E-mocracy reigns as Twitter elects new Calgary mayor

Post by Mike Klassen in


Naheed Nenshi: Calgary's mayor-elect won because of the social network
Naheed Nenshi: Calgary's mayor-elect won because of the social network

The serendipity isn't lost on the folks here at CityCaucus Tower. We asked you yesterday to follow us on Twitter, and mere hours later that same medium took a virtually unknown candidate to electoral victory. The ramifications of this "Twitter victory" (or, how about "Twictory"?) are potentially huge for Canadian politics.

Thirty-eight year old Naheed Nenshi (@Nenshi) is the City of Calgary's new mayor-elect after a nail-biter three-way race with a former broadcaster with huge name recognition, and a well-liked city alderman. Early media reports are focusing on Nenshi's Muslim heritage, but this kind of typical profiling ignores the true lesson of Calgary's civic election.

The real story of Calgary's election is the use of social networking to secure victory.

A Twitterer commented, "It's official, the days of traditional land-line based GOTV are over." GOTV is an acronym for 'Get Out The Vote' – the number one job of election campaign teams, pushing voters out to the polls. Twitter's advantage is that it drives messages to ubiquitous hand-held devices. Get someone on their cell phone and you've connected with a potential voter.

My CityCaucus.com colleague Daniel Fontaine watched the Calgary horse race with bated breath all last evening. He reports that tweets with the #yycvote hashtag (hashtags explained here) at one point were pouring in at about 250 per minute. Fontaine spent all evening tweeting about the Calgary mayoral contest, which in turn created a huge reaction among other Twitter followers of this contest.

Amazingly, by sticking around CityCaucus Tower and tweeting madly Daniel turned the "YYCVote" into a trending topic on Twitter for Vancouver (see: Twitter trends explained).

Daniel's best line to describe what happened was "Calgary suffered from a good case of e-mocracy", coining the 'e' word in one of his early tweets.

Voter turnout spiked in the Calgary contest because youth voters went to the polls in record numbers. Having people tweet "if you care about your city then get the f*** out and vote" all day might have been an incentive.

Nenshi's day job as a university professor at Mount Royal College endeared him to thousands of students. Reportedly he enlisted 700 full time volunteers from the ranks of his current and former students. Volunteers are the lifeblood of election campaigns and hundreds of workers on a municipal campaign is a huge feat.

There are other details to Nenshi's campaign that make it so remarkable. By supporting Nenshi you became a part of a so-called "Purple Revolution". Nenshi's chosen campaign colour set him apart from the traditional campaign colours. Further, says the Canadian Press:

Nenshi's supporters stood out at rallies in their grape-hued ``Purple Revolution'' T-shirts while his website included a self-deprecating video of people trying to pronounce his name (NAH'-hed NEN'-shee).

His self-deprecating sense of humour defined Nenshi's style, which is a marked difference between him and the leading candidate in Toronto's mayoral contest, Rob Ford. Some are joking that Toronto's and Calgary's mayoral candidates have been swapped. The visible minority, Harvard-educated candidate winning in a town with a redneck reputation, and the redneck looking to win in Hogtown.

Will the Calgary example affect outcomes in Toronto's race for mayor? So far we're not seeing much action on #yyzvote, but Neshi's win will surely change that. Will Ford or Smitherman eke out a victory because of a brilliant social media strategy?

For Vancouver there are also big implications. $2 million campaigns have become the norm. Vision Vancouver willingly buries itself in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt to win. Will social media mean that lean & mean campaigns can take over? Will the far less financed NPA (no USA sugar daddies for these guys) be able to capture the public mood with an exciting direction for the city and a rejection of Vision's arrogant style of politics?

So far no one is talking about #yvrvote on Twitter – yet. You know it's coming though. Which is why we continue to recommend this new communications tool, even to Twitter skeptics. There is no question in our mind that Twitter will probably be the defining difference in Canada's municipal politics from this day forward.

Read more: Neshi's acceptance speech from last night.


On a related note, a big plug for a fantastic social media tool created by a Vancouver-based company. Hootsuite (@Hootsuite) is a web and smart phone based platform that allows you to connect multiple social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) under one interface. I think the free web-based dashboard version of Hootsuite is second to none.

Hootsuite is also available for Android, iPhone and now Blackberry devices, with both a free version and a nifty full-featured version for $1.99. It's definitely worth spending two bucks on, and supports a great Canadian company.

Last Friday evening I attended a talk by Ryan Holmes, founder of Invoke Media, Hootsuite's creator. Mixing in the crowd I got to meet some of Invoke's fantastic team, whose positive energy reminded me of my days at Electronic Arts in the late '90s. Holmes comes across as a humble and thoughtful guy, who wasn't afraid to take some risks and learn from trial and error. He talked about the many days he's "bootstrapped" with fellow employees over the past decade.

Hootsuite is taking off not just because of hype but because it's just good. Apparently it's now used by people in the White House and Ophah's business operations. Invoke have received considerable financing to move Hootsuite to the next level, which is why I encourage even more folks from Vancouver to try it out. At the very least it makes using Twitter and other tools more user-friendly.

- post by Mike


The 'e' aspects of the Nenshi campaign are certainly remarkable, but please, do give some attention to the platform: Calgary chose someone committed to sustainability, who promises to re-think the city's mobility and urbanism in a transparent and engaging way. Yes, this was communicated in a digital-heavy, interactive way, but the message is more than just the medium, and thankfully, it's an exciting message.

Read my previous comment on Twitter and Facebook. Still sad.

Sustainability? Oh phleaseee...Does this mean that Hollyhock moved East?

A wake up call for complacency and the status quo...

Jamie, sustainability is an important tenet of city-making. To be sustainable is not creating a green fallacy about yourself, or subject yourself to Hollyhock flakes. It's about creating more walkable communities and safe streets. Calgary is like so many sprawling metropolitan areas which rely heavily upon single-occupancy vehicles to move people. You need leadership to address that. Bronco was a good mayor, but it appears that Calgarians have chosen an enlightened successor.

Agreed that a social media campaign could work for the NPA. Also agree with whomever made the comment about needing a good message (ie: strong policy platform not written over a weekend just one month before election day). Candidates can tweet all they want, but if they don't give people a real reason to get out and vote them, I don't think it will be 'earthshatteringly' successful. Seems like people were genuinely excited to get out and vote and that's why all the tweeting worked.

Fascinating use of the technology.

Is this type of social media campaign a first for Calgary? It will be interesting to see what follow-ups the mayor elect uses, and into the future, if the feat can be replicated. There are so many things at play here, I wonder if conditions can be duplicated. Right message, right current job, right time, right tech, right man...

I am wondering what he will do to keep the volunteers on board. Please keep us posted. I hope the msm doesn't pooh-pooh this one.


Good morning! Could you elaborate on what you find potentially harmful in Mr Nenshi's platform?

I'm certainly looking forward to a mayor who will prioritize transit, infill development and revitalization, and culture, all while coming from a very realistic business-oriented perspective. Not sure if there's a connection to Hollyhock.

Please visit http://www.nenshi.ca and then let us know what to be wary of; I'm not so starry-eyed as to think anybody's perfect, but I really do like his platform.


Good afternoon to you too! I don't think Jamie meant any disrespect to your candidate there in Calgary (if you are from Calgary!) I also didn't read Mr. Nenshi platform but... IMO, after being burnt so badly here in Vancouver by a bunch of radical Jackos calling themselves VISION VANCOUVER, that basically made its citizens to turn against each over, I can understand his skepticism and to be honest until I read your comment (I will at a later time check the link provided)I was skeptical myself. Good luck to you. If BTW you sense any Hollyhock contamination in there, go for Chemo and Life saving surgery immediately. :-)

Calgary's population is more than double Vancouver's - and the City's mandate includes transit - that is to say relative to running Vancouver it is a much bigger job. The transit system is 100% solar powered (probably some marketing license in there but impressive none the less).
What I find interesting is what did NOT happen in this election -- no nudist party, no 'less work' party. No insane promises like solve homelessness in 5 years. And not much talk about bike lanes - Calgary has lots of them across the city and they are crowded on sunny days.
But the best part -- no 'party' system. That way if one loose screw gets in - and they always do - they are not backed by a whole party of loose screws with deep pockets. They don't have political alliances with the province or pull over the school boards or dabble in policing. They don't fire the City manager to put in one of 'their own' and they pay for their own websites with their own money. They don't fire key civic employees for not following political lines.
Calgary's citizens don't get a homeless shelter popping up in a toni neighborhood. Didn't get bike lanes rammed down their throat. Don't see much strike activity and never hear much from the school board.
I believe Vancouver's party system COPE vs NPA vs VISION or Work Less or whomever makes for nasty, partisan politics, dividing people and killing effective dialogue that a small CIty like Vancouver -- and yes folks Vancouver is small -- can ill afford.

I see he is enamored of improving the bicycle infrastructure.


Vancouver's mayor would build a bike path on McLeod Trail. Let's see how far this guy goes.

I understand a UN organization of which most Canadian cities are members of and which Cadman has a major position in is pushing cities to fast track bicycle traffic so that might be what we are seeing.


Sorry I beg to differ. The new Mayor of Calagary has a fairly extensive podcast manifesto of ideas, processes (maybe not quite policy yet) on his website, including lots to say on poverty/social activism.

But where he might differ from our council is his apparent desire in not wasting resources while asking for accountability.

He seems to be pushing for a way to access the multiplicity of non-profits in a way that:
a) people can find a service easily and quickly, and
b) have all non-profits synched so that duplication of services provided is brought under control for fiscal accountability, while
c) not making the fiscal accountability process onerous to the service providers (many of the groups not having a legion of people to do admin) in terms of having to do so much paperwork (hope that doesn't mean no accountability; just less red tape to giving the service as needed).

Wow, wouldn't it be something if the socail and fiscal responsibility actually came together! Refreshing!

Apparently, he has already asked the Calgary PD Chief to give an audited accounting of what the department spends. Hip Hip HOORAH!

Can't we do that here!? Huh? Pleeeze? Or would that disrupt the relationship between Penny and Chu-ie too much?

All this guy has is 15 minutes. Of whatever you want it to be. It's up to him how he spends it!In Vancouver Robbie and the Visioghots are down to 5 minutes and counting. I still have no idea what they did with their time so far.

I agree the party system here is stupid. It just leads to petty bickering we see here all the time.

But it ain't all sunshine in Calgary. I drove through and the sprawl from Banff to the City is absolutely insane.

"I drove through and the sprawl from Banff to the City is absolutely insane."

Uh, you mean like the sprawl from Vancouver to Abbottsford? Look, you can't get away from the fact that cities grow and, over time, people like to move further out and set up a home. It's normal, and it's what every city has to deal with, including Vancouver. Vancouver actually is very small.

Many Vancouverites seem to have this hubristic idea that Vancouver is one of the best cities on the planet, but, truth be told, it's just too small to even be on the radar against most international cities. Vancouver is more like a large village than a major urban city.

That's one of the reasons why this Vancouver is bogged down in petty "us vs. them" politics. Vancouverites aren't yet ready to make some of the bigger decisions it needs to make in order to advance itself into the future.

In most large cities, they deal with things like bicycle lanes with professionalism and ease. In Vancouver it's the biggest thing on the agenda. What a joke.

Here's a hint: If you want to put bike lanes in, don't fuel the ridiculously childish war between the bicycle lobby and the driving public. In fact, work as hard as you can to make peace between the two sides. (That includes not printing stupid t-shirts that have immature and cocky slogans on them. It also includes telling the idiots who ride around on "critical mass" Fridays to cease and desist.

It's time for Vancouver to grow up, or the great people who can truly build Vancouver into the world-class city it could be are going to just pack up and move somewhere normal, like Calgary.

Calgary has a lot of recreational paths, but lacks in commuter cycling facilities, as their new mayor pointed out in the campaign materials linked to by a different poster:

"b. Expand the dedicated bike lane network. While Calgary has decent recreational biking infrastructure, we are
severely lacking in commuter infrastructure. We need to implement the proposed road standards in the Calgary
Transportation Plan that call for real bicycle lanes along major urban roads. A line drawing of a bicycle on the
road is not enough. We need safe, grade separated bike lanes on some roads, as well as adjustments to some
intersections (e.g. allowing bikes to go through before cars turn right) to make cycling an option for people who
don’t consider themselves hardcore cyclists."

"Here's a hint: If you want to put bike lanes in, don't fuel the ridiculously childish war between the bicycle lobby and the driving public. "

Here's a fact: There's no war. There's just some very real concerns about sharing road space in dangerous situations and the suggestion that the 'bicycle lobby' doesn't represent the 'public' has no basis in fact. Take a look at any bike route in the city and despite the mis-characterizations so prevalent on the Internet, you'll see people from all walks of life, all ages, both sexes, and every income bracket from dirt-poor to filthy-rich. Kind of like the people in cars, on transit, and walking on sidewalks.

It may be time for citycaucus to beef up its Calgary bureau. Looks like there will be a lot to write about there in the next 4 years. Should be fun watching the cycling lobby work their magic in cowtown.


I really don't understand your reply, the logic you use.

The discussion is regarding Calgary. There is a post saying how Calgary is doing this and that so well. I reply saying in Calgary it isn't all good. You reply 'Oh yeah, well they have the same problem in Metro Vancouver too!'.

Ok...so what? What does that have to do with anything?

A complete lie, but no surprise considering the source. There is most definitely a full-on war, by the cycling extremists in Vancouver against drivers. It's s disgrace and a sham. Whining and frothing about how they are being abused.

What a crock.

3.5% of the public is holding the rest of the city hostage because their guru is Mayor. Well let me tell you, that won't last forever.

'War' 'Held Hostage' 'Extremists'

What a rational approach to this topic. Nope, not overblown at all.

Daniel and Mike:

You do your readers a huge disservice by characterizing Mayor Nenshi's win as one of e-mocracy.

1) Not for decades has Calgary seen the kind of grassroots movement led by Prof. Nenshi. Lots of youth, lots of Muslims--two most prominent groups supporting him--massive numbers all activist, all at the polls. Although, he also had a huge cross-section of voters. Lots of cross-over.

2) His campaign was VERY organized and dedicated. It wasn't uncommon for campaign workers to leave the office well past midnight.

3) Opponents' campaigns essentially collapsed at perfect times. McIver peaked too early and ran out of steam after a bitter rivalry with outgoing Mayor Bronconnier. Saturation point of McIver's candidacy hit peak even before active election period.

4) CTV's Barb Higgins bled lots of support from McIver--particularly women, who found him too wooden. Then, after some messaging blunders, she gave it back to him and in spades. Lots of vote splitting.

5) Nenshi is a long-time civic observer and sometimes pundit. Piles of recognition and generally speaking a very nice man, who earned his win.

It will be interesting to see if he sticks to some of the sustainability bullshit he learned at Harvard will fly in Calgary, or whether someone pulls him aside and wipes down behind his ears.

Lots of youth, lots of Muslims--two most prominent groups supporting him--massive numbers all activist
So what we are saying here is that youth and Muslims voted for him because he is young and Muslim.

Is that the reason to vote for someone? Because a candidate is in your demo--regardless of anything else.

No no, it's because they're all activists. See if you support someone or something that isn't what the old guard support, you're an 'activist'.

re: "I understand a UN organization of which most Canadian cities are members of and which Cadman has a major position in is pushing cities to fast track bicycle traffic so that might be what we are seeing."

Hey you're not supposed to follow the bread crumb trail all the way to the source! Naughty boy.

You're supposed to support the "other" party and then be "outraged" when the NPA pushes the exact same globalist agenda as Vision. Agenda "21" as they call it..

Once again Alex, it's unfortunately necessary to point out the error in quoting a 3.5% statistic with regard to bike lanes. In fact, the Burrard Bridge and Dunsmuir separate lanes service neighbouring areas with cycling commuting rates at 10% or above, and further, half of Canadians own a bicycle. All those are verifiable statistics and if you take issue with them, then you need to come up with some reasonable explanation as to why they aren't accurate.

But, pretending there's a 'war' makes good fodder for entertaining columns, so the assertion that there IS such a thing is no big surprise, considering the source. ;-)


And there Chris goes again talking apples and oranges.

Tsakumis' 3.5% is of course the % of Vancouverites who cycle to work and not the rates from specific neighbourhoods as Chris is sighting.

geez Chris, you really need to stop thinking people can't see through your constant misinformation tactics.

If you want to start talking neighbourhood by neighbourhood, why not pull out those who are below 1% while you're at it.

The reality is that 3.5% of Vancouverites in total cycle, and so far none of the bike lanes put up, has increased that number a negligible amount.

Hi Glenn:

My point which I thought was quite clear, was that it's appropriate to provide bike lanes where there is a clear demand for them, and the Burrard and Dunsmuir lanes are obvious examples of this. That's why using the 3.5% statistic doesn't make much sense. By your reasoning we wouldn't put lifeguards on Kits Beach because no one swims in the south arm of the Fraser River.

Further, cycling participation rates are on the increase, due in no small part to better, safer bike lanes. That's why every single level of gov't at least pays lip service to the concept and towns as far north as Prince George are all actively seeking additional funding for cycling infrastructure.


Again, nice try at spin Chriss, cycling rates on the rise....please, even your boy Meggs expressed his frustration at how the numbers haven't been going up.

And with winter on its way, no one but the diehards use them. Frankly the money could be better spent on community services that are utilized year round.

As for using an example like Prince George seeking provincial money for bike lanes, wow big surprise civic governments are seeking any money they can get for any infrastructure from the province and feds. That doesn't mean people there are using their bikes, or for that matter, that there is even demand....and you know better.

Listen Chriss, we all know you're not stupid, so stop treating us like we are. Or rather, stop treating those few souls you hope read your comments and get swayed down the path of cycling righteousness as stupid.

It came to and end for david Koresh, and it will come to an end for you evangelists as well.

Hi Glenn:

Always a pleasure to be your whipping boy. Just another opportunity to set the record straight.

The facts are out there for anyone to check. Cycling is on the rise, here in Vancouver, up in Prince George, damn near anywhere that it's even remotely possible. It's due in part to better facilities. They're cost-efficient. That's why they appeal to people of almost every political stripe. Smart people recognize that. Don't suggest otherwise. You know better.

Cycling is on the rise, here in Vancouver, up in Prince George, damn near anywhere that it's even remotely possible.

Do we have hard numbers on this. Say Oct 1/09 to Oct 1/10 using the Burrard Bridge. And if there is an increase how much is it. A couple of point increase is a waste of money as you could get a lot better results getting people to walk more in the downtown area by covering sidewalks more than at present.

That makes logical sense compared to bike lanes which really is a dream in Vancouver and a wet dream in Prince George.


You can see burrard bridge bike lane statistics here.


Nothing up for Sept/Oct of 2010 at this time. That's normal as far as I know. It takes a bit of time to compile and post the information.

"A couple of point increase is a waste of money as you could get a lot better results getting people to walk more in the downtown area by covering sidewalks more than at present."

I'm not sure we should be basing our infrastructure investments on the results of less than one year of data, esp. when the final leg of a complete network is only now being tried out. With every passing year, the initial investment 'costs' us less, esp. if it continues to deliver an increase in cycling mode share.

I'm not sure how more covered sidewalks would encourage more people to commute into the downtown core by other means than cars. Could you expand on that thought, particularly what you mean by 'better results'?


By the city's own numbers the total was 4.8%.

That included the increase of 24% Geoff Meggs was spouting on about.

Should also look at how much traffic has increased on the Granville Bridge. As for the bicycle traffic for last year it is probably skewed from the Olympics which also had an abnormally mild winter which allowed some bicyclists who normally wouldnt bike at that time to bike downtown.


Forget about the drivers on the Granville bridge. What does that have to do with the amount of people cycling? As for the Olympics, today's a bad day to argue that good weather outside of spring and summer is 'abnormal.' I do want to know why more awnings downtown will change traffic patterns however. Can you expand on your rationale for that?


You're quoting a statistic in isolation. No one is arguing the fact that overall, cycle commuting in Vancouver is around 4% for the whole city. Can you expand on your comment so I can understand its relationship to the rest of this discussion?


More covered sidewalks will make downtown an easier area to walk around when it is wet. Sort of Vancouver's answer to Calgary and Toronto's walkways downtown that keep you out of the cold but allow you to go from building to building. Same thing for Vancouver but out of the rain and outside. Would help downtown businesses as well as downtown pedestrians more than any bike lane.

Yes it is important to see how much traffic is on the Granville Bridge as the argument that bike lanes make it more attractive to people not biking to bike downtown should mean that there is a reduction in traffic on the Burrard and Granville Bridge.

If this is not the case then another fallacy bites the dust.


Perhaps you misunderstood my question.

How will awnings reduce car traffic into Vancouver? No doubt more awnings will make it more pleasant to walk downtown once you are there, but is it really going to have an effect on one's choice of transportation.

As for the Granville Bridge, it was recommended as an alternate route for motorists when the protected lane on Burrard was installed. Rather than a decrease, an increase would not be unexpected, esp since the lane has only been in place for a short time and it's unrealistic to expect huge changes in mode share in a short time.

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