Sharing hard-won lessons in leadership earned Calgary’s mayor two standing ovations during a speech Thursday in Penticton
Naheed Nenshi used his keynote address to a crowd of elected officials at the Southern Interior Local Government Association convention to offer insights on building public morale and fostering a sense of community in times of crisis.
The populist mayor’s 30-minute talk, followed by a question-and-answer session, drew heavily on his handling of the June 2013 flood in southern Alberta. That event, which saw upwards of 100,000 people evacuated from Calgary, caused an estimated $1.7-billion in damage, making it the costliest natural disaster in the country’s history, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
Nenshi said his municipal staff severely under-estimated the number of people who would turn out to volunteer on short notice just two days after the flood waters started to recede.
He recalled arriving at McMahon Stadium to find a sea of people ready to go work and not having nearly enough public transportation to get them to affected neighbourhoods, but knowing the importance of turning them loose without delay.
Nenshi stood on a folding table and told volunteers, “Just go. You know the neighbourhoods that are badly hurt. Just go. It will become clear what to do once you get there,” he recounted.
“And with that, the most remarkable outpouring of humanity that has ever been my privilege to witness began. Tens of thousands or people just going and helping their neighbours, going and helping strangers.”
The mayor said that praising the work of volunteers and helping channel their enthusiasm was important to build a sense of community, but also an effort to ready people to face difficult times ahead.
“What I was really talking about was peoples’ mental health and how we make sure that we keep up peoples’ spirits and keep up their ability to cope,” he said, “and their resiliency in times of terrible crisis like this.”