PHOTOS: St. Albert City Councillor Cam MacKay, who is running for mayor of the municipality northwest of Edmonton. Below: Mayoral candidate Cathy Heron, also a city councillor, St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse, and Councillor Sheena Hughes.
ST. ALBERT, Alberta
Have the key players in City Councillor Cam MacKay’s campaign to become mayor of St. Albert somehow missed the fact incumbent Mayor Nolan Crouse is not running for reelection?
You’d almost think so, judging from their frequent and furious attacks on Mayor Crouse.
But Mr. Crouse announced back on Jan. 5 that he wouldn’t be seeking a fourth term as mayor, and he hasn’t done or said anything since that suggests he’s changed his mind. So at this point it seems safe to assume he’s said good riddance to municipal politics.
But instead of economic development, the future of downtown, the state of the Sturgeon River, swimming pools, or snow clearing, issues that matter to many St. Albertans, about all we hear from Mr. MacKay’s campaign is how bad a guy Mr. Crouse is.
Well, we do know Mr. MacKay is against tax increases, although what he would do to maintain city services in the face of inflation is pretty vague. And we know his supporters hate the idea of new branch for the St. Albert Public Library, the city’s most popular public service. But that is a topic for another day.
As for Mr. MacKay’s campaign’s regularly expressed disdain for Mayor Crouse, this is a proposition, judging from the online commentary it has generated, with which a significant number of St. Albertans disagree.
Meanwhile, the only other candidate to have declared her intention to run for mayor of St. Albert is Councillor Cathy Heron, who, in case you missed it, is not Nolan Crouse.
Mr. MacKay’s supporters’ case against Ms. Heron seems mainly to be to try to tie her to Mayor Crouse.
There are arguments for this kind of rhetoric in elections for Parliament or a provincial Legislature where the old leader and the aspiring new leader are members of the same political party.
But in municipal politics in small communities like St. Albert, a bedroom suburb of about 70,000 souls northwest of Edmonton, this is neither fair nor reasonable. There are no political parties at St. Albert City Hall, although one could argue a slate of candidates associated with Mr. MacKay is emerging.
Over the past four years there has certainly been agreement on many issues between Ms. Heron and Mr. Crouse, as well as other council members, but to suggest they have the same agenda does not reflect reality. Indeed, Ms. Heron might well have run for mayor even if Mr. Crouse had decided to seek reelection.
It is worth remembering that the same sort of claim was made by apparently well-funded anonymous groups and websites about Mayor Crouse and several other candidates in the 2013 municipal election. (Full disclosure: I was one of the candidates targeted by these groups, and I was most certainly not part of Mr. Crouse’s “team,” as was alleged.) With one exception, I cannot say for certain the same people are backing Mr. MacKay’s mayoral campaign this year, only that there are striking similarities in their rhetoric and strategies.
Meanwhile, Mr. MacKay has gotten himself thoroughly bogged down in the optics of his appearance last week outside an Edmonton courtroom, where an Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench judge was hearing arguments by a St. Albert citizen who is seeking Mayor Crouse’s removal from office based on allegations that are unproven and disputed by Mr. Crouse.
Two letters to the editor of the local newspaper yesterday – here’s one, and here’s the other – and similar comments on social media suggested Mr. MacKay was seen by many as grandstanding. By contrast, letters from Mr. MacKay and Councillor Sheena Hughes, who with Councillor Bob Russell often sides with Mr. MacKay in City Council meetings, castigated the St. Albert Gazette for reporting on Mr. MacKay’s activities instead of just the allegations against Mayor Crouse.
Criticized roundly for the reasons he gave last week for turning up at the courthouse, Mr. MacKay provided some new ones in yesterday’s letter. These included “informing the city manager so appropriate security measures could be taken, preparing a press release for the media, calling a special council meeting to determine next steps, or taking no action at all.”
Both Mr. MacKay and Ms. Hughes made it sound in their letters as if Mr. Crouse is on trial. However, he is not. He is defending himself against the accusations of a private citizen, Steve Stone, who announced on Aug. 2 that he is running for city council.
As supporters of Mr. MacKay argued yesterday, this is not to say Mr. Stone’s claims are without merit. Sooner or later, the judge will determine that. But judging from the online commentary it did raise questions about political motivations in the minds of many St. Albertans.
In is interesting to note that in early 2015, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police determined no investigation of anyone on city council was warranted. “On March 04, 2015, my office received a request, originating from the OIC of St. Albert Detachment, to conduct a review of an Expense Claim Audit Report pertaining to the Mayor and Council of the City of St. Albert,” a senior financial integrity investigator of the RCMP in Edmonton wrote to the Officer in Charge of the force’s St. Albert Detachment.
“The purpose of the RCMP review was to determine if a criminal investigation was warranted,” wrote Staff Sgt. Garth Jesperson. The letter was also signed by Inspector Peter Trottier.
After a review of the material received, a meeting with city officials to discuss their audit and a legal opinion from Alberta Justice, the letter said, the Mounties determined “no criminal investigation is warranted. As such our file will be concluded.”
Whatever his intentions at the courthouse last week, Mr. MacKay seems to have adopted a fairly generous interpretation of the duties of a deputy mayor. The position, as noted earlier in this space, is a temporary rotation of council members to fill in if the mayor is unavailable.
While Mr. MacKay was waiting outside the courtroom, Ms. Heron was chairing an all-day training session for new public officials put on by the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association. In other words, she was acting more like a deputy mayor. Ms. Heron will fulfill that function officially in September and the first couple of weeks of October.
After that, if no third candidate comes forward before the closing of nominations on Sept. 18, either Ms. Heron or Mr. MacKay will be the mayor for real after the Oct. 16 municipal election.
To succeed, the winner will need to make a case they would be a better mayor than the other, not someone who isn’t even running for the job.