Calgary Elects Muslim Mayor

Calgary, a deeply conservative city in the heart of the most conservative province in Canada, the city that pretty much drives Canadian conservatism, has elected ... a Muslim mayor?

Many of you may not appreciate the significance of this. For the rest of you, feel free to let out another gasp.

Voting was heavy, about 53 percent, for Monday's mayoral election in Calgary, one of many municipal elections held throughout Alberta. Naheed Nenshi has never held elected office before, but, riding a wave of change in a city of oil and rodeos, he triumphed over his conservative rivals, winning a 40 percent plurality of the vote. Upon taking office, he will be the first Muslim mayor of a major Canadian city. The Globe and Mail explains what Nenshi represents:

In many ways, Naheed Nenshi's come-from-behind win in Calgary's mayoral race is a traditional story.

Mr. Nenshi is qualified, charismatic and well-spoken. His career path has set him up well, perhaps purposefully, for a political career. He earned key endorsements and had all the momentum going into election day.

But, of course, his victory is unique, both for reasons the 38-year-old is inclined to discuss - such as his impressive grassroots "Purple Army" shoestring campaign - and those that he is not. He represents a changing Calgary, with its 230,000 visible-minority residents (nearly a quarter of the population), as the city's first non-white mayor.

In a province so often dominated by its conservatives, who supported opponents Barb Higgins and Ric McIver, Mr. Nenshi was a rallying point for progressive Alberta - young and old, white and non-white, eager to debunk their city's conservative Cowtown image.

Of course, Nenshi only won a plurality, not a majority, and, taken together, his two conservative rivals outperformed him, receiving 58 percent of the vote, suggesting that Calgary is not nearly as progressive as his victory might suggest.

Still, this is a hugely significant win for the forces of progressivism, even if Nenshi's views are generally quite moderate (and certainly not radical), in a province that for the most part is staunchly conservative, suggesting that even Calgary, even this bastion of right-wing obstinacy, is opening up and liberalizing somewhat, prepared, at least to a point, to join the rest of Canada in a brighter future.

Now it's just up to Nenshi to do the job well, and to expand on what he has built, so that he can effectively guide the city forward.

(As for me, I'm just waiting for American conservatives like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich to complain that this suspicious-looking Muslim was elected mayor way too close to Ground Zero. How dare Calgarians spit all over the memory of 9/11! Perhaps if he were to move further away, say, up to the Yukon? No, that's too close to Alaska. Maybe to Nunavut? No, it doesn't matter where, the problem is really that these good-for-nothing Canadians elected a Muslim in the first place. No wonder Sharron Angle thinks we're to blame! Calgary, thy name is Park51!)

(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)