12 Jul A Teenager’s Guide to Being Mayor for a Day.
It was an overcast spring morning on the day I got to be mayor. At 8:44 a.m., I found myself standing at the base of City Hall accompanied by nothing but guesses as to what I was in for. Today could be an entirely trivial series of photo-ops and nothing beyond that, a part of me thought. That part of me couldn’t have been more wrong.
With my time as mayor, I hoped to bring conversations about mental health, civic engagement, and stress-relieving substance use into the spotlight. I’ve always thought that how people are should be a top consideration in government policy. A city, after all, is nothing more than a group of people living and working alongside one another. Which brought me to the next idea I wanted to highlight. In our fast-evolving world, it seems as though many of us are increasingly committing ourselves to vehemently opposing an “other” – whatever it may be, an ideology, a political figure – simply because we disagree. Political discourse has, in recent times, become progressively more alienated from the age-old practices of compromise and good faith. As audacious as it is to say, I believe that we can do better in Calgary; that we must do better in Calgary. And while we were on the topic of improving the lives of Calgarians the best we could, I also wanted to talk about this thing called vaping. Teenagers love it, doctors hate it, and people over the age of 39 have never heard of it. Despite the varied levels of awareness surrounding teenage substance use, there was a reason why our youth are so engaged in it. Vaping is their release from the pressures of chronic stress; and its detrimental prevalence is, in part, a result of our own doing. It is a result of our dropping the ball on addressing the severe stressors that young people everywhere are facing.
With these three challenges to Calgarians in mind, I was curious to connect with our city’s leaders as I walked in those royal blue doors, still puzzled about what my day was going to have in store.
Inside Mayor Nenshi’s office, I quickly learned that I could drop the formalities. He was unexpectedly down-to-earth and amusingly easygoing. He also knew his interior design. His office was quite impressively decorated. You’d be surprised how well hidden in plain sight his workspaces were. Thousands of people pass right by his office windows every day, never the wiser that the only thing separating them and the Mayor are a few centimetres of shatter-proof glass. And did you know that Mayor Nenshi’s wearing purple was a deliberate choice? “Yes, it’s a conscious choice,” he roasted me, “it’s a centrist colour between red and blue, I can’t believe you didn’t see that earlier!”
After getting to know the awesome people who work in the mayor’s office – sorry, I mean, in my office – we strolled up the elevator to meet with the Acting City Manager, who headed the Corporation of the City of Calgary. There are two things I’d like to say about her. First and foremost: I’m really jealous of the view from her office. And second: she’s one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. In fact, I’m pretty sure everyone I worked with that day made it somewhere on my Coolness 500 list.
Later that morning, we had a round table get-to-know-each-other with ex-Mayor Nenshi and his team. I asked everyone to share their stories and what projects they were currently working on. From there, it was on to us doing some filming of me pretending to enter the office for the first time. (It wasn’t as awkward as you might imagine.)
Before lunch, we explored City Hall with Mayor Nenshi, who gave me the exclusive on secret doorways, meeting rooms, and various other hidden exits that could be used to avoid media attention during emergencies. We also received an all-inclusive tour of the new Central Library and its inner workings. Walking around, I kept wondering why people kept addressing us as “Your Worship”, until I was told that they were referring to me. Apparently, it was tradition to address the mayor as “Mr. Worship”. Me being clueless as to what that meant didn’t exactly help my mayoral reputation.
I got a lot less time to actually eat during lunch than I’d expected. Sharing a table with City Councillors, Nenshi told me that I would have to get used to that. “The councillors are not going to stop talking to you,” he warned. And I don’t know about your hidden talents, but mine don’t include being able to speak and chew simultaneously.
The rest of the day went by really fast. We went from one meeting to the next, switching roughly every 20 minutes. We saw Ward Councillors, Department Directors, and spent some more time with the City Manager. At every meeting, people were there with notebooks out, fully absorbed into the issues I’d brought with me. I’m happy to say that all of our conversations eventually went on to inform the city’s operations. In fact, I’ve had the opportunity of continuing those conversations to this day, helping plan future projects aimed at fostering student mental health and community engagement.
We wrapped up the day in Council Chambers, watching Calgary Economic Development give its annual report to the City. I’d been unsuspectingly sitting in the audience when the Council Chair, suddenly, put me right in the middle of the action. “Your Worship, would you please come up here and occupy the mayor’s seat?” I froze. Did she really just ask me to spontaneously join the hearing in front of a live audience? Then, I hesitantly, made my way past the security team and towards the empty seat in the dead centre of the chamber, feigning confidence. I’m still unsure of whether or not I succeeded at that.
Once we were out of Council Chambers, there was one last thing left to do. Face the reporters at the door and answer their questions. Pro interview tip that I wish I had remembered sooner: pick one camera in the crowd and stay on it. Moving your head to try and cover all of them makes you look like a hopelessly confused rooster on television. Another interview life hack: if someone asks you something you don’t know the answer to, tell them to expand on their question. It’ll buy you enough time to think up a decent response.
After a jam-packed day, at 5:27 p.m., I stepped back out into the cold downtown air. The clouds had drifted far, far away in those past nine hours – but, naturally, the traffic hadn’t budged at all. Standing once again at the base of city hall, I was left wondering about a million things. I was also left holding a million gift bags; which, to be clear, I am not complaining about. Despite a head full of thoughts, I was certain in knowing that our city was in the hands of the most passionate and energetic people it could possibly be.
I have to admit, though, part of me was a little disappointed that I wasn’t gonna get to be mayor the next day. It’s a feeling which, if you’re still reading this, you might just get to experience as next year’s Mayor for a Day.