Metro file photo Calgary city hall.

One moment, they’re exchanging politically charged barbs and the next, they’re trading jokes about playing in bouncy castles.

Such was the nature of the Twitter sparring between Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Ward 1 candidate Chris Harper over the weekend, and Calgary political observers say we can expect a lot more of where that came from as the municipal election campaign heats up.

“People are using Twitter, I think, for their news source on the campaign so far,” said Shane Byciuk of CalgaryRants.com, adding that savvy candidates are well aware of their growing online audiences, and carefully manage their presences online.

The weekend exchange actually began with the mayor’s sister, Shaheen Nenshi Nathoo, asking council candidates whether they agreed with the “vision” for Calgary outlined by the conservative-leaning Manning Centre.

Harper chimed in, and a pointed exchange ensued between him, the mayor and numerous others.

“It’s just a natural extension and evolution I think of the old town hall or community open forum,” Joey Oberhoffner of CalgaryPolitics.com said of the trend toward spontaneous Twitter debates. “It’s becoming more and more common and, I think for the citizens who are more politically engaged, it’s a real treat.”

Oberhoffner said Twitter offers “a more honest window” into who candidates are as people but “it’s a delicate balance” for them to manage the serious tweeting with the lighter, personal stuff.

“It’s the wise politician who lets people see who they are enough to like them but not see them so much that they start to get that old familiarity-breeds-contempt thing going on,” he said.

So far, no candidates for mayor other than Nenshi have officially come forward, but observers say several key races for council seats will ultimately have a major impact on Calgary’s future direction.

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