Municipal politics: If you choose to run with a slate, don’t complain when you’re asked about other members’ views

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PHOTOS: St. Albert’s iconic city hall, site of the growing community’s only public library. Image grabbed from Councillor Wes Brodhead’s website. Below: Mayoral candidates Cathy Heron and Cam MacKay (photos grabbed from their campaign materials), and one side of the anti-branch-library leaflet published by a group of six candidates for city council (Photo: T8N Magazine). The group distributes its campaign leaflets together with material from Mr. MacKay, whose strategy made attacking a new branch library a key wedge issue in his campaign. Coincidence? Unlikely.

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

If it walks like a slate and it quacks like a slate, it probably is a slate.

And whether the six council candidates who have tied their campaigns to the mayoral candidacy of Cam MacKay want to admit it or not, they have brought party politics of a sort to the Edmonton-area bedroom suburb of St. Albert.

They can run from this – as they are doing by claiming in the community’s twice-weekly newspaper they are just half a dozen candidates who happen to have a fiscal objection to a new branch library in common and are sharing costs by distributing each other’s election brochures – but they can’t really hide.

By agreeing to put their names on a joint leaflet that just happens to champion the wedge issue Mr. MacKay’s campaign adopted as a way to build a winning electoral coalition after a plan to win by vilifying Mayor Nolan Crouse fell apart when Mr. Crouse decided not to run again, Al Bohachyk, Mark Cassidy, incumbent Councillor Sheena Hughes, Charlene Jelinski, Steve Stone and Jaye Walter are going to be seen by voters as a slate of candidates whether they like it or not.

Interestingly, Councillor Bob Russell, who co-operated with Mr. MacKay and Ms. Hughes in their efforts to aggressively oppose Mayor Crouse in council since Mr. Russell’s by-election victory in 2015, is not part of this group. Whose decision this was is not clear.

By contrast, although the St. Albert Gazette discovered one volunteer who is distributing leaflets for mayoral candidate Cathy Heron, Councillor Wes Brodhead and council candidates Natalie Joly, Ken MacKay (no relation) and Jacquie Hansen, this hardly adds up to a formal slate.

Regardless, candidates who are members of the anti-branch-library slate are bound to discover that one of the problems with being part of a political party is that, to some degree, one member has to take responsibility for what other members of the team do and say.

And there are members of the St. Albert slate who, without doubt, hold controversial views and have done controversial things.

Naturally, there are big organizational and financial advantages to political parties too, which is why they have evolved quite naturally at the provincial and federal levels, and even in some large Canadian cities, such as Vancouver.

But in a city the size of St. Albert, population roughly 70,000, they are an oddity, and it is not at all clear yet they’re an oddity voters will like.

It’s unknown how St. Albert voters react to Cam MacKay’s longstanding animosity to Mayor Crouse and his supporters’ effort now to extend the same level of rancour to Ms. Heron. But whether they like it or not, all six council candidates now identified with the MacKay campaign’s wedge issue are bound to be associated with the harsh attacks on Mr. Crouse and Ms. Heron as well.

And how will St. Albert voters feel about the view, for example, that no employee deserves paid sick time, expressed by one member of the group, local realtor Mark Cassidy?

“They are wasting hundreds of millions of dollars in paid sick leave,” Mr. Cassidy said in a Facebook post in April this year that appeared to be directed at Alberta Health Services. “I say no paid sick leave for not working. Eliminate this wasteful spending. If they are sick constantly replace them otherwise the system is inefficient.”

Surely it is reasonable to ask the other members of the slate, including Mr. MacKay, if they share Mr. Cassidy’s opposition to paid sick leave, and, if they don’t, what are they doing working with him? Surely his view would be of interest to city employees, for example.

Mr. Cassidy has shared on social media a number of other controversial and sometimes offensive comments that would also be worthy of this kind of attention, including support for Dutch politician Geert Wilders, known as an extreme right-winger. “This man is right on point,” Mr. Cassidy said in February.

Of former U.S. President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, Mr. Cassidy said in May, “there is a movement to stop you from selling out to the UN you traitors! The tax is the hoax the climate change has always happened.”

Like Mr. MacKay’s strategy of attacking Mayor Crouse, slate members also own Mr. Cassidy’s public views, as they do of the unsuccessful legal effort by group member Steve Stone to have Mr. Crouse removed from office, which a judge dismissed on Aug. 10.

Likewise, since slate member Jaye Walter is a former Wildrose Party candidate in the Spruce Grove-St. Albert riding, it’s a fair question for those of us who don’t support the Wildrose or its successor party if slate members on council would become a stalking horse for the Opposition in the Legislature. Would members of this group use St. Albert’s council chamber as a platform to attack the provincial and federal governments, instead of doing their jobs as community leaders and planners?

It will be interesting to see all candidates’ election-spending reports when they are filed after the election. In the mean time, if St. Albertans don’t approve of parties in local politics, the best way to send the message, obviously, would be not to elect candidates associated with incipient parties like the slate.

An all-candidates’ meeting for the 25 people running for six council positions will be held tomorrow, Tuesday, Oct. 10, in the Arden Theatre in St. Albert Place, 5 St. Anne Street. The forum opens at 6 p.m. Admission, of course, is free.

An all-candidates meeting for the three candidates for mayor – Ms. Heron, Mr. MacKay and former councillor Malcolm Parker – will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 11, starting at 7 p.m., in the same location.

Categories Alberta Politics St. Albert