I haven’t been particularly involved in political debate about the issues facing Edmonton, but I have been active in helping Ward 7 city council candidate Scott McKeen in his campaign. I have to give Scott credit for running a positive campaign, not that there’s been any mudslinging in this ward.
The City Centre Airport issue has emerged as one of the big issues in the campaign, mainly due to the efforts of Envision Edmonton. Should this have been the main issue? In my opinion, no. The decision was made by city council in 2009 to close the airport and it should have been left alone.
US-style attack politics
If you’ve followed the issues on Twitter under the hashtag #yegvotes, you would’ve noticed a very negative tone to the debate, and I will attribute that in large part to Envision Edmonton and its tactics. They have certainly imported American-style attack politics. It’s a rather un-Canadian way of conducting political campaigns and it has backfired on them.
In the last week some of Envision Edmonton’s underhanded tactics have come to light with the revelation that an Envision Edmonton spokesman and David Dorward mayoral campaign volunteer impersonated a Seattle Times reporter and attempted to interview one local council candidate.
Envision Edmonton also used their approximately 73,000 person failed petition as a phone list to campaign on behalf of pro-airport candidates. I’m sure anyone who had signed that petition hadn’t anticipated ending up on an auto-dialer.
On the doorstep: not negative
Having gone out a couple of days doing doorknocking on Scott McKeen’s behalf, I noticed a rather different tone on the doorstep. I didn’t have a single person upset with me and I heard from other volunteers of only a few people who were quite negative.
It’s easy to sit behind a screen and take potshots at opponents, but very different to debate face-to-face. I wasn’t out on doorsteps to debate anyway, but to get the word out. People did have some questions and I was happy to answer as best I could.
Politics in the age of participation
While social media has played an important role in politics, I think the most important part of any campaign is getting out and meeting people face to face. Scott has done a lot of that and it’s been interesting seeing the campaign from the inside. I’ve helped out on a few campaigns in the past, but never to the extent I have this time.
Working in online marketing, I know the necessity and value of online promotional efforts in a political campaign. Unless you’ve got huge name recognition though, you have to be active and get out of the campaign office to truly succeed. I have much more respect now for any politician who is out campaigning on the doorstep. (Doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily agree with them!)
Issues in Edmonton
I think the important issues in this election weren’t really talked about much, having been sidetracked by the airport issue. The next council has a number of important issues facing the city:
- Transportation – Don’t get me started on transportation: snow clearing, the Anthony Henday, $300 million interchanges, LRT, Edmonton Police Service guarding road construction and more. Edmonton is continuing to grow and needs a robust transportation infrastructure. Taking out half of a major commuter road (Stony Plain Road) to have in-road LRT is ludicrous and won’t make the transportation situation better, it’ll make it worse. This last council seemed to be in a rush to get it going in hopes of having it for their 2017 world’s fair bid. I could write a book on this one.
- Prediction: Current LRT model will get pushed ahead and Edmontonians will balk at the price tag.
- Taxes – Probably the main issue that upsets people: increasing property taxes. Edmonton has consistently seen fairly hefty property tax increases in recent years and I don’t know that the new city council has much more room to increase taxes. The city has lots of big ideas it wants to pursue, but taxpayers are tired of the increasing bite out of their wallets.
- Prediction: Council may get away with one more big increase, but after that they’ll be in line with inflation. (Hey, I can be hopeful.)
- Downtown arena – Oilers owner Daryl Katz is trying to convince the city of the need for a downtown arena mainly financed by taxpayers. This issue, I’m predicting, will be another contentious one. Edmonton’s taxpayers are eager for some relief and likely not too impressed with the idea of a massive transfer of their tax dollars to a private business. In the unlikely event that a slate of Envision Edmonton candidates make it to council, I’m predicting they wouldn’t send the issue to a plebiscite.
- Prediction: Council turns down Katz & he moves the Oilers to Hamilton.
- City Centre Airport: I said it before that Envision Edmonton wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I was right. They’re taking the city to court and I’m sure we won’t hear the end of it.
- Prediction: The million or so tax dollars the city takes in every year from business at the City Centre Airport will be eaten up in legal fees for at least the next five years. I bet Edmontonians never envisioned that.
Who did I vote for?
Well, I haven’t voted yet, but here’s the plan:
Edmonton city council Ward 7:Scott McKeen. I like Scott, and I like what he stands for, which is why I helped him on his campaign. This former Edmonton Journal columnist knows Edmonton and I firmly believe he’ll do a great job for Ward 7 and for the city.
Edmonton mayor: Stephen Mandel. To be honest, I’m not happy with ANY of the mayoral candidates, but Mandel is the best of the bunch, unfortunately. Dorward, aside from the Envision Edmonton BS, just isn’t leadership material from a mayoral perspective. I don’t like settling for a candidate, but in this case I am. Consider it more of a strategic vote. Also not fond of that.
Edmonton Public School Board Trustee Ward B: Darryl Lagerquist. I’m not happy with the fact that the incumbent Ken Shipka doesn’t have much to say about anything and he’s voted to close schools. I think Lagerquist is the best option. Closing schools just isn’t an option and I think trustees need to have the balls to take on the real culprit: the Alberta government.
Truth and reconciliation
Envision Edmonton has added a decidedly hostile tone to the political debate in Edmonton lately, and I’m hoping that is something that will change. Perhaps we should have a big Tweetup and a group hug and just move on. I have found that people who will attack me online really won’t do it face to face. I’m perfectly prepared for a fist fight, but would prefer a rational discussion over a few beers. : )
All kidding aside, I think it’s better for issues that have been dealt with to be put aside, fences mended, apologies made (on both sides), lawsuits dropped and everyone should look forward to the future.
If we want to conduct our politics like they do south of the border, expect the same results. The US is a disaster right now (economically and politically) and it’s hardly a good example to follow. Canadians, generally, are a more respectful and thoughtful bunch and politics by consensus has worked well for us in the past.
We can have vigorous political debate without viewing the other side as “the enemy.” If you feel inclined to hang on to the political past, heed the lyrics of The Eagles and get over it!