Thinking about St. Albert’s aspirants for the mayor’s office: You can elect a candidate, but you can’t make him work

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PHOTOS: City Councillor Cathy Heron, who is running for mayor of St. Albert, on the campaign trail. Below: Councillor Cam MacKay, who is also seeking the mayor’s job, fishing in Winnipeg in 2016, a screenshot of a social media post he published, and former councillor Malcolm Parker, the third mayoral candidate in the Oct. 16 municipal election.

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

You can elect a city councillor, but you can’t make him work.

This goes double, presumably, if you’re electing a mayor here in St. Albert because, in this growing bedroom suburb northwest of Edmonton, the mayor has a full-time job whereas being a councillor is considered a part-time role.

So the St. Albert Gazette’s report Wednesday on the work habits of St. Albert’s city councillors contains some pertinent information for voters about the attitudes of two serving councillors who are now running for mayor of our city, Cathy Heron and Cam MacKay.

The story doesn’t provide similar insights about the third candidate for mayor, former councillor Malcolm Parker, but we can make an educated guess based on his past performance as a city councillor that, like Ms. Heron, he would be serious about attending the meetings and doing the often difficult and uninspiring work that are essential parts of being a municipal chief magistrate.

Mr. MacKay? Not so much, perhaps.

The Gazette’s story shows that while Ms. Heron has an exemplary attendance record for both council meetings and meetings of council committees, she was also willing to take on a significant work load on council committees.

Mr. MacKay, by contrast, not only had a poorer attendance record for council and especially council committees, he asked to serve on fewer committees, and seems to have picked committees that don’t meet frequently or generate a lot of work. Among Mr. MacKay’s picks, for example, is the Standing Quasi-Judicial Committee, which has never met since he was elected. Another of his committees met only once this year.

And while Ms. Heron told the Gazette’s reporter she devoted 30 to 40 hours each week to her “part-time” job, Mr. MacKay said he spent an average 25 hours on council work and complained about having to balance his full-time job with his part-time gig on council.

“I was the only person that had a job for the entire term this past term, so I really had to budget my time wisely to get everything done,” he told the Gazette. “It wasn’t easy, but you can do it.”

I’m not sure if how difficult Mr. MacKay found his task balancing council duties with his career should be a consideration for voters who elect candidates to do a tough public service job as well as possible on their behalf. Of course, elected officials don’t have their performance monitored by supervisors like normal employees. In a democracy, that’s our job as electors.

Mr. MacKay’s remarks to the Gazette also suggest he didn’t take committee work particularly seriously. “That’s OK for me,” he said in reference to the light committee load he’s chosen to take on, “because to be honest I prefer to be meeting with residents and trying to deal with their issues.”

Judging from a 2016 Facebook post from Mr. MacKay, apparently the most interesting aspect to him of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities convention he attended that June in Winnipeg was an evening fishing trip.

It’s well understood in St. Albert that while a city councillor is a paid a part-time salary, he or she is really taking on a full-time job. Anyone who runs for municipal office, and not just in St. Albert, should understand that.

The position of mayor is officially a full-time job, but the question now needs to be asked in light of the Gazette’s number crunching if the three candidates for mayor intend to quit their other work to serve in the office.

Ms. Heron is a full-time councillor now in all but pay. She does not have a second job, and all of her work is tied to her role as councillor. She indicated yesterday she is committed to devoting all her efforts to the role.

Mr. Parker is semi-retired but does some contract business consulting work. He said yesterday he would be in a position to commit himself full time to the role.

At 11 p.m. last night, Mr. MacKay had not responded to my query yesterday morning about this matter, sent to his campaign address.

Say what you will about Mayor Nolan Crouse, who is not seeking reelection, he was tireless in office, seldom missing a community event and also having a near-perfect record of attendance at council and related meetings.

The election is on Oct. 16. Advance polls will be held on Oct. 5, Oct. 7, Oct. 10, Oct. 12, and Oct. 14.

Categories Alberta Politics St. Albert