Calgary voters head to polls in tight mayoral race

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Amid an unexpectedly tight mayoral race, a slew of open council seats and a municipal campaign that has struggled to stay above the muck, Calgary voters head to the polls today to elect civic leaders.

  • CBC News will have live updates throughout the evening, including a Facebook live of CBC Television’s election special at 11 p.m. MT.

Central to the contest, of course, is the battle for the mayor’s chair, where the once-unassailable incumbent Naheed Nenshi is facing a serious threat from former Alberta Progressive Conservative Party president Bill Smith.

Depending on which poll you believe, either Smith or Nenshi is way in the lead. The latest polls have a 30-point spread between them.

Longtime Councillor Andre Chabot has consistently ranked as the third-place candidate in a field of 10 hopefuls.

Arena, taxes, transit, racism

The campaign started with a debate over a new arena. It spiraled into a political maelstrom when Nenshi announced his vision for a cultural and entertainment district that could include a new rink.

The Calgary Flames organization countered with a declaration that it had walked away from negotiations with the city. Eventually, the tit-for-tat dissipated, and attention turned to taxes, transit, racism and blasts from candidates’ pasts.

Nenshi, the first big-city Muslim mayor in Canada, surprised everyone when he first snagged the city’s top political job in 2010 and has ridden a wave of popularity ever since. Until recently.

Polls have shown support dropping over the past few months, and the campaign has turned personal in the homestretch, tagging Nenshi as arrogant and unlikable.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi

Incumbent Naheed Nenshi is in a tight race for a third term as mayor of Calgary. (CBC)

The incumbent has railed against the onslaught of anger and racism he says has been directed at his campaign, which led to criticism that he was trying to tie his opponents to that racism.

Nenshi has been trying to refocus the campaign on policy instead of personality in the past few days.

Smith, his main opponent, has kept his policy ideas to a minimum, but faced questions about his plans for the Green Line LRT project — the biggest single infrastructure investment in the city’s history — when he said it needed a “rethink.”

Smith said rather than constructing expensive downtown infrastructure first and building truncated lines to the north and southeast, as was approved by council, the $4.6 billion first phase should involve a longer build-out in one direction or the other. He wouldn’t say which direction would take precedence.

Bill Smith

Bill Smith, the former president of the PC Party in Alberta, is seen as the main contender against Nenshi in the race for mayor of Calgary. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

He’s also had to deal with questions about his past financial and legal dealings, when CBC News revealed bailiffs were prepared to seize property from his business and that he was sued by an employer for $2.2 million in 2010.

Both Nenshi and Smith have battled over taxes and how much the municipal rate has actually increased under Nenshi’s reign, although neither are promising any tax cuts.

Council races

In the crowded field of council candidates, four incumbents have decided not to run, while another has moved into a new ward after boundaries were redrawn. That leaves a lot of room for new faces.

Some incumbents who do remain face strong challengers almost universally focused on the need for new blood at the council table, hoping to ride a wave of discontent over the state of the city and the economy.

The ward races have also seen some controversy.

In Ward 1, incumbent Ward Sutherland faced criticism for comments he made at a public forum referring to “Johnny Jew from New York” as a hypothetical artist hired under the city’s public art policy.

Ward Sutherland forum

Ward Sutherland has faced criticism for what he said at a candidates forum on Wednesday night. He is running for re-election as city councillor in Calgary’s northwest Ward 1. (2017 Ward 1 All Candidates Forum/Facebook)

In Ward 5, it was revealed one candidate had numerous run-ins with the law.

Even the generally sleepy race for school board trustees has seen some fireworks, with one candidate facing backlash after trying to link the attack in Edmonton that injured five people to the LGBTQ community.

There’s also been attention focused on a slate of conservative candidates running under the Students Count banner — something United Conservative Party leadership hopeful Jason Kenney tweeted his support for.

Massive advance turnout

During the campaign, Calgarians turned out in droves for advance polls, smashing previous records with the help of new initiatives like drive-up voting stations.

Over seven days of advance voting, 74,965 ballots were cast. In the 2013 election, 22,410 ballots were cast in early voting. In 2010, the final turnout at advance polls was 23,721.

Those who haven’t already marked an X will have to do so at their assigned voting station between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.

A list of how, when and where to vote can be found on the Elections Calgary website, along with information on all the candidates running in each ward.

CBC Calgary will bring you live coverage throughout the night online, in radio news updates, as well as a special edition of the 11 p.m. MT TV news.

  • Follow along with our election day live blog below. On our mobile app? You can also see it here.

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Calgary voters head to polls in tight mayoral race

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