Time for new thinking on P.E.I., says Calgary mayor

Nigel Armstrong NArmstrong@TheGuardian.pe.ca
Published on August 15, 2012
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi
Submitted photo

The Mayor of Calgary has some startling advice for Prince Edward Island.

Naheed Nenshi  is on the Island to deliver the keynote address at the third annual Palmer conference at the University of Prince Edward Island.

The conference is devoted to excellence in public administration and this year is focused on immigration.

Nenshi does not like the lobster-pot observation that Islanders never like to see anyone succeed. Like lobsters nearing the top of the pot, others will be there to drag them down, the folk lore says.

"Here in this part of the country you will call it the lobster in the pot," said Nenshi Wednesday. "In the prairies we might call it the tallest sunflower gets cut down.

"I don't think we can afford to do that in a global economy," he said. "I think we need to be creating Canadian businesses and people who are champions globally. If that means we have to support them to be champions we have to learn how to do that and I think that is something that all Canadians could choose to learn from.

"We should start with understanding that immigration is un-ambiguously good for Canada," said Nenshi.

"We need it, we have to have it and in addition, we have to be very, very thoughtful about cultivating it.

"One of the challenges that Atlantic Canada will continue to face is the whole come-from-away attitude.

"Do we think about people differently and treat people differently if they haven't been here for a really long time and what does that mean for our future prosperity?"

Calgary and Alberta is full of smart, talented, successful people who came from Atlantic Canada, said Nenshi. He often hears them say they don't believe their talents and energy would have been appreciated back in Atlantic Canada "because they weren't from the right clique or the right name or the right background," said Nenshi.

"I don't know how true that is but certainly if people in the west are saying it, then it's something that we here in the east probably need to think about," he said.

"I always say the same thing, that Calgary is successful precisely because nobody cares what your last name is, nobody cares who your Daddy was, and nobody cares where you went to school.

"What they care about is, do you have good ideas, are you willing to work hard and what do you bring to the table.

"That was how I was able to be so successful there. Nobody batted an eye when I was elected mayor as a first-generation Calgarian, the son of immigrants from a minority faith community.

"People just sort of said, 'Seems smart. Has good things to say about transit, let's give him a chance.'

"To me that is one of the core, core facets of success to this whole country and it's something that we should embrace.

"The smallest province can benefit from it, just as much as the largest province can," said Nenshi.

As for new thinking at a personal level, Nenshi might be doing just that here on the Island.

During post-election interviews on national media in 2010, Neshi said he never does back-to-nature vacations or camping. He said he likes cities and he vacations in cities and cities are the vital engine of society.

On P.E.I. he's staying at the Morrison Cottage in Stanhope.

"This is so weird for me," said Nenshi. "I'm saying 'where is the fast Internet?' but I went to the theatre last night, doe's that count?

"I spent most of the day on a beach today," he said Wednesday. "I didn't know what to do. Does one go in the water? Is there public transit to explore? How do we manage the urban issues here?

"We went in the water," he said, laughing.