Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Edmonton city council races a lot less interesting

Last July, the Edmonton Journal ran a story headlined "Ward shakeup offers interesting races in 2010". That was before the current council decided to come to what Councilor Don Iveson calls a collective "understanding" that would see councilors shuffle around to preclude their having to run against each other (aside from odd-man-out Tony Caterina).
Cllr. Anderson and I came to a working understanding late last year that we would not run against each other, desiring instead that the bulk of our current Ward 5 constituents should have an experienced representative on their ballot.
Aside: I don't recall hearing much about the value of "an experienced representative" from the Iveson campaign in 2007...

Now, to be sure, Iveson says he has an understanding only with Bryan Anderson. But Iveson declining to run in Ward 8 is very good news for Ben Henderson and/or Jane Batty, who have their own arrangement that sees one of them running on the southside in Ward 8 despite both living north of the river in Ward 6. Aside from living in Ward 8, Iveson's connections to the university and his political style make him a natural for Ward 8. Anderson, in turn, is a natural for Ward 10. He lives there, and his politics fit. It nonetheless appears that Iveson asked Anderson to shuffle over to Ward 9 so he could in turn shuffle into Ward 10.

The big loser in this game of musical chairs is everyone who hoped that business and taxpayers would have a voice on council (and anyone hoping for some seriously contested elections). Former Liberal MLA Karen Leibovici will be easily re-elected in the west end ward of her choice (Ward 1 or 5) while her former Liberal caucus colleague and notorious lefty Linda Sloan will take the other west end ward ("Coun. Linda Sloan said she won't run for mayor, but the ward she runs in will be influenced by whether any of her colleagues seek the position.)" A third former Liberal MLA, Ed Gibbons, has locked down Ward 4 in the northeast. With respect to Wards 11 and 12 in the southeast, both union advocate (when he's actually working) Dave Thiele, and the NDP associated Amarjeet Sohi will be seeking re-election. Ben Henderson, husband of Edmonton Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, seems to have cleared the field by virtue of his understanding with Jane Batty, while Ron Hayter (first elected in 1971) and Kim Krushell will be unassailable in north end Wards 3 and 2, respectively.

Tony Caterina would not able to beat either Hayter or Gibbons, meaning having to run in the open Ward 7, but Ward 7 is not really open to a conservative candidate. Brendan Van Alstine is the safe bet to take Ward 7 and add to council's left lean, given that it is early February and Van Alstine has already been campaigning in this NDP territory for months.

So there you have it: 12 city councilors after October 2010, all re-elected incumbents except for #toncat, who is replaced by a candidate far to Tony's left. The number with ties to the provincial PCs, never mind the Wildrose Alliance? Zero.

Obviously not everyone is going to shed a tear about the fact conservative candidates are likely to be shut out. But I think non-partisans would find it regrettable that incumbents have gone to the lengths they have to entrench themselves. There is a reason that term limits exist, and it is to ensure new blood in government, which otherwise faces long odds against all the advantages that accrue to incumbency. In 2004 when Allan Bolstad retired, Kim Krushell - by her own account - knocked on 6000 doors seeking the vacant seat, and in 2007, when running for re-election, less than 1000. Her reward? Moving up from a 2nd place finish in a system where the top two are elected to 1st. A city council grasping for the advantages of incumbency by collusion amongst incumbent councilors to minimize competition would be described as a cartel were it a private organization.

As for the likely political end for Tony the Cat, that may not, in fact, be the worst outcome given that he was never an ideal conservative candidate anyway. Mike Nickel was more effective, and even Nickel had his limitations as he was too oppositional. But disappointing to me is that fact that no sitting councilor resides in the new Ward 9 and 90%+ of the ward overlaps with the provincial riding of Edmonton Whitemud, where I have seen quite a lot of success organizing on behalf of the Wildrose Alliance: the news that Bryan Anderson - who seems to be all things to all people - will run in 9 is unfortunate, despite the fact that Anderson is a reasonably competent councilor by most reports (the Edmonton Sun gives him a C+). For all the talk about how Don Iveson knocked off a city councilor, Iveson did not knock off Anderson despite going directly against him in 2007. In fact, Anderson pulled in more than 1000 votes more than Iveson did in 2007, and the further south ones goes (i.e. towards Ward 9 and away from Ward 8) the weaker Iveson's electoral performance. 2nd was nonetheless good enough for election under the old ward system. The Riverbend and Terwillegar area would have been a prime launching pad for a conservative candidate, but now the number of distinguished candidates who will be interested in contesting the ward will be significantly lower. Finding volunteers and donors for a compelling candidate conscious of the importance of stimulating the growth of the tax base will also be difficult given the odds of beating Anderson, who despite not being conservative can't be classified as a leftist at odds with a relatively right wing ward either.

As I pointed to last month, bond rating agencies have noted that the city's spending "has the potential to push tax-supported debt to a level no longer consistent with the current rating." How is it that the capital of a supposedly conservative province has the third-highest (out of 21 municipalities) taxes and fees in the country? Annual tax and fee increases under the current council have approached double digit levels, yet Iveson still felt it necessary to advise his colleagues that he was tired of "this city cheaping out." Councilor Henderson has also dismissed concerns about tax competitiveness, warning against what would happen "if you cheap out". Iveson actually adds quite a lot to council, don't get me wrong, but having the council dominated by spenders is neither in the city's interests nor representative of the city's diversity of perspectives.

Last month's news about how none of the incumbents are going to challenge each other electorally suggests a council that gets along together rather too well!


Christopher R. Jones said...

Well said. It is astonishing that the electorate would stand for such cozy "arrangements" in a supposed election. As long as they stick together no one can be hung with shame of out of control spending.

Most recent example? $150 million to upgrade Ft. Edmonton Park so it resembles the TELUS Space & Science Center!

Thank god the Province has made it clear there is no funding for a new hockey arena (Calgary would be next in line I guess.)

Anonymous said...

Brian, so you think Tony Caterina won't win, just like you thought Paul Hinman wouldn't win in the Calgary-Glenmore by-election.

Do you like cheering against your own team?

Caterina slogged it out for the Alberta Alliance in Edmonton-Centre in 2004, or have you forgotten that?