Can Taleeb Noormohamed win the Vision Vancouver nomination and become our first Muslim mayor?

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      Many, many years ago, I was working at CBC Radio booking guests and writing scripts for the local morning show.

      One day, I contacted a brilliant teenager on the North Shore to invite him on the air. 

      This morning, I can't remember what the topic was, but I do recall that he was exceptionally intelligent and articulate.

      His name was Taleeb Noormohamed and last night, he announced that he's seeking the mayoral nomination with Vision Vancouver.

      From that initial conversation I had with Noormohamed, he's since gone to Princeton and Oxford, worked alongside Liberal heavyweight Bob Rae, helped organize the Vancouver Olympics, run for Parliament in North Van, been associated with several tech firms, and done a ton of charity work.

      Earlier this month, I wrote a column suggesting that Squamish hereditary chief Ian Campbell would likely win the Vision Vancouver mayoral nomination.

      That's because he has the backing of people who were in control of the party for a decade, including the mayor's former chief of staff, Mike Magee, and former executive director Stepan Vdovine.

      Coun. Andrea Reimer and First Nations leaders are also supporting Campbell, which should give his campaign a boost. He hopes to become Vancouver's first Indigenous mayor.

      Vancouver East NDP MP Jenny Kwan benefited from Campbell's endorsement when she was seeking her party's nomination in 2015. It's possible that she might do things in a quiet way to help him in return.

      But Campbell's ties to more than $1 billion in developable properties in Vancouver, which were revealed in this article by the Straight's Carlito Pablo, have increased his political vulnerability.

      That's why I'm no longer nearly as sure that Campbell can win.

      Noormohamed has his own political liability. As the Star's Jen St. Denis has reported, he has worked for short-term rental-home companies. 

      Independent mayoral candidate Kennedy Stewart, a tenant himself, would feast on this should Noormohamed win his party's nomination. 

      COPE candidates would also make an issue of this, arguing that anyone who earns a living in the short-term rental business is not fit to be mayor of the city.

      But Noormohamed is respected by the federal Liberal political machine. Former Vision Vancouver cochair Paul Nixey and Vision Vancouver park commissioner Catherine Evans were among those in attendance at his Gastown announcement.

      It's hard not to think of Noormohamed as Vancouver's version of Naheed Nenshi.

      In 2010 Nenshi came from the back of the pack to win the Calgary mayoralty with a social-media-savvy campaign and an outstanding organization populated by many federal Liberals, as well as his lifelong friends.

      Nenshi was a 38-year-old, Ontario-born, Ivy League-educated business professor and consultant who launched a "Purple Revolution" after losing his one and only run for political office in 2004.

      Noormohamed is a 41-year-old, Ontario-born, Ivy League-educated candidate who lost his one and only run for political office in 2011 (if you don't count his defeat in a race for a federal Liberal nomination in 2004).

      Calgary's first Muslim mayor, Naheed Nenshi, has a great deal in common with Taleeb Noormohamed.
      Naheed Nenshi

      Vancouver's first Muslim mayor?

      Both Nenshi and Noormohamed are Ismaili Muslims whose parents came from East Africa, but not Uganda, where the Ismailis faced the greatest hardship and most extreme financial losses.

      Noormohamed could become Vancouver's first Muslim mayor. He's launched his campaign a quarter of the way into Ramadan, which is a sacred time for Muslims.

      Devout followers of the faith fast from dawn until sunset, which isn't easy during daylight savings time. Fasting can enhance self-discipline, appreciation for the value of sacrifice, and empathy for people who go hungry throughout the year.

      There are many misconceptions about Muslims in Canada, which Noormohamed will likely address in the campaign should he become Vision Vancouver's mayoral candidate.

      He had to do this as a Liberal candidate back in 2011 when he was defeated by Conservative Andrew Saxton in North Vancouver.

      Ismailis are Shia Muslims and their spiritual leader, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, is one of the world's foremost advocates of pluralism. He's also a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammad. 

      Unlike the Pope, who is elected by Roman Catholic cardinals, the Aga Khan inherited his position.

      Ismailis are not doctrinaire, which was amply demonstrated in a 2017 article, "A Brief History of the Ismailis in Canada", which appeared in Policy Options

      "The Ismailis, who emerged in the eighth century out of a schism in Shia Islam, have long taken the view that the Qu’ran (Islam’s central religious text) is to be read as a set of allegories and reinterpreted over time," wrote scholar Rahim Mohamed. "It requires and ensures constant reformation.

      "This has put the community at odds with more dogmatic Muslim sects, leading to a long history of oppression and marginalization," Mohamed added. "Such animosity forced the Ismailis to take on a nomadic existence, scattering from their ancestral home in Syria to pockets of Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia."

      Ismailis have a thoroughly modern view of women's rights. Many Ismaili women are high achievers, including Sen. Mobina Jaffer, the first South Asian woman to practice law in Canada.

      A huge percentage of Canadian Ismailis trace their roots back to the western Indian state of Gujarat.

      This is why Ismailis can often speak several languages, including Kutchi, Gujarati, Hindi, and Urdu. Their ancestors moved to East Africa during the British colonial era, which is why many older Ismailis speak Swahili. Some learn Arabic.

      I don't want to "other" Noormohamed because like everyone else, he has many aspects to his personality and character.

      Sure, he's an Ismaili Muslim whose family came from East Africa. But he's also a Canadian-born upper-middle-class tech entrepreneur who was raised on the North Shore and has worked alongside extremely high-ranking Liberals, even co-chairing the party's national convention. 

      Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has advised that we all have a multiplicity of identities—including our class, occupation, religion, race, hobbies, circle of friends, sexual orientation, educational attainment, et cetera.

      Some of us are extroverts; others are more introverted. Some are more cerebral; others rely more on their feelings. Some are concrete thinkers; others are more intuitive. It's why we should avoid reducing people to one aspect of their identity.

      In the words of Sen, we have a multiplicity of identities.

      Noormohamed understands this in a deep way, which is why he's likely to attract support from across Vancouver's ethnic and religious spectrum. That, in turn, will help his candidacy.

      He knows what it's like to be a minority and that could make him a compelling candidate in a city made up of minorities.

      And if Calgary and London, England, can elect Muslim mayors, why not Vancouver?

      Finance Minister Bill Morneau wants to provide financial guarantees for Kinder Morgan shareholders, which could boomerang back against the very Liberal Noormohamed in a Vancouver mayoral race.
      Bill Morneau

      Federal Liberals are pro-pipeline

      But aside from Noormohamed's past as a short-term-rental company executive, he has one other big political liability.

      He's a federal Liberal in a city that by and large loathes the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion.

      The top Liberal in the country, Justin Trudeau, backs this $7.4-billion project.

      He leaves the impression that anyone who raises objections to the pipeline's impact on the climate is a bad Canadian.

      "It's in the national interest," Trudeau thunders from on high.

      The reality is that Kinder Morgan's TMX project will make it extremely difficult for Canada to achieve its greenhouse-gas objectives under the 2015 Paris Agreement. 

      Yet another senior Liberal, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, is promising to offer a federal financial backstop to the Texas company's shareholders.

      Is the 2015 Paris Agreement not in the national interest, Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Finance Minister?

      That's a logical question based on the Liberals' stance on the pipeline. And it's one that may well be directed at Noormohamed by his opponents.

      Even if Noormohamed speaks out against the pipeline, he doesn't have anywhere near the credibility on this issue as other mayoral aspirants, such as Campbell, Stewart, or independent Shauna Sylvester.

      While Noormohamed was making a nice living in the tech sector, these three spent many, many hours applying their intellect and organizational skills to protecting the coastline and the climate. Stewart even got arrested.

      And if people see Noormohamed as a Nenshilike candidate, they might also recall that Nenshi has been uncharacteristically belligerent in his support for the pipeline.

      NPA mayoral aspirant Glen Chernen is the wild card in Vancouver civic politics.
      Glen Chernen

      Chernen's fate could have an impact

      Last weekend, I wrote a column asking if political rabble-rouser Glen Chernen could win the NPA mayoral nomination.

      On the face of it, this seems absurd, given his history of riling city staff and filing legal actions alleging corruption that are dismissed in court.

      But with the NPA much weaker after losing three straight elections, some of the party's traditional establishment has moved over to Vision Vancouver, a process that started way back in 2005.

      This could conceivably give Chernen an outside shot of winning, depending on how votes split between his two opponents, NPA park commissioner John Coupar and entrepreneur Ken Sim. Chernen is fashioning himself as the real conservative in the race.

      We'll find out when NPA members elect their nominee on June 3.

      Vision Vancouver won't choose its candidate until June 24.

      It's going to want to retain power and I suspect that members are going to give serious thought about who might be the best candidate to counter the NPA's choice.

      Should the NPA members surprise people and nominate Chernen, this might enhance Noormohamed's chance of winning the Vision Vancouver nomination. 

      That's because if Chernen is at the top of the ticket, the NPA would morph into a more xenophobic, antidevelopment party focused on the nexus of Vision Vancouver and developers at city hall, as well as taxes.

      Noormohamed is the diametric opposite of the parochial Chernen: outward looking, internationally oriented, and an outspoken advocate of a pluralistic society.

      He's also not weighed down with deep ties to the development industry, unlike Campbell.

      But should the more centrist Coupar or Sim be the NPA nominee, Vision Vancouver members might be tempted to veer left and go with Campbell.

      That's because Campbell would have a better chance than Noormohamed of attracting votes from those who might give serious consideration to Stewart or Sylvester because of their record on climate change.

      Last night with Noormohamed's announcement, the Vancouver mayoral contest just became a great deal more interesting.

      The federal Liberals are in the race to win.

      This is the case even with their unpopular support for a carbon-spewing project that's seen as a looming economic and ecological disaster by many of Noormohamed's opponents.