PHOTOS: All or part of 14 of the 25 candidates who took part in the City of St. Albert’s city council candidates’ forum last night. Below: Author Darryl Raymaker and the cover of his just-published book.

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

What’s worse than sitting through a three-hour city council candidates’ forum with 25 participants on stage and not so much as a five-minute bathroom break?

Without a doubt, it’s being one of the candidates up there under the klieg lights.

But what makes it particularly hellish – your blogger can attest to this from past personal experience, although not last night, thank goodness – isn’t having to answer the questions, which from the stage sound like they were designed to make you personally appear to be a fool, but the fact that first they give you … water.

Facing either way, this is what they call cruel and unusual punishment.

So help me, all 25 candidates running for city council this bedroom suburb northwest of Edmonton showed up last night. Some of them truly impressed. A few, unexpectedly. The others? Not so much.

Regardless, with that many hopeful job seekers sitting in a row, and the 500-seat Arden Theatre packed to the gunwales, there was little hope for audience members or candidates alike of making it to a washroom before the end of the full 180 minutes, each of which seemed longer than the previous one.

With municipal elections scheduled in almost every town and city in Alberta for Oct. 16 – which is less than a week from now – the same scene was likely playing out in community halls and school auditoriums all over Alberta.

Now, my late mother advised me if I couldn’t say anything nice about someone, not to say anything at all. This is not necessarily advice I am always able to take. But in that spirit, your tireless blogger will make only a few statistical observations in this post, but publish later, it is promised, some voter recommendations.

Since this city has a six-member council elected at large, voters may only choose six candidates, with the top half-dozen getting the (part-time) job.

Based on last night’s performances, 13 of the candidates are likely to be able to do the job well if they are elected. That means, of course, that 12 of them would probably embarrass us if we’re foolish enough to vote them in.

When I get around to naming names, you can assume I think all the candidates mentioned will do a good job. But since I’ll only name six, there will be more who could have done a fine job too who will go unremarked, as well as more who would have done not-so-fine a job.

But tonight, even the guy who tried to channel Rob Ford, the late Toronto Mayor, by declaring that The War on the Car Must End … or words to that effect … gets a passing grade. (As long as you remember, that is, that when your correspondent went to college, a D was a pass.)

I’m not sure of this – I was sitting near the stage with my back to the crowd – but I had the distinct impression last night the audience at the Arden was not all that sympathetic to the candidates who would put tax cutting ahead of maintaining services and building the facilities a growing city needs.

The three candidates for mayor will have their own forum in the same location starting at 7 p.m. tonight. Another candidates’ forum – organized on the “speed-dating” principal – will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the St. Albert Inn on Thursday. After that, I will publish my recommendations, which will have all the impact of an endorsement by any other blogger.

Meanwhile, late this afternoon, before the St. Albert all-candidates affair, I had the opportunity to chat over coffee with Darryl Raymaker, author of Trudeau’s Tango, Alberta Meets Pierre Elliott Trudeau, 1968-1972, about what the elder prime minister Trudeau did right and what he did wrong in his implementation of the now-reviled National Energy Program.

Mr. Raymaker, a Calgary lawyer for half a century and a Liberal Party stalwart on Alberta’s stony ground since 1963, had his Edmonton book launch for Trudeau’s Tango scheduled for 7 p.m. at Audreys Books in downtown Edmonton. The conflict, alas, was impossible to rectify, a pity because I am sure I am not the first person to observe that Mr. Raymaker is a true raconteur, and the launch, unlike the forum, was certain to be a jolly affair.

I will write on Mr. Raymaker’s observations about the NEP soon. In the meantime, my colleague and fellow blogger Dave Cournoyer has published an interesting review of Mr. Raymaker’s sprightly Trudeau’s Tango on his blog.

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  1. On the topic of municipal taxes, I had an interesting number crunching experiment one day when our Edmonton municipal tax notice came while my federal notice of assessment was still on my desk. (Remember, all number crunching experiments are fascinating to retired math teachers!)

    Since my wife and I co-own our house, I divided both the municipal tax and the provincial education tax on the city tax bill by 2. I then added the halved education tax to the final provincial income tax amount on my notice of assessment.

    Next I added my share of our municipal taxes, my provincial tax (income and half the education tax) and my federal income tax, and used that total to find what percent of my tax bill went to each level of government.

    I was surprised to discover that only 10% of my total taxes paid went to the city.* Nevertheless, it seems like it is municipal taxes that people complain about the most. I think municipalities need to find a different method of taxation, such as income tax or sales tax.

    *Other people’s experiences will vary, of course, depending on their municipality’s tax base, how the value of their home compares to their income and whether or not they share the ownership of their home. As well, since these calculations do not include GST, my true municipal tax load is even less.

  2. One finding of the Cuff report has been under-reported.

     A Council whose membership includes those with an insatiable desire for administrative detail and who do not recognize the downside of their behaviour; this additional time spent on satisfying a Councillor’s curiosity is time taken from senior management whose principal task is the management of issues, not explaining in copious detail the inner workings of an administrative issue.

    I believe this finding was not related the conduct of councillors Brodhead, Heron or Osborne.

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