No, let’s rephrase that. It’s been a really good week for Naheed Nenshi.
To recap: Nenshi put out a press release on Thursday containing two questions he says he would have asked the Police Chief Rick Hanson if he was on council. Question one: “Why has Calgary got the second highest per officer cost in the country?” Question two: “Why has the CPS budget increased by 23% but the number of officers on the street has increased by only 11% over the past three years?”
When I first saw Hanson’s response — a media statement accusing Nenshi of spreading inaccurate information and being “ill-informed” and “irresponsible” — I thought: This is good news for Nenshi, regardless of how this tussle plays out. The fact that the police chief felt compelled to go after Nenshi signals very clearly that the latter is a serious contender for council’s top job. Otherwise, why bother correcting him? I mean, fringe mayoral candidate Oscar Fech reportedly said at a forum this week that the mayor’s office threatened to assassinate him, and we didn’t see a news release from the mayor’s office afterwards. Because why bother?
Hanson’s statement also meant Nenshi would be getting his name plastered all over the papers and TV. And when you’re the third-place guy (according to the most recent poll) who’s taking on two well known candidates, having the words “NENSHI KNOCKED” appear on newspaper boxes all over town and having passersby ask “Who’s Nenshi?” is no bad thing.
That Hanson refused to provide numbers to counter Nenshi’s numbers helped the candidate more (if Nenshi’s numbers are wrong, why not provide the right ones?). That Hanson wouldn’t comment further or take media questions on the matter helped Nenshi still more, given Hanson’s aforementioned refusal to provide alternate stats. And the fact that a top civil servant said he wouldn’t be “drawn into a political debate amongst candidates during this election” while simultaneously planting himself in the middle of a political debate amongst candidates during the election — well, you get the idea. I doubt Team Nenshi could have planned it any better.
Which brings us to the story in this morning’s Herald. Rival candidates Ric McIver and Barb Higgins are strongly siding with the police chief (Craig Burrows and Wayne Stewart have already done the same). Says McIver: “He can’t stand by and let somebody falsely malign his department.”
Says Higgins: “I think the chief wants the accurate story out there and I think that’s a great thing.”
All of which would be fine — if Hanson was making any effort to put the accurate numbers out there and prove Nenshi wrong. But he hasn’t. So McIver and Higgins come off looking like they’re blatantly pandering to the law-and-order crowd, and at the same time, they’re helping further the “McBarb” narrative that Team Nenshi is pushing (gist: that McIver and Higgins are more or less the same).
And Nenshi? He comes off looking like the upstart candidate who happened to ask a good (albeit provocative) question and got in trouble for it. Not a bad place to be, and Nenshi knows it. Here’s one of his quotes from this morning’s Herald story: “I’m trying to get the facts on the table, and if the chief helped me get on the front page of the newspaper with my questions that still haven’t been answered, I’m not going to complain about that.”
Like I say: Nenshi’s people couldn’t have scripted this any better if they tried.