THAT OTHER PO­LIT­I­CAL MARATHON

Calgary city coun­cil­lors re­flect on Stampede ex­pe­ri­ences

Calgary Sun - - NEWS - MEGHAN POTKINS mpotkins@postmedia.com @mpotkins

For Calgary politi­cians, the Stampede is a test of po­lit­i­cal en­durance: 10 days of breakfasts, bar­be­cues and boots that pinch your toes, while do­ing your level best to ap­pear authen­tic and com­fort­able amid the crowds and hot grills.

And from find­ing just the right footwear to tak­ing pri­vate horse rid­ing lessons, elected of­fi­cials put a lot of prepa­ra­tion into sur­viv­ing the Stampede pol­i­tick­ing sea­son un­scathed.

“It’s a lot of events. It’s a lot of hob­nob­bing and peo­ple en­joy­ing good old-fash­ioned western cul­ture and hos­pi­tal­ity,” says rookie Coun. Ge­orge Cha­hal. “There’s lots of eat­ing and drink­ing.”

Keep­ing up with the rig­or­ous sched­ule of events is tough, but Cha­hal says he still tries to shoe­horn in vis­its to the gym be­tween the three to six Stampede events he at­tends each day.

“There would be some belt loos­en­ing over this week if you’re not re­ally watch­ing what you’re eat­ing. You se­ri­ously can do some dam­age to your own health.”

One of the most cov­eted Stampede perks among the po­lit­i­cal set is the chance to ride a horse in the an­nual pa­rade. Any lo­cal politi­cian can par­tic­i­pate in the pa­rade — usu­ally by rid­ing in a wagon — but only a se­lect few get the chance to ride on horse­back: the mayor, the pre­mier, spe­cial in­vi­tees and any city coun­cil­lors who sit on the Stampede board.

“There’s a say­ing with coun­cil­lors: en­joy the pa­rade, it’s the only hour and a half you get where no one is crit­i­ciz­ing you,” says Coun. Ward Suther­land, who rode a horse named Rounder dur­ing this year’s pa­rade. “I stopped sev­eral times and I just had to taken in the mo­ment to say, this is a life ex­pe­ri­ence I’ll never get again. You’re look­ing at the large build­ings, the crowds, and be­ing on a horse — it was sur­real.”

But the hon­our of­ten re­quires some care­ful prepa­ra­tion in ad­vance. Mayor Na­heed Nen­shi and some city coun­cil­lors have been known to take horse rid­ing lessons to en­sure pa­rade day goes off with­out a hitch; and coun­cil­lors who sit on the Stampede board visit the Stampede ranch in Longview to prac­tise a bit ahead of the big day.

Coun. Shane Keat­ing de­cided to take four weeks of pri­vate rid­ing lessons ahead of his de­but in the sad­dle in the 2015 pa­rade.

“I’m not the tallest guy, and they gave me the big­gest darn horse you can imag­ine,” re­calls Keat­ing. “My legs were so spread apart and I was the same height as some­one who was six-six on a small horse. It was an in­ter­est­ing pa­rade.”

Along­side the myr­iad of pro­vin­cial and fed­eral politi­cians who de­scend on Calgary at this time of year to make an­nounce­ments and work the break­fast cir­cuit, the Stampede at­tracts a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of in­ter­na­tional dig­ni­taries as well.

“It’s kinda hec­tic, yeah,” says Alison Buie, who man­ages gov­ern­ment re­la­tions for the Stampede. “We’ve had some am­bas­sadors here and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from dif­fer­ent coun­tries: the U.S. am­bas­sador, the am­bas­sador from the Czech Repub­lic, the am­bas­sador for Aus­tria.”

Suther­land says be­tween his work on the Stampede board and the events and par­ties go­ing on around the city, he’s been leav­ing his house each day at 7 a.m., rarely re­turn­ing be­fore 11 p.m.

Key to sur­viv­ing the Stampede marathon, he says, is wide-toe cow­boy boots and keep­ing a spare shirt or two at hand.

It’s worth it, Suther­land says, be­cause of the great at­mos­phere and the fact that a lot of work and deal mak­ing gets done dur­ing Stampede.

“The stampede cre­ates al­most a lit­tle Switzer­land: the (po­lit­i­cal) par­ties kind of dis­ap­pear and the net­work­ing hap­pens and there are com­mon goals and dis­cus­sions I see hap­pen­ing,” Suther­land says.

“It’s a whole dif­fer­ent kind of at­ti­tude and you can re­ally have some great con­ver­sa­tions when peo­ple are re­laxed and just hav­ing a good time.”

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