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Mayor Nenshi on Calgary’s Guide debate: ‘It’s my fault.’

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi took full blame for how the city’s recent Guide for Local Area Planning conversations spiralled into a “drama” over the past few months.

Mayor Nenshi spoke with reporters on several issues during a virtual press conference Thursday afternoon.

Wednesday’s debate on the Guide for Local Area Planning took a peculiar turn at the Planning and Urban Development meeting. In that meeting, after an attempted post-election referral by Coun. Jeromy Farkas, Mayor Nenshi proposed just receiving the document for information.

Essentially it turns it into a literal guidebook for local area planning, the mayor said. It’s neither statutory nor non-statutory, but it can help inform the upcoming local area plans.

That amended motion passed 7-5.

In the meeting, Coun. Farkas said that it was shortcutting the democratic process.

“I’m very concerned about this approach, and I think that, despite all the flaws and issues that the guidebook had, it would have been better just to approve the guidebook because then at least we knew what we’re getting,” he said.

“But this is very ambiguous, it’s very amorphous, and it’s stands the risk of even further reducing a very, very damaged trust with the community.”

‘I never really thought there was any drama here’

During Wednesday’s public hearing, it was a virtual carbon copy of its March sister, with a divide in groups who were passionately in favour of the document and those staunchly opposed.

Mayor Nenshi said Thursday that he initially thought the purpose of the Guide was self-evident. The city’s Municipal Development Plan was nearly unanimously approved, and this was a guide of best practices to implement that, he said.

“I never really thought there was any drama here. There’s very little in the guidebook anyone can be opposed to; communities that are more walkable, communities where people have different incomes might be able to live with different housing types.”

“I, myself, was very surprised by all the drama that came out on this Guidebook.”

He said the city had caused the problem itself. They thought it would be smoother to make the document statutory. They soon realized that would require painstaking minor tweaks that would have to go through a public hearing process to complete.

“Ultimately that’s what we saw last night was clear language that said exactly what I’ve been saying all along, that this is a compendium of best practices, some of which will apply in every neighbourhood, many of which will apply not in every neighbourhood some of them applying in no neighbourhood, but it’s a starting point for community engagement for us to think about how to improve neighbourhoods,” he said.

Given the final result, Mayor Nenshi was asked why this wasn’t done months ago to save the agony of division over this issue. Nenshi said he should have seen the danger in the path the city was travelling.

“It’s my fault. I wish I had been babysitting this a little bit more,” the mayor said.

Political motivation

The mayor said bluntly he knew members of Coun. Farkas’ campaign team were lit dropping for both the councillor’s mayoral campaign and the Guide.

He said his motion Wednesday was also done with a political motivation in mind.

“I said on the day I said I wasn’t running that I wouldn’t stand for misinformation and that I would call it out,” Mayor Nenshi said.

“The last thing Calgarians need would be an election focused on misinformation. I hope that it brought clarity to what we’re trying to do here, but also brought clarity to what candidates were trying to do with the Guidebook and allow the election to focus on more important issues.”

On Thursday morning, Coun. Farkas tweeted that council had passed the Guidebook.

To which the mayor responded: “He’s right. It was. And it was passed in the correct form.”

“Actually what we did was what he said he wanted us to do, and I think he’s probably a little at sixes and sevens trying to figure out how to go forward.”