PHOTO: Your blogger’s lousy iPhone photo of St. Albert’s three mayoral candidates – from left to right, Cam MacKay, Malcolm Parker, and Cathy Heron – on the stage at the Arden Theatre last night.

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

OK, everyone here should at least be able to agree city council in St. Albert, the bedroom city of 70,000 souls just northwest of Edmonton where your blogger lives, has just gone through a divisive and divided four years.

I imagine every one of the approximately 500 people who packed the city’s acoustically impressive Arden Theatre last night for a two-hour election forum featuring the three candidates for mayor was aware of the ugly rift that’s bedeviled council for its full term and has lately been seeping into the community.

And no doubt most of us have our theories about how it came about, and what needs to be done to fix it, now that the local campaign leading up to Alberta’s province-wide municipal election is nearing its culmination on Monday.

But if you thought an election forum organized by the local Chamber of Commerce, with its good-hearted members editing the audience’s questions with de-confliction in mind, was going to cast much illumination on the situation or even be very amusing, you can guess again.

Listening to candidates Cathy Heron and Cam MacKay, members of council for the past seven years, the former who generally plays well with others, the latter a leader of a right-wing faction that has played a highly confrontational role, and Malcolm Parker, a former one-term councillor, was frustrating to say the least. So I think I’ll let a few of my Tweets sum up my frustrations with last night’s affair.

While the debate was wickedly slow-paced, this general theme persisted, with Mr. MacKay posing as the muckraking reformer, Mr. Parker as the only person everyone could work with, and Ms. Heron trying to keep the audience focused on what we can do in the future.

Take public transit, which Ms. Heron generally supports, and Mr. MacKay usually finds a way to oppose:

Take St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse, whom Mr. MacKay planned to win by attacking – but who spoiled the scheme by announcing he did not intend to seek re-election:

Take the development of a branch library, which had been approved three times by council, including by Mr. MacKay and his allies, but which Mr. MacKay’s campaign turned into an effective wedge issue to make up for not having Mr. Crouse to kick around any more.

And take Mr. MacKay’s weird penchant for grouping things in numbered groups: Two types of leaders … Six key elements … and 50 platform points! Well, I’ve always said there are just two kinds of people: People who group things into groups of two … and people who don’t.

In the merciful closer, right on schedule as we closed in on 9 p.m., Ms. Heron asked us to close our eyes and imagine the future we can have in St. Albert. I admit I peeked. Most folks didn’t seem to. (Same as church, back in the day.)

Mr. Parker suggested candidates should all sign a pledge to play nice in the sandbox after the election. Good luck with that!

And the candidate with the 50-promise plan?

Seriously, if he’s going to promise to make taxes go down and services go up, photo radar go away and more Mounties come to town to make our streets safer, and the NDP government to pay to expand a narrow road west of the city while he campaigns against it, he really needs to be asked how this complicated magic trick will work.

Voters will only have one more chance to ask tough questions like that, at a candidates’ meet and greet, tonight at 6:30, at the St. Albert Inn.

After that, we’re going to have to live with whomever we elect on Monday – or who our neighbours elect, anyway.

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  1. Hughes might be even more divisive than MacKay and stands a better chance of being elected.

    She needs to pick her battles … but she won’t.5

  2. Compared to the acrimony of this outgoing Council, this Council’s productivity and accomplishments have been sorely understated.

    Tax increases have been significantly smaller than they used to be. The people involved in the shady practices of hiring elected officials to City jobs have been fired. We have an updated Code of Council Conduct, and new positions of an integrity commissioner and an internal auditor. The Council has overseen a long list of bread-and-butter accomplishments on everything from medical waste as trash to support for the Food Bank.

    Notably, George Cuff noted in his report how Council kept getting its agenda passed compared to the acrimony. And some of those Council members, on opposing sides of the debate, both told me separately how they each got on quite well with each other outside the Council chambers, neither one realizing that they said the exact same thing about each other.

    All seven members of Council had a hand in this.

    No matter what the results on Tuesday, they can all hold their heads high.

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