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Last month we endured a federal election of partisan pot-shots – now to see partisan politics compromise the municipal electoral process – the most representative level of democracy – is disheartening.

Shortly before the Federal Election the Edmonton Journal reported that after chairing his final regular council meeting, outgoing Mayor of my home city, Edmonton, Don Iveson said he’s “very concerned about political party involvement in the upcoming election following news that a group with high-profile Alberta NDP members was working to limit the number of progressive candidates in select wards to avoid vote splitting.”

“Emails obtained by Postmedia highlight discussions among the Election Readiness Coalition to also provide training and campaign support to select candidates. Several candidates in the group’s email list have since received endorsements from NDP MLAs and the Edmonton and District Labour Council.

Iveson said these actions are problematic, arguing the strength of municipal politics is the independent decision-making ability of elected officials and that political involvement from other levels of government could jeopardize that.

I’m concerned about what appears to be the partisan infiltration and slate manifestation that we’re seeing in this election. I think that would be a very problematic course for Edmontonians and that voters should be very wary of such,” Iveson said.

“I think the strength of our decision-making system … is the independence of the people who come to city hall to make decisions. I think when people owe any kind of debt to any kind of association or are subject to ideological litmus tests of one kind or another, that along with the prospect of blocks forming on council and politics from other orders of government playing out on city council decisions, I am very concerned about that.


Then in a stunning display of hypocrisy, the same Mayor Iveson goes and endorses a select few candidates whom he says he knows personally?!? Not only does he contradict his comments made earlier, but he contravenes (like so many other in politics) the Council Code of Conduct:

Councillors must not use their office to gain an unfair advantage over other candidates, or to provide an unfair advantage for a candidate.

Why is this Problematic?

One of the councillors not endorsed by other politicians wrote an open letter explaining:

Politics is already limited to a privileged inner circle. Insider politics sends competent leaders, who do not have deep political connections, to the back of the bus. This undermines democracy by suppressing voter engagement and provides too much power to current and outgoing City councillors.

This is not sour grapes from an unendorsed candidate. This is about a deliberate failure to constrain behaviour of current Council members and create a level playing field for truly independent candidates.

Full Disclosure: this candidate is my sister-in-law running in a Ward I do not live in. Clearly I agree with councillors being independent of political interference and compromise. I strongly encourage non-partisanship in politics.

Partisan Incursion

Keith Gerein wrote about the “Partisan incursion into the municipal electoral process” in which he confesses that there must be an acknowledgment that partisan forces have “long coloured local politics in our city… it seems to always be lurking in and out of the shadows at city hall.” He went on to write:

“Essentially, Postmedia learned that a group of Edmonton-area progressives started meeting 18 months ago to discuss how to reduce competition among lefty, labour-friendly candidates in key municipal wards… loosely called the Election Readiness Coalition.

In talking to Joycelyn Johnson [Canadian Labour Congress] and reading the group’s emails, my impression is that her idea was mostly well intentioned but badly misguided.

      • For one thing, no one seems to have raised objections that an effort to limit candidates in a supposedly non-partisan election might be problematic — especially if that process is guided by those heavily connected to a single political party.
      • Also unsettling, emails indicate some in the group… pitched the idea of having nominations or “runoffs” — just like a political party — if candidates couldn’t decide among themselves who should run and who should step down in a ward.

As to why the NDP has gone against precedent to be so active in the election, there seems to be a couple of motivations. One is an all-too-frequent arrogance that the party is somehow the judge of who can call themselves progressive [sic].Whatever the case, the partisan flavour now tinting this election, though it may make for a more dramatic race, is a turn of events that should give voters pause.

City hall is the most trusted level of government precisely because partisan influences have been kept to a minimum, so that council members and school trustees have both real and perceived independence. It’s hardly perfect, but allows elected officials to work together better, while prioritizing personal and constituent views over political obedience.

Anyone who comes into office under a partisan cloud risks upsetting that balance.

Yes, NDP-favoured candidates insist they will govern independently if elected, and may even believe it. What they fail to acknowledge is that it’s not just about how they see themselves, but how others see them. And by staining themselves in bright orange paint during the campaign, such candidates are either naïve or disingenuous to suggest that it will somehow wash off when they sit down at the council table.

Partisan packaging makes it more difficult for them to engage with all their constituents, who should never be left to wonder whether decisions are being made at city hall or the backrooms of the legislature.

Frankly, our politics already have enough cynicism.”

Emphasis added, but I could not have put this better than Mr. Gerein. For his full article see, “Partisan incursion into the municipal electoral process.”

Political by not Partisan

For those who live and care about municipal democracy – pray and vote on October 18.