“Will you endorse Olivia Chow?”
It was a question on everyone’s mind near the end of Ryerson’s third annual Jack Layton Memorial Lecture, where Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi spoke to a full house.
“There is one thing that I endorse, and the one thing that I endorse is voting,” Nenshi deftly responded to an audience question.
To an audience that included many NDP supporters and members of the late Jack Layton’s family, it probably wasn’t the answer they was hoping for. Olivia Chow, who was married to Layton for 23 years before he died in 2011, is trailing behind both John Tory and Doug Ford in the latest mayoral polls.
“I’m telling you right now that it will be a disgrace if you don’t beat Calgary’s voter turnout in 2010, after everything you’ve been through in this city,” said Nenshi. “It’s time to stop dwelling on where you’ve been and start thinking about the future.”
Nenshi’s described his experience as mayor during the 2013 Calgary floods, which devastated the city’s infrastructure. The flooding temporarily displaced over 100,000 people and became the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history.
“That’s nature,” said Nenshi. “It’s something that we cannot control, no matter how sophisticated we are.”
The 42-year-old took the next hour to recite anecdotes from people he met during the disaster, showing photos of the thousands of residents who turned up to help. He also praised Calgary’s public service sector.
“Even at the lowest point in your life, you live in a community that will look out for you,” said Nenshi.
Nenshi also told the audience the unforgettable story of one family who lost almost everything in the floods. They were forced to sleep in hammocks inside their homes until the water had receded and repairs had been made. In the aftermath, they had nailed a piece of plywood to a tree outside their home with the spray-painted message: “We lost some stuff. We gained a community. Thank you.”
“It’s about everyday people using their everyday hands to do extraordinary things,” said Nenshi. “The future of our nation rests in our ability to foster that kind of citizenship — to foster that kind of community.”
Nenshi was the third speaker to participate in the annual Jack Layton Memorial Lecture. Former federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent spoke on social democracy in 2013, and McGill Professor Charles Taylor was the speaker in 2012.
Jack Layton taught for about 10 years as a Ryerson professor in the department of politics and public administration before launching his political career. He died in 2011, shortly after becoming the first NDP Leader of the Opposition.