Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi talks as city council had it's first day back in council chambers for a council meeting since the flooding in June closed city hall in downtown Calgary, AB on Monday September 9, 2013.
Credits: STUART DRYDEN/QMI AGENCY
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has a carefully crafted public image of transparency and integrity. And he protects that image by constantly grooming the local media, chatting with them on Twitter around the clock. Most busy mayors don't have time to write 20,000 Twitter messages, as Nenshi has done. But it's important for him to make journalists feel like they're his personal friends.
Because it's tougher to ask a friend a critical question.
Like this one: Why has Nenshi not disclosed that the anti-oilsands group, the Pembina Institute, has lobbied him about city policy?
Nenshi's website claims he discloses every meeting with lobbyists. So why isn't the Pembina Institute on the list?
Last week Ed Whittingham, Pembina's chief lobbyist, told the Calgary Herald that he and his staff buttonhole the mayor regularly.
"Have we ever spoken to an alderman or the mayor about an issue when we've rubbed shoulders at an event? Yes. But have we sat down as a lobbyist? No, that's not what we do."
Actually that is the legal definition of a lobbyist, someone who is paid to change a government policy. Whittingham know this, since he is registered in Ottawa as Pembina's chief lobbyist.
But Nenshi's website is silent about their little chats.
Add in the fact that the City of Calgary paid Pembina $340,000 in "consulting" fees to promote carbon taxes and other anti-oil measures. In fairness, that bizarre decision started before Nenshi was mayor. But he continued it. And ramped it up.
Nenshi isn't so slick
Calgary mayor hits below belt when questioned about oilsands lobby
So Nenshi meets with Pembina's lobbyists, off the record, while shovelling public cash at them. But he also taped a promotional video for their Toronto fundraiser this year, and praised their work - even citing their anti-fossil fuels mission.
When the Canadian Taxpayers Federation revealed the $340,000 payment, Pembina yanked that video off YouTube. They tried to make it secret, just like their cocktail chats.
Unlike the Media Party, Nenshi has not been attentive to me. He has not given me a birthday shout-out and he has not told me how handsome I am. So I did not find it difficult to ask him these questions. And on Sunday, I did so, using his favourite medium: Twitter.
Why did he say the 22 Pembina staff on the city's payroll were "scientists," when most of them were PR experts? Why was his pro-Pembina video taken off YouTube? Why he hadn't disclosed his lobbying meetings?
He didn't like it one bit. This wasn't how Twitter usually worked for him.
So I asked him one last question: "Will you disclose whether any Pembina staff are working on your election campaign, or have donated to you? Is this a quid pro quo?"
Firm. Tough, even. But fair. Fair for a big-city mayor who claims to be the most ethical in the country.
And then Nenshi tweeted back: "When did you stop beating your wife?"
I have never beat my wife, nor anyone else. That's a vile accusation to make against anyone. It's especially vile coming from someone like Nenshi who claims to be so sensitive to issues like spousal violence - to trivialize it, by using it as a political slur.
It was filthy. It was vicious.
But I think I - and Nenshi's other 130,000 other Twitter followers - got a clear insight into Nenshi's moral code. And the fact that he'll do anything, and say anything, and smear anyone, rather than answer tough questions about his ethical conduct.
On Monday, Nenshi did post this on his blog - "If Mr. Levant or anyone else was truly offended by my use of this phrase (When did you stop beating your wife?), of course I apologize."