10/01/2015 02:25 EDT | Updated 10/01/2015 06:59 EDT

Nenshi Chastises Harper For 'Dangerous' and 'Disgusting' Politics

"Dog-whistle politics."

Bloomberg via Getty Images
Naheed Kurban Nenshi, mayor of Calgary, speaks during an interview in New York, U.S., on Monday, June 1, 2015. Nenshi is the first Muslim mayor of a major North American city. Photographer: Victor J. Blue

Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi has some sharp criticism of Stephen Harper's handling of hot campaign issues, calling the Conservatives' approach to Syrian refugees "massively and disgustingly politicized" and their niqab stance "unbelievably dangerous."

In an interview on Evan Solomon's SiriusXM podcast "Everything is Political," Nenshi did not hold back in commenting on topics that have surfaced in the federal election campaign.

Nenshi slammed the Harper government's insistence on banning face coverings, such as niqabs, at citizenship ceremonies.

“This is unbelievably dangerous stuff,” Nenshi told Solomon on Wednesday. “I spoke with a group of mayors and councillors from all over Alberta last week, and in my speech with all of these people from small town Alberta, I stood up and said this is disgusting and it is time for us to say stop it — to say this is enough."

Jason Kenney, the Conservative cabinet minister who introduced the niqab ban, responded to Nenshi's remarks with phrasing that raised some eyebrows.

“It seems to me that it’s the mayor and people like him who are politicizing it. I don’t think this should be an issue of contention," said Kenney in an interview with the Calgary Herald.

The use of "people like him" did not go unnoticed by Nenshi and others.

Rona Ambrose, the incumbent Conservative federal health minister, also defended her government's position, tweeting in response that the niqab is a tool of oppression.

'Dog-whistle' politics

Nenshi added a personal perspective to the current Syria refugee crisis, talking about a recent visit to Tanzania with his mother. The mayor said he realized that if his family had left their homeland just one year later (in 1972), they would have been refugees rather than immigrants.

Nenshi said he has personally been overwhelmed with the number of Calgarians contacting him to ask how they can help refugees in Syria, adding that Harper's "dog-whistle politics" were "badly missing the mark."

Canada has promised to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years. Harper has reiterated the need to take the time to properly screen claimants for security reasons, a position his opponents have repeatedly criticized amid the mounting crisis in Europe.

Nenshi also took a shot at Harper's dismissal of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. "I’m not sure it’s great political strategy to tell people they are stupid for the government they elected five months ago," Nenshi said.

Listen to the full conversation between Solomon and Nenshi:

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