An analysis and history on slates and campaigns in Calgary

Global News Calgary released an exclusive video that reveals the behind the scenes look at what the development industry is thinking about in terms of the upcoming 2013 Calgary municipal election. For what is supposed to be a slower election year than 2010, this has rattled the politically hyper-engaged in the city. To put it into context, the civic political landscape in Calgary is facing much change. Aside from whether or not one agrees with these changes, the fact that the status quo is  being challenged is quite evident. Discussions on the management of growth, land-use development, and other topics that were rarely discussed in the public realm are now the talk of the town. When you bring organizations like CivicCamp into the fold, or the fact that the mayor of a city would publicly sideline a group that has long represented the developers, all of this can be very straining for a long running relationship between the city and the development industry.

On urban regimes

Before examining the history of slates, a little bit of political theory needs to be discussed to get an idea of how this relationship between the city and the development industry might work.

Clarence Stone suggested a theory of urban regimes, which is described as an “informal arrangements by which public bodies and private interests function together in order to be able to make and carry out governing decisions”. Stone furthermore breaks down the types of regimes that can exist, and the one that best describes the relationship between the city and the developers would be the development regime. While this is one of many political theories that explains how a city operates and why it conducts itself in a certain manner, development regime theory can best explain a city’s relationship to the private industry.

A development regime is concerned about land-use development, the feasibility of achieving a certain land-use development strategy, and establishing legacies.

The ability of the city and the development industry to work together (or form a coalition) so that both sides “believe that positive change is feasible” (Stone, 2008). One great example of this feasibility is how Plan It, a long term sustainable growth plan for the city in the form of an integration between the Municipal Development Plan and the Calgary Transportation Plan, was modified in 2009. One of the highlights during the Plan It debates was the watering down of a key provision of Plan It. Behind a closed-door meeting with the developers, city council moved to “lower the density threshold from 70 residents per gross developable hectare to 60 residents and jobs per hectare in new communities” (Zhao, 2009). Naheed Nenshi, then still a Mount Royal University professor and a Better Calgary Campaign spokesperson, noted that “closed door deal was unacceptable because city council and the developers ‘could have done it two years ago’ if they wanted to. [He] also pointed to the amendment as being “incredibly ambiguous.” He said the wording could allow developers to build communities with lower densities than existing communities.” (Zhao, 2009). This sets an early precedent as to how the development industry might need to respond should someone like Naheed Nenshi become mayor. About a year later, Nenshi is elected mayor.

Establishing legacies for the purposes of this article is not as relevant, but still important. Stone says that “mayors have consistently associated their administrations closely with development activity…[as] it meets a need for quick and visible action” (Stone, 2008). There is a strong incentive for officials to engage with private partners to establish their legacies. While most legacy projects in Calgary are in a form of a transportation achievement (Bronconnier and the West LRT, Nenshi and the Airport Tunnel to name a few), Calgary is coming to a crossroads as to the types of development it wants to pursue. Is the question to ask whether or not the city continues on a path for single-family homes for those looking for an affordable and family friendly neighborhood, or is the path towards more sustainable and controlled growth in a form of greater density? Perhaps that is the ultimate legacy that most academics have not looked enough at in Canada.

Finally, how does this partnership come about? Here is where everything ties together with the revelation that the development industry will back their candidates financially. Campaign financing is clearly “a series of public actions as necessary steps to assure that feasibility.” (Stone, 2008). The industry perceives certain individuals on the current city council in Calgary as a major threat to its long standing relationship with the city, but are we genuinely shocked with this revelation? It is perhaps how blunt and honest the statements made by Cal Wenzel, founder of Shane Homes, that is most shocking. In this day and age of smartphones, optics, perception, and the speed in which news travels, the development regime is being heavily challenged.

How does this tie into the history of slates and campaigns though? History actually shows something else, and it often did not have anything to do with the development industry. Much of Calgary’s early history is based on the struggle between labour movements and the business industry. The period after the 1990s shows a more “unite the right” front in both the city council and public school board arena. The development industry, one could argue, was much more subtle in its public actions during an election period up until, well 2013 pretty much.

A history of slates and campaigns in the city

Dale Hodges, one of Calgary’s longest serving aldermen, was quoted by the Metro that he’d “never seen anything like it in his 30 years on council.” He also says that  “ I’ve never seen a concerted effort by one group . . . to finance their own candidates, irrespective of what the election laws say.” In many aspects the alderman is correct. No group in the city’s history has ever tried to get their respective candidates elected by disregarding the election laws. However, it is important to note that there were no real election laws before 2010. A free-for-all approach to campaign financing meant that candidates before 2010 could spend as much as they want and there were no campaign contribution caps. Election finances aside, it is interesting that starting in 1983, the year that Dale Hodges was elected, local political parties in the Calgary arena stopped running candidates. The history before 1983 though should be one that Calgarians need to familiarize themselves with. (Much of the this is taken from Alberta’s Local Government: Politics and Democracy by Masson and LeSage).

Early Years

– Pre 1915: Calgary represented by real estate and business community. Representation restricted to those who had a minimum amount of property.

– 1915 – 1918: Labour movement begins in Calgary at the civic level once the franchise is extended to all Calgarians.

-1918: Calgary Trade and Labour Congress manage to get an executive elected to council. He would stay on for 17 years (except in 1927).

– 1920: The Civic Government Association (CGA) is formed by the business community to counter the labour movement.

– 1920s and 30s: The CGA holds onto power throughout this period with the Calgary Trade and Labour Congress and the Dominion Labour Party endorsing candidates only.

Max Foran in the text notes three reasons why Labour failed to gain traction: 1) weak union movements in Calgary 2) low voter turnout and 3) proportional representation at the time did not help Labour

1933: Labour wrestles back tower from the CGA during the Depression era

Enter the SoCreds

1935: 3/7 council candidates and 2 school trustee candidates elected under the Social Credit banner. Labour is awarded 3 council seats and one school trustee position

1938: A Communist candidate is elected with the help of Social Credit votes.

1940: After Social Credit incumbents are defeated in multiple elections, the party stops running candidates altogether.

1941-42: No elections held during World War 2.

1943: Alberta’s Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF)  enters civic politics and wins one council seat.

1944: Supported by the labour movement, CCF wins 2 council seats and one school board trustee seat.

1945: CCF withdraws from municipal politics.

After World War 2

Early 1950s: The labour movement in Calgary splits between the Labour Progressive Party (the Canadian Communisty Party) and the more moderate United Civic Lavour Group (UCLG). CGA capitaizes on this split and holds onto power until the mid-1950s.

1956: CGA reorganizes as the United Citizens Association (UCA) after a period of intense partisanship between the labour movement and the CGA.

1957: UCA (combination of labour and business candidates) win 5 seats and Labour wins 2.

1959: Labour Council runs a Calgary Labour Council slate (CLC) after it stops endorsing candidates in 1957. They capture 1 seat.

1958: Anti-labour members persuade council to replace the city-wide proportional representation system. The system is soon replaced by a two-member, six-ward system that uses proportional representation.

1961: Due to the changes in the voting system, the CLC only elects on candidate.

The Ward System

1962-1964: Ward system allows a community based group, the North Hill Businessmen’s Association (NHBA) to elect either 1 or 2 candidates to council during this time. The Bridgeland-Riverside-Renfrew Ratepayers Association also endorses candidates and helps them with financing.

Early 1960s: UCA holds majority in council.

1965: UCA endorses Jack Leslie for mayor (he wins). 5/7 UCA aldermanic candidates win their seat.

1965: CLC is replaced by the Civic Labour Association (CLA)

1965-1966: CLA elects one member to council, and then disbands.

1967: UCA no longer gives candidates policy direction.

1967: CLA is succeeded by the Civic Action League (CAL), calling themselves a “non-partisan civic political body”. After not electing any of its 5 candidates, they disband. Labour movement no longer nominates candidates after this date.

1971: Council terms changed to 3 years as opposed to annually. UCA elects 4 members, the rest are independent.

1974: UCA wins three seats and disbands

1977: The Calgary Urban Party (CUP) runs with a platform of social and planning policy reforms. All 6 candidates are defeated.

The 1980s

1980: CUP disbands.

1983: No parties or slates are present in the aldermanic and mayoral races. Two education parties run candidates though in 1983 and 1986: Better Education for Everyone (BEE) and Save Public Education (SPE). Party candidates capture 12 of the 14 positions (text does not say which year).

1989: Wards established for school boards, and all candidates for all races run as independents.

1989: Calgary Coalition for Life names certain aldermanic candidates as part of an anti-abortion slate. Some candidates are upset their names were used without permission (Cooney, 1989).

The 1990s

1992: After a petition is rejected to hold another plebiscite on fluoridation, 5 candidates campaign as an anti-fluoride slate. No anti-fluoride candidates are elected (Ferguson, 1992).

1995: A slate under the name “Class Action” runs 6 candidates in 7 spots. None are elected (Gold, 1995).

1998: 3 candidates run under the Progressive Group for Independent Business (PGIB) for city council in an effort to “unite the right”. Two run under the PGIB banner for school trustees. None are elected. (Calgary Herald, 1998).

1998: A group under the name Parents’ Rights in Education initially had a plan to oust “liberal” public school board trustees, but later scales back plan. Two public school board trustees run under a joint slogan “Campaign to Make Public Education Work” (Dawson, 1998).

The 2000s

2001: Calgary Voters’ Coalition endorses 9 candidates (aldermanic, school board, and health board) (Wilton, 2001).  Another group is formed called Union Alert and attacks the Calgary Voters’ Coaltion as being “ultra left wing” (Wilton, 2001). PGIB runs/endorses 6 candidates as part of its slates. One candidate for the PGIB wins an aldermanic race (Ferguson, 2001).

2004: PGIB endorses 4 candidates for council. One candidate is re-elected as alderman (Fekete, 2004).

2007: The Better Calgary Campaign (BCC) endorses candidates for council, but not school board trustees.

2010: CivicCamp, a non-partisan public advocacy group, hosts election forums in all wards and for the mayoral race. No public trustee forums were held. CivicCamp neither endorses nor runs a slate in the election.

Going Forward

Observers noted that during 2007-2010, city council was bitterly divided and was at times, dysfunctional. The number of 8-7 votes indicated just how split a group of independent councilors could be. The 2013 election appears to be a very interesting election, as it now pulls in the fiscal conservatives, the development industry, and those who advocate for a different kind of growth in the city. The stage is set for a highly emotional and partisan election, and one might argue the city hasn’t seen since the 1950s. With Calgary though, anything goes.



Calgary Herald. “Last poll a cliffhanger for trustee” Calgary Herald. 21 October, 1998.

Cooney, Roam. “Church given pro-life stance.” Calgary Herald, 3 October 3, 1989.

Dawson, Chris. “Parents’ group changes tactics in battle against ‘liberal’ trustees: Organization plans to question candidates’ morals and values.” Calgary Herald. 29 September, 1998.

Fekete, Jason. “Business lobby group endorses four candidates.” Calgary Herald. 23 September, 2004.

Ferguson, Eva. “Babiuk vows fluoride fight will continue despite loss.” Calgary Herald, 20 October, 1992.

Ferguson, Eva. “PGIB picks its preferred slate of conservatives: Small business group favours low taxes.” Calgary Herald. 7 September 7, 2001.

Gold, William. “School board party politics hardly end of democracy.” Calgary Herald. 20 September 20, 1995.

Masson, Jack K, and Edward C. LeSage (1994). Alberta’s Local Governments: Politics and Democracy. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press.

Stone, C.N. (2008). Urban Regimes and the Capacity to Govern: A Political Economy Approach. In M. Orr and V. C. Johnson (Ed.), Power in the City (pp. 76-107). Kansan: Kansas University Press.

Wilton, Suzanne. “Anti-union group slams candidates: Organization warns of ‘ultra left- wing’ support.” Calgary Herald. 9 October, 2001.

Wilton, Suzanne. “Voters’ coalition embraces slate of nine hopefuls.” Calgary Herald. 4 October, 2001.

Zhao, Jeremy. “Plan It finally set to hit the streets.” The Gauntlet. The Gauntlet, 08 Oct 2009. Web. 10 Mar 2010. <>.


Much of the content was also pulled from one of my assignments in university. A copy of it can be found here.

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