Municipal Affairs Minister Ken Hughes said on December 12, 2013 that the city charters are one of his priorities, which is promising indicator.

While the Redford government enjoys its focus on promoting the oilsands and pipeline projects on the international stage, the two mayors may have to remind the provincial government that it cannot ignore the growth challenges facing our two largest cities.