By Joel McNally
Though the other 17 mayoral candidates thought it was a good idea, newly elected mayor Dave Bronconnier declined a public appearance for CBC TV’s Learn at Lunch forum on Wed., Oct. 17. Bronconnier was the only candidate who did not commit to the event before election day which likely caused a headache for CBC when he made good on pollster predictions and narrowly won the mayoral race.
This was the latest in CBC TV’s series of noon-hour forums held on the promise that speakers and questions will be cut off at 1 p.m. come hell or high water. The forum was held at the Engineered Air Theatre in the Centre for the Performing Arts and moderated by Bob Nicholson, CBC TV’s Business Reporter on Canada Now.
Originally scheduled to speak alongside Bronconnier was Ruben Nelson, a futurist for Square One Management. Nicholson started the forum by explaining Nelson’s background.
"Ruben Nelson may not have been the original futurist, but when they launched that ship he was on the dock," Nicholson told the audience. "Back in 1960, he was chairing the first formal Canadian conference on the future, he went on to found the Canadian Association for Future studies and he’s taught at both Queen’s University and the University of Calgary."
Sitting in for Bronconnier was U of C Professor Bev Sandalack of the Faculty of Environmental Design. She currently heads the Urban Design program for the faculty.
Sandalack only came on board for the forum at the last moment which was a factor in the direction that the forum took. Rather than a discussion about the new mayor’s vision for Calgary, Sandalac set the tone for the forum by springboarding to diverse issues like the election rhetoric’s tireless obsession with Calgary’s commuting woes.
"Urban quality is something that I think is neglected," said Sandalack, as an example of an issue that was not addressed during the election. "We are very good at providing for the private realm, but we haven’t been very good at dealing with environmental or civic issues."
Nelson’s comments had been prepared in advance of the mayoral election and in anticipation of the new mayor’s attendance at the forum. Not surprisingly, Nelson spoke at great length about his vision of leadership and the need for Calgary to work at developing the skills to lead Alberta and Canada into the future.
It was evident that both speakers were in agreement about Calgary’s need to modify its future approach to infrastructure development and the absence of a mayoral perspective to diversify the discussion resulted in a somewhat lacklustre event. After Nicholson threw the floor open, audience comments also failed to produce sparks, though Nicholson kept the event running smoothly.
"I find the blaming voice is not helpful, it’s unattractive, I don’t want to be with it," said Nelson in response to antagonistic discourse from an audience member during the forum’s only moment of discord. "I think the challenge to all of us is to put out a more positive and attractive vision."
More comfortable in front of an audience, Nelson appeared to be the more compelling speaker. This resulted in Nelson spending far more time responding to the audience than Sandalac, despite the fact that audience concerns revolved around urban planning issues and other ideas that she raised.
"If I had just one wish for Calgary," argued Nelson for the first of many times, "It would be this: that we invest just one per cent of our time, energy and money on the developement of [our] leadership capacity.
"We could establish a worldwide reputation for being the most influential small city in the world."