Paul Hughes, a Calgary activist and mayoral candidate, is no stranger to the municipal election process. Hughes has campaigned for mayor more than once. He is a passionate activist, veteran, farmer and single parent — one who is very critical of municipal politics in Calgary.
Hughes does not believe in lawn signs and going out of his way to campaign. He is mostly outraged by city hall and has decided to run in the past few years to show his dedication and passion to the city.
When asked about the 2010 election, Hughes recalls, “[that election] was really kind of sad for me because I was really excited that all these people were getting involved in municipal politics … I was excited to see all this participation, but after the election, anyone that wasn’t successful, they just disappeared.”
Hughes considered running for mayor in 2010, but withdrew before the nomination deadline.
Since then he has kept his eyes and ears on municipal politics, which served to open his eyes to the nature of the political game. “It really taught me a big lesson about who really is in the game. People who are really involved and not just come out for the election day.”
Hughes has issues with the way that the city deals with citizens like himself – in which he references a lack of accessibility to city representatives and an ignorance to the needs of low-income people and families.
“I grew up in northern Canadian communities from a mining family. I had my first job when I was 13 and I’ve coached hockey teams. I’ve served my country — as soon as I got out of high school I went and served my country for four years. I have that real-time experience. I’m a very real person.”
Hughes believes this “real-time experience” will be beneficial if he becomes mayor. He says that he has spoken with a lot of Calgarians and he understands the things the average citizen is upset about.
“I can’t imagine what a guy like me would do. I’ve got a mind, a heart, and a spine.” He says that he is always standing up for the “little guy” because he is “a hard-working person.”
Hughes compares himself to Tommy Douglas and Peter Lougheed. “I’m one of the guys that is going to bring in change and things are going to be different downtown.”
Hughes has worked with multiple charities and boards, such as the Calgary Food Policy Council. As well, he is the founder of Grow Calgary, Canada’s largest urban agriculture farm. Grow Calgary uses recycled and reclaimed materials to build structures like greenhouses. The 4.5-acre farm produces food for people in need, supplying fresh produce to the Calgary Food Bank and other organizations.
Hughes’ lifestyle is very hands-on. He believes in hard work to get the job done.
“I would be the kind of guy that jumps on a snow-plow truck and actually gets out there.” During his interview, Hughes pointed out:, “I’ve got dirt under my fingernails right now.”
Over the years, Hughes has learned to recycle and repurpose a lot of things. Grow Calgary, he says, features a greenhouse that he built for $5.
Views on Nenshi
“I think I’m one of the only people on the ballot right now that has gone toe-to-toe with Nenshi before,” he says, although council veteran Andre Chabot is also running for the mayor’s job.
Hughes says he knows Nenshi and has sat beside him at previous forums. He says that over the years, he’s heard Nenshi and has kept track of his career.
“I am probably the most disappointed Calgarian, out of all the people that were disappointed in him.”
Hughes says he even voted for Nenshi, that he feels they mayor is very smart and that he truly is a good person. But, Hughes feels like Nenshi has “duped” a lot of Calgarians with his rhetoric.
“He was one of the most well-respected politicians and he had so much potential. He didn’t have any baggage. He was a newbie politician and he came under a lot of fanfare and excitement — and he blew it. He absolutely blew it.”
Coun. Chabot is also upset with Nenshi, criticizing the mayor for not being a true leader.
“I believe a mayor should be a leader — not a cheerleader. Not a guy that stands out in the parade and wants to be seen as the guy who gets the credit for everything. The mayor has taken credit for so many initiatives that have been started by other members of council. ”
Hughes says, “I didn’t think Nenshi was going to be Superman, but I did think he was going to change the mood and the tone. He came across to me as someone that was going to do something and he didn’t do it.”
Problems with current City Hall
Hughes thinks that the way that City Hall is currently set up makes it impossible for citizens to access information and to have a voice in municipal politics.
“First thing, I am going to make myself so accessible … I am going to take the hinges off of the [mayor’s office] door.”
He believes it should be easy for citizens to voice their opinions without having to attend a council meeting and wait their turn to be heard. Hughes says people are too busy to waste their time doing that when they have their own jobs and families to raise.
“People have jobs. They have kids. They don’t have time to sit around like a politician.”
Hughes believes that things could also be happening a lot quicker in the city. He says people tell him that things cannot happen overnight and he responds, “Well, they evacuated the entire city of Fort McMurray in one day.
“If you want something to happen, it can happen pretty quick.”
Another issue Hughes has with the current political process in Calgary is that so many politicians get comfortable and make friends.
“I’m not here to make friends. If you don’t want to have a beer with me and watch a hockey game then I don’t give a [expletive]. That’s not my job — I’m here to change this [expletive].”
He also believes that if a councillor disagrees with him, then that person should be able to vote against the mayor without having to worry. All he cares about is if the citizens recognize that he is trying to create change and get things done.
“If I bring up a motion at city council and you don’t want to second it, then don’t second it.”
You can see Hughes and other mayoral candidates Shawn Baldwin, Andre Chabot, Emile Gabriel, David Lapp, Naheed Nenshi, Bill Smith and David Tremblay at various leadership forums before the civic election, which will be held Oct. 16.