PHOTOS: St. Albert mayoral candidate Cathy Heron at her official campaign launch. Below: Candidates Cam MacKay and Malcolm Parker, and outgoing Mayor Nolan Crouse; St. Albert Place architect Douglas Cardinal, and first artistic director Maralyn Ryan.
ST. ALBERT, Alberta
In the first few moments of Wednesday’s mayoral candidates’ forum in St. Albert’s treasured Arden Theatre – the existence of which we owe to the foresight of the city’s voters in a 1980 plebiscite – I summarized the debate in a Tweet as “Cam attacks Cathy; Malcolm in the middle attacks Cam & Cathy; Cathy tries to be positive.”
That is to say of our city’s three candidates for mayor in tomorrow’s municipal election … Councillor Cam MacKay tried to frame himself as a muckraking reformer and sharply attacked Councillor Cathy Heron as if she were a stand-in for outgoing Mayor Nolan Crouse, with whom we all know Mr. MacKay and his core supporters have issues.
Former councillor Malcolm Parker, located by the debate’s organizers between the other two, painted them as equally responsible for the division on council over the past four years and held himself up as someone who could work with everyone.
And Ms. Heron did her best to keep the audience of 500 souls focused on what we can do and what St. Albert can be in the future.
That Tweet, indeed, could be a metaphor for the entire campaign, which in a way began back in 2013 when the group of disgruntled and angry voters who this time support Mr. MacKay saw the candidate they had backed defeated by Mr. Crouse in that year’s municipal election.
The campaign to undermine Mayor Crouse, it seems to me, began before the year had turned to 2014 – spearheaded on council by Mr. MacKay and Councilor Sheena Hughes and outside on social media and in a local blog dedicated to the complaints of the group that has existed in St. Albert for more than a decade under a variety of names and labels.
Mayor Crouse, unfortunately, handed them ammunition on several occasions – but I am sure most St. Albertans agree that the campaign against him has been relentless, rancorous and characterized by a degree of rage that is extremely hard for most of us to understand, let alone justify.
While we can’t be certain what was in their minds, it seems clear the plan for Mr. MacKay’s campaign was to direct their fury at Mr. Crouse and his failings, real and imagined. When he surprised them and announced he would not seek re-election, their hostility immediately pivoted toward Ms. Heron, directing the campaign’s negativity at her as if she were the same person.
It is true that at some point the MacKay campaign introduced a “50-point plan” rife with expensive un-costed proposals paired with tax-cut promises that can only be described as a fiscal fantasy of more, more, more for less, less, less. Example: Cut photo radar revenue and add the cost of additional police officers while making taxes go down.
So, for me, voting for Mr. MacKay was out from the get-go, because I could not and cannot believe a candidate whose campaign style has been so angry and divisive is capable of being a uniter and builder as the leader of our community.
As a former member and chair of the St. Albert Public Library Board, I admit I was shocked by the MacKay campaign’s decision to turn the plan to build a new branch library in the city’s north into wedge issue around which to build a coalition.
As for Mr. Parker, he is my neighbour and a fine person who would be a good mayor, but I was troubled by the false equivalency between Mr. MacKay’s negativity and Ms. Heron’s positive campaign that is a key component in his argument for our support.
His decision to make this explicit in Wednesday’s debate suggests the divisiveness we have seen for the last four years from Mr. MacKay and Ms. Hughes and their backers has begun to seep into the community.
Ms. Heron is the only candidate with a positive vision of the future of our community who has been willing to take the chance of insisting on an inclusive and optimistic campaign.
She has taken positions that make sense on traffic and safety, regional collaboration, affordable living, and economic development. She has shown she is a community builder, and she is clearly committed to collaborative leadership. She has support from all across the political spectrum.
I voted for Cathy Heron in an advance poll yesterday. I hope St. Albertans who haven’t already voted will join me in supporting her tomorrow.
Let’s put St. Albert Place, a justly renowned national icon, in political context
One of the successes, if one can call it that, of Mr. MacKay’s negative campaign is that it forced the plan to build a new branch library – which council had already unanimously voted to move forward three times – onto a plebiscite.
As we consider how to vote, it’s worth casting our minds back to the community’s decision in 1980 to build St. Albert Place, a national landmark designed by renowned Alberta-born Metis architect Douglas Cardinal.
The curvilinear redbrick structure that houses the 500-seat Arden Theatre where Wednesday’s mayoral debate took place opened on June 2, 1984.
As the St. Albert Gazette wrote on the building’s 25th anniversary in 2009, “St. Albert Place today is an iconic source of civic pride in the heart of the city, but that wasn’t always the case. From the earliest conception the building was sullied with tags like ‘white elephant’ and ‘Taj Mahal’ due to the $19.5-million cost.”
Mr. Cardinal credited the success of the building as a breakthrough moment in his career, which has included such major commissions as the Canadian Museum of History across the river from Ottawa in Gatineau, Que., and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
Residents rejected the original plan in 1976 in a plebiscite, but, thankfully, it returned and was very narrowly endorsed in a second plebiscite in the 1980 election.
Maralyn Ryan, founding artistic director of the theatre, told the Gazette in 2009: “Everybody at the city had the courage and the foresight and the vision to say, the community deserves this. It has been a model for so many communities in this country.”
That’s something to think about as we cast our ballots in the plebiscite Monday on a branch library expected to cost $19.5 million.