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Naheed Nenshi all smiles after mayoral forum where rivals offered little direct criticism

Mayor Naheed Nenshi was all smiles after an all-candidates forum  Saturday, despite the fact that he’d just spent two hours verbally sparring with six men running to replace him.

With about six weeks until election day, time is running out for the candidates who want to deny Nenshi a third term, but during the debate there were few direct challenges to the mayor. Nenshi rarely addressed individual opponents, instead focusing on broader themes.

“We’re hearing more and more intolerance, more and more hatred, and together as a community we must respond to that,” said Nenshi.

More than one hundred people attended the debate held at the Kerby Centre for the 55-plus on 7th Avenue S.W., organized by the Calgary Leadership Forum, a non-partisan think tank.

It’s the first time the mayoral candidates have debated since a Mainstreet/Postmedia poll found only 35 per cent of Calgarians have a favourable opinion of Nenshi. That’s a big slide from April, when he had 52 per cent approval.

Bill Smith, a former president of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative, criticized Nenshi, saying the police are telling him more front line officers are needed.

“They don’t have the resources that they’d had previously, they do need more numbers. If we’re going to cut our budgets anymore I don’t think it should be from front line officers,” said Smith.

Nenshi shot back, saying that he meets regularly with Calgary police Chief Roger Chaffin and that’s not what Chaffin is asking for.

“We have a very thoughtful police service that understands part of the answer is boots on the street, but part of the answer is also addressing the root causes of crime and working with the community.”

Asked after the debate who specifically he had spoken with that wanted more officers if it wasn’t Chaffin, Smith repeatedly declined to provide a name.

The most colourful criticism of Nenshi came from David Lapp, who ran unsuccessfully for city councillor in Ward 8 in 2010. Whether the question was about increasing accessibility for the disabled, Calgary’s Olympic bid, or anything else, Lapp repeatedly claimed that Calgarians were deeply outraged.

When discussing the Bowfort Towers, Lapp said: “I cannot believe this scandalous controversy. I cannot believe some of the swear words I’ve heard from old grandmothers on this.” He offered few specifics on how he’d handle city art policy differently.

Andre Chabot, Ward 10 city councillor since 2005, spent much of the debate saying he agreed with Nenshi. One area where Chabot stood out from the rest of the field was on his position on secondary suites. Chabot has been a vocal opponent of approving them en masse.

“If you want blanket secondary suites throughout the city, vote for any one of the other candidates. I have other solutions,” said Chabot.

Nearly all the candidates agreed that while they supported Calgary’s potential bid for an Olympics games in 2026, they would only support it if the numbers add up.

Shawn Baldwin, a local businessman who competed at the Canada Games, said he thought the 1988 Olympics were great for the city, but was concerned the city would have to significantly raise taxes to pay for the games, which he can’t support.

David Tremblay and Dr. Emile Gabriel also attended the debate. Paul Hughes was originally scheduled to be there, but was not in attendance.