Since When Does Calgary Hate Arrogance?

My line has always been that I hate all politicians equally. I’ve met only five in my life that I believe in and would volunteer to campaign for. Naheed Nenshi is one.

As I doorknocked from Palliser to Pump Hill, I noticed something about those who did not support the mayor. Their reason was not political. It was personal. Their description of him was, almost word for word, identical. It sounded like a script. Each one called him, “arrogant.”

“He seems like he thinks he’s better than other people,” a man said.

“He has gotten too big for his britches,” another woman said. Literally, she said “britches,” as though the mayor was a five year old boy from the 1800s.

Every single one who did not plan to vote Nenshi used that word, arrogant.

It bothered me and when I got home, I realized why.

The reason I hate all politicians equally is precisely because they’re all so damn arrogant.

Actually, even the ones I liked are arrogant.

Ralph Klein pitching pennies at the homeless? Not so humble.

Jim Prentice telling us all to look in the mirror? Mr. Math-is-hard? Pretty pretentious.

Jack Layton asking Stephen Harper if his platform was “under his sweater”? Funny, but cocky.

May those gentlemen rest in peace, but they were all arrogant. Their arrogance was a quality we came to accept. A quality of Canadian politics we have come to accept, in many of our leaders. So why do so many object to it in Mayor Nenshi?

It called to mind an interview Britain’s Channel 4 did with Michelle Obama.

She said, “For women, for minorities, I think the bar is different. We experience that all the time. For the last 8 years we’ve experienced that. I joked that when I was on the campaign trail the bar would just keep moving…You’d meet it, and then the bar would change.”

There is a phrase for calling a woman or a person of colour arrogant, when others who behave similarly get a pass.

It’s called dog-whistle politics. It’s prejudice, in the form of coded language that seems innocuous to everyone except the target audience.

By itself, the word “arrogance,” or “too big for his britches” doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with bigotry at all. These are just words, to the average person.

Because of that, it’s a way for the people who are accustomed to holding all the power to make a truly offensive point about the mayor, without really saying anything offensive at all.

To people of colour, women, trans or gay people, deeply coded language like this always hits home. That’s why it’s called a dog-whistle. The intended target knows exactly what is meant by “arrogant,” or whatever euphemism is employed.

Instead of representing Naheed Nenshi for what he has been — an outspoken advocate for the city, a man who tells it like it is — they paint him as “arrogant” or “egotistical,” dog-whistle words reminding people that due to an ugly, racist streak of Calgary, some people would like us to believe he is lucky, as a person of colour, to hold the office he holds.

Lucky, instead of talented, hard working, and the same brand of frank and plainspoken that all Calgary politicians have always been.

I understand why the mayor’s campaign probably will never speak to this narrative. His main opponent and their supporters would say people are “too politically correct” these days.

Dog-whistle politics are easy to categorize that way. After all, the whole point is plausible deniability. You aren’t outwardly mentioning race, gender or any other reason your target is unpalatable when you call them arrogant, or egotistical or high-handed.

So let’s all pretend, shall we? Let’s say that arrogance is no longer a quality we support as Calgarians. This seems odd to me, in our brash, entrepreneurial, rodeo-boom-and-bust-bootstrapper’s town, but for argument’s sake, let’s just say we don’t want any more arrogant politicians. We wish to harken back to the humble and demure Dave Bronconnier days…okay, never mind. You get what I’m trying to say.

What is more arrogant than applying for the job of leading the city, without any kind of detailed plan for how to solve its problems?

What is more arrogant than suggesting you can change aspects of municipal governance that aren’t up to the mayor to change?

What is more arrogant than telling Calgarians their city’s crime rate has skyrocketed when it simply hasn’t?

What is more arrogant than asking people for your vote without telling them who has a financial stake in your campaign?

This is what the main opponent to the Nenshi campaign is offering. It seems to be, to me, nothing but arrogance.

Like I said, I really hate almost all politicians equally. I understand if you believe in one and despise another. If you’ve found policies you believe in, and if they aren’t the same ones I believe in, I get it. That’s fine. Please just go vote.

However, if what’s swaying you one way or another is the perceived arrogance of a given candidate, I would ask you some questions: do you believe that impacts their ability to govern? Has that always been your standard for how you give or withhold your vote? If not, why not? What has changed?

Calgary is an amazing place to live, I believe the best place in Canada. Maybe a little arrogance on all our parts is warranted.