Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has handily won a third term after a bitter and divisive campaign during which his at-times prickly personality was a focus.
His main challenger, former Progressive Conservative Party president Bill Smith, conceded around midnight Tuesday.
With most polls reporting, Nenshi had nearly 51 per cent of the vote, with Smith garnering around 44 per cent — not as strong as his showing in the 2013 election, when he won 73 per cent of the vote.
Nenshi, who was the first Muslim mayor of a major North American city, gained a national profile with his stewardship of the city through the devastating floods of 2013 and by winning the 2014 World Mayor Prize.
But in this campaign he was accused of arrogance and being difficult to work with.
“Clearly there is some division and it’s important for us to understand the nature of that division,” Nenshi told reporters in a downtown bar crammed with raucous supporters.
“It’s not nice on a victory night to talk about the campaign, but it was a very divisive campaign and I think that the campaign fostered divisions in the community that may not be long lasting.”
Nenshi said he doesn’t intend to soften his demeanour.
“I’m not sure whether people will appreciate a completely different version of me,” he said. “I will still be scrappy. I will still fight for people every day, but I will make sure that people will see that I’m always listening, that I’m always willing to change my mind and that I’m always willing to hear great arguments.”
Smith — a lawyer and former firefighter — said throughout the race that Calgarians were frustrated by high taxes, excessive spending by the city and a continued downturn in the energy sector, and suggested Nenshi had been avoiding those problems.
The Smith campaign celebration was filled to overflowing early in the evening but had dwindled by half by the time the losing candidate arrived.
Smith said he called Nenshi to congratulate him and acknowledged that the two men had a “divisive battle” over the past few weeks.
“I think we need to put all of that aside and get behind our mayor and continue to press the issues that are important to Calgarians,” he said. “I had two speeches tonight and I’m actually not to read either one of them. I’m just going to end by saying that this for me and my family has been a wonderful journey. I will continue serving Calgarians in the way I have before and don’t think I’m done just because we lost one.”
Elsewhere in the province, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson easily won a second term, while incumbents also fared well in other Alberta cities.
Chris Spearman was re-elected in Lethbridge, as was Ted Clugston in Medicine Hat, Bill Given in Grande Prairie, and Tara Veer in Red Deer.
One of the few places where an incumbent was not running for re-election was the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes Fort McMurray. Melissa Blake, who had been mayor since 2004, did not run again and will be replaced by Don Scott, a former provincial Conservative cabinet minister.
Blake had been praised for her grace under pressure after a devastating wildfire swept through the city in 2016 and also advocated for more housing and expanded infrastructure when Fort McMurray boomed before the last oil downturn.
By Bill Graveland and Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press