Naheed Nenshi’s real problem is with his voters ~ Matt Gurney January 16, 2014 11:31 AM ET
Naheed Nenshi, Mayor of Calgary, is not happy. He’d like to see more diversity at City Hall, but it ain’t there on display. In a recent address to economic development leaders, the Mayor had some stern words about the workforce he oversees.
“We are lousy at promoting a diverse workforce,” Nenshi said, according to theCalgary Herald. “When you look at our management levels within the city, (among) my top six managers there are no women now — the one woman retired — there are no people of a visible minority.” And this, clearly, is bad.
Hey, maybe it is bad. Diversity can be annoying when enforced from above as a panacea, but it has upsides when it develops naturally (as, in Canada, it does). But if Nenshi is truly worked up about the problem, it’s not hard to see where the blame lies: With Calgary’s voters.
Because it’s not just the workforce at city hall that is a problem — it’s the elected officials themselves. Calgary’s government includes the Mayor himself and 14 city councillors, for a total elected representative count of 15. Of these 15 duly elected leaders, 13 of them are men. That’s about 87%. And it’s not much better when you check for the colours of Canada’s multi-cultural rainbow: Thirteen of the 15 councillors are also white. (For those keeping score at home, it specifically breaks down as so: Brown man (Nenshi himself), Asian man, two white women, 11 white guys.)
So the question for Nenshi is this. Are his colleagues on council an insult to diversity? Does Calgary need a city council that is a more accurate reflection of the demographic makeup of the city? If Nenshi answers yes, even partially, to either of those questions, what is he going to demand the voters do about it?
It’s an intriguing notion. A multicultural society is a nice thing (when it works, at least, which it generally does in Canada). But there is always going to be a lag time between when a society — or a specific city within a broader society — becomes multicultural and when the minorities living in that multicultural society begin to reach positions of real power and authority. Putting down roots is a process, not an event. It takes time, but good things are worth waiting for.
And Nenshi is the proof of that himself. His parents immigrated to Canada from Tanzania, settling in Toronto. They didn’t have it easy at first, as Nenshi himself commented during his victory speech after being elected mayor in 2010.
“They were 30 when they moved to this country,” he said, referring to his parents. “[My mother] was pregnant with me. They didn’t have a thing. I betcha they never imagined that their loud-mouthed kid would end up standing here today. But if it wasn’t for the values they instilled in my sister and me, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Values? Sure. But something else was needed — time. Forty-some-odd years ago, when the Nenshis settled in Canada as ethnic and religious minorities (the family is Muslim), it would have been inconceivable that they’d rise to power in one of Canada’s largest, greatest cities. But that’s what can happen with hard work and a bit of patience.
Nenshi’s election was lauded as a turning point for Calgary, a sign that it was embracing a more cosmopolitan, multicultural future, with the brown Muslim mayor to prove it. And even outsiders who’ve visited the city over the last few years, such as myself, can see the changes happening in real time. Calgary is changing.
And that change will eventually be seen throughout the city’s administration. But not right away, because such progress cannot be hurried. In the meantime, the city should continue doing what the Mayor conceded it is already likely doing — hiring the best people for available jobs in a colourblind manner. If that’s not good enough, and if Nenshi and his supporters want change in a hurry, the solution is easy. It can start at the top. Just convince the voters.
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