Eva Ferguson, National Post, October 9, 2017
Concerned about an increasing presence of racism and hateful language in the civic election’s social media discourse, mayoral candidate Naheed Nenshi is asking voters to support diversity instead.
In a Facebook video posted by Mashhood Qazi, a community activist and president of the Sindhi Association of North America’s southern Alberta chapter, Nenshi talked about what he said is expected to be a “very, very tight election.”
Nenshi added he had concerns around hateful language in social media representing “forces in the community” that are supporting his opponents and wanting to “take the city backwards.”
“They don’t want a city that is so inclusive of everyone and it is absolutely incumbent on us to hold on to the city we are proud of to make sure that we vote,” said Nenshi at an event Friday.
“We know they are using a lot of technology to get people who don’t believe in diversity to get people who might be racists or haters out to vote.”
The video has since been removed from the public Facebook page.
While Nenshi was unavailable to speak to Postmedia Monday, campaign manager Zain Velji explained his candidate is concerned about a “broader spectrum” of supporters who are increasingly posting messages of hate through Facebook and Twitter.
“There is quite a few — what you’d call, bots or trolls — and many times indistinguishable types of accounts, that are either algorithms to be programmed or run by real people, both of which have messages programmed into their system.
“A lot of them have comments and are proliferating comments that are inflammatory, that are frankly racist.”
Nenshi’s campaign chair added Monday night that the other candidates in the race are unified in condemning these activities.
“The vast majority of Calgarians defend our city’s diversity and inclusiveness so that Calgary remains a great place to make a life for everyone,” said Chima Nkemdirim.
The campaign provided Postmedia with several screen grabs of social media posts attacking Nenshi for his Muslim faith, accusing him of supporting Sharia law, some even blaming him for allowing immigrants to come to Canada and commit crimes.
Rick Donkers, campaign manager for mayoral candidate Bill Smith, said campaign staff who monitor social media have also noticed an increased presence of intolerance, adding that they are diligent in ensuring all of Smith’s social media is respectful.
“We have dissociated ourselves from those who use hateful language. It is something we simply will not tolerate.
“And we have worked hard to keep it off of all of our social media channels.”
As Nenshi’s comments sparked heated discussion on social media Monday, a political scientist said it comes down to how you felt about the incumbent mayor to begin with.
“There are very polarized views and it all depends on where you were previously sitting,” said Mount Royal University professor Duane Bratt.
“Those that supported Nenshi are going, ‘Oh my God, look at what is happening to our city, we need to come out and support Naheed Nenshi in the election,’ and those that don’t like Nenshi, and have never have liked Nenshi, are supporting the Smith campaign, see this guy as desperate, he’s pulling out the race card at the end of a race.”
Added Bratt, “This has become a very nasty, dirty campaign in a lot of respects and I think the racial component is just one more illustration of that.”
Calgary’s municipal election, slated for Monday, has become a two-way battle for mayor between Nenshi and Smith, with Smith leading in a poll late last week.
The Mainstreet Research/Postmedia poll for the Calgary Herald/Calgary Sun shows the gap between the two mayoral front-runners widening, with just over a week to go before the election.
Smith has 48 per cent backing in the poll, Nenshi sits at 31 per cent support and Coun. Andre Chabot in a distant third place with six per cent support.
Thirteen per cent of poll respondents said they were undecided, while three per cent said they will vote for one of the other seven candidates vying for the mayor’s seat.
The interactive voice response survey polled 1,500 Calgarians over both landlines and cellphones and was conducted on Oct. 3 and 4.
In the Facebook post, Nenshi also put out a call to all voters, asking for them to support diversity.
“My request for you is to vote. Get your neighbours and your family and your friends and your co-workers, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, Pakistani and non-Pakistani, alike out to vote.
“Don’t let them divide us.”