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The Politician Who Will Change Calgary Stereotypes

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The ebbs and flows of the Canadian consciousness is a curiously recurrent phenomenon. At one time or another, every region has had to endure its place as the nation's punching bag.

The manufactured political tensions -- as opposed to the creative ones inherent in our federation -- have been calculatingly exacerbated by a myopic mindset of small thinking politicians. British Columbia's Christy Clark is just the latest in a long line that scratches the ugly underbelly for cheap tactical advantage. Cynical politicians like this always fail, it seems, because they underestimate the intelligence of their electorates.

For several years now, it has been Alberta's turn as the easy target. Not only is it resource rich, but also it has always had a ferociously independent and somewhat defiant streak. For some, that is a decidedly un-Canadian attitude. Alberta has been stereotyped as a breeding ground for intolerant gun toting rednecks, religious fanaticism, and far right economic dogma. Its largest city, Calgary, has its fair share of those, just like anywhere else in Canada.

Calgary has long been a magnet for the aspiring, the hopeful, and the optimistic. They have sought -- and usually found -- a better life for themselves and their families.

Calgary's true character is so much different and nuanced than the easy typecast would suggest. It is a culturally and ethnically diverse community and a microcosm of our country. It is cosmopolitan and largely made up of immigrants from everywhere in Canada and every corner of the world. Calgary is a city open in mind and spirit to new people, new things, and new ideas.

It bustles with the excitement and sense of possibility that are commonplace amongst a confidant and freethinking people. Possibility thinking runs through the veins of this city. New people arrive here all the time, attracted by the dynamism, openness, and creativity of the place. Unlike its stereotyped pigeonhole, new and different perspectives are constantly drawn to Calgary; and Calgary embraces them all.

In 2010, Naheed Nenshi made history as the first Muslim to become mayor of a major Canadian city. Last year, he became the first of the city's mayors to marshal the Pride Parade. He said, "We understand that we are stronger, that every single kid that grows up in this city, regardless of economic opportunity, family status, race, gender or sexual orientation -- every single kid that grows up in this city deserves the opportunity to be the very best they can be. If a guy like me can end up being in this position then any of the kids I see in the audience today can be anything."

What better expression of Canadian values is there?

Nenshi's election was not a surprise to the people of Calgary, but came as a shock to the rest of Canada. Yet, it shouldn't have.

In the shrillness of the polarizing "debate" on the proposed pipelines to carry Alberta oil to market, many have forgotten that a ribbon of steel that linked east and west fortified Canada's foundation. Steel in the souls of those who had the foresight to dream it and determination to build it breathed life into a new country.

Canada wouldn't exist today without the far-sighted vision and enormous risk that created the transcontinental railroad. Nor would we have come so far without the breathtaking courage of the pioneers that took those early journeys into the unknown. These remarkable people erected communities and forged economies from absolutely nothing but wide-open space, and the sweat equity of the settlers brave enough to gamble on the raw land's future. They were armed with their dreams, hopes, and their indispensible wherewithal. They came from everywhere. Under horribly primitive conditions, their tireless work ethic, entrepreneurialism, sense of community -- fuelled by a thirst for a better life -- drove their relentless determination.

The Canada we know did not come easy. Those that came before us demonstrated uncommon wisdom and miraculous grit that we find in such abundance in Alberta is also at the heart of the Canadian DNA. All of us stand on the shoulders of people that conquered frontiers and built some of the most livable communities in the world.

Calgary embodies much of this spirit, even today. Yet it continues to suffer from a stereotype that has been affixed to it largely by people that don't know, and for the most part, have never stepped foot in this city.

A couple of weeks ago, a guy with the hilarious handle, "Calgary Joe," burst onto the political stage in the battle for the Conservative Party nomination in Calgary Center. He is Joseph Soares, and this man embodies 21st century Calgary.

Originally from Gatineau, Quebec, Soares is the son of Portuguese immigrants. He's a flawlessly multilingual entrepreneur that looks like he would be more comfortable as a middle linebacker for the Calgary Stampeders. He served as a policy advisor and political operative in Ottawa for the Harper Government. That is where I met him, in 2008, when I was chairman of Ridley Terminals, a federal crown corporation. Joseph was the senior advisor to then-transport minister Lawrence Cannon, and took an active interest in my file.

What I learned about Joe was that his word was his bond, his handshake was a contract that you could bank on, and that if you needed him, he'd be there -- no questions asked. He is a tireless fighter, and with Joe, you only get the straight goods, never a packaged answer or talking points. He is someone you can trust because you know that his values are solid, his motivation is sincere, and he loves his country. One of the proudest moments in his life was when this son of immigrants started work as an advisor to the Prime Minister of Canada. And I was proud of him, too.

Joe hasn't entered politics for the attention, and certainly not for the paycheck. He's decided to run for office because he genuinely believes service to Canada is an honour and a privilege and believes that he can do a better job for his constituents, for his party, and for his government than his higher profile competitors. Experience has taught me not to doubt him, and friendship has shown me that confidence in Joe is never misplaced.

Soares is an unflinchingly dedicated Conservative, for sure, as well as an ardent Stephen Harper supporter. On both counts, I am most certainly not. However, that doesn't blind me to the obvious: Joe Soares is a man of intelligence, integrity, purpose, and courage. We need more people like that in the House of Commons, not less.

Like Lee Richardson, the very good man he hopes to succeed, Soares would make an outstanding MP for Calgary Centre. He has a symbiotic relationship with the place. Joseph Soares personifies the very best values of the Calgary of today and the one that it is destined to become tomorrow.

So, for those who are asking who's "Calgary Joe"? He's one of us, that's who.