Category Archives: Politics

St. Catharines Mayor Sendzik Responds to Petrowski’s Comments

I reached out to ask the Mayor’s office for comment regarding Councillor Petrowski’s views on refugees and Muslims from last week. Some see silence on this issue as condoning Petrowski’s views. St. Catharines MP Chris Bittle came out with a strong rebuke of Petrowski today.

As Mayor, not only does Sendzik represent the same constituents as Petrowski, he is also a colleague of Petrowski’s on Regional Council.

Here is how the Mayor’s Office responded:

Hi Greg,

Thanks for reaching out and the opportunity to respond.  I hope Mayor Sendzik’s position is clear as he has been vocal and active in supporting our community’s response to welcome Syrian families since earlier this fall when the Mayor’s Office and Folk Arts Centre co-hosted the first community meeting to organize the response to the refugee crisis. The Mayor’s Office is fully engaged in the Niagara Refugee Assistance Committee which includes a number of community agencies, volunteers, faith groups and the Folk Arts Multicultural Centre, working together to organize and coordinate our collective response to support refugees when they arrive in the new year.

Mayor Sendzik does not support or endorse the views expressed by Mr. Petrowski. Here’s a short statement he provided to the Standard today.

“Negative and divisive comments from public figures can impact a city’s reputation and I’m disappointed by Andy Petrowski’s public remarks. These types of incidents distract from the good work that so many people are doing to welcome Syrian refugees.

St. Catharines is an open, inclusive and welcoming community. We have a strong history of welcoming newcomers. In fact, my own family came to St. Catharines from Poland in the 1920s. The community’s interest and support in welcoming Syrian families has been overwhelmingly positive. From our first meeting at the Folk Arts Centre in September to now, many people are coming forward and offering to help with donations, clothing, housing and support.

These comments are not reflective of the city or the majority of the people that I see and work with every day. We will continue to work together to be a positive, warm and welcoming voice.” – Mayor Walter Sendzik

Sendzik did vote for Petrowski to be on the Police Board in January, but it is good to see him stepping up to condemn these comments.

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Petrowski Must Be Removed from Police Board

I was listening to CKTB radio the other day. Tom McConnell dedicated a large portion of his show to discussing Donald Trump’s recent comments about banning Muslims from entering the United States. The merits of giving this “idea” airtime, let alone allowing people to call in to express support, are debatable. However, it is news and McConnell’s show covers news. Typically I would have turned off the program, but radio at 11 a.m. isn’t a cornucopia of great options. Luckily, I did not. Once I heard that “Andy” was calling in, I knew it was time to hit record.

Sure enough, Niagara Region Councillor Andy Petrowski took the opportunity to put his foot in his mouth. Which, sadly, is all he seems to excel at as a political representative. You can hear my recording of his call here: https://soundcloud.com/regiller/andy-petrowski-on-cktb-dec-9-15

It is important to note that Petrowski phoned in on his own accord to share his thoughts. Spouting the usual ignorant talking points he gets from far right Americans such as Trump and Breitbart, Councillor Petrowski heaped further embarrassment onto himself. He displayed his tenuous grasp of logic by comparing banning Muslims from America to destroying ISIS. He called for Barack Obama to be banned from Canada, for some reason. He stated that since Canada can’t know if even one of the 10,000 Syrian refugees it is admitting will commit a terrorist act, it is irresponsible to let any in (the logic tree on this claim, in particular, is quite brilliant. Since we can’t know anyone won’t do anything, maybe everyone in the world should be confined to their own individual jail cell just to be safe.)

Grant Lafleche wrote an excellent column about why Petrowski is wrong on this issue, which includes the following passage:

Petrowski’s hyperbole paints all refugees as potential terrorist threats. Such an attitude from a political leader is inaccurate, unhelpful and unfair.

For me, the issue isn’t that Andy embarrasses himself, that’s his decision. The issue isn’t that he is just a cranky old white guy and some cranky old white guys have a tendency to spout hateful nonsense. The issue isn’t even that he’s emblematic of a Regional Council that is 87% male and 100% white, with the majority over the age of 50. As a member of Regional Council, Petrowski has marginalized himself and this is reflected by his inability to accomplish much of anything in his five years on Council. The issue isn’t even that he’s wrong, as he is.

The issue is that Petrowski is the Vice-Chair of the Police Services Board. At a time when the relationship between police and minority groups in North America is “delicate”, having the Vice-Chair of the Board spouting Islamaphobic rhetoric is as dangerous as it is embarrassing. It should be noted that only five months ago Chief McGuire was forced by a different brand of Petrowski ignorance to assure the public that police serve the community in an unbiased manner. Now Petrowski’s at it again.

PetrowskiAllMuslims

That Petrowski gets his worldview from right-wing nuts in the States is not news. He has readily displayed this for a long time. So how was he allowed into a position of influence on the Police Board?

PetrowskiMuslimRape

Well, just like our problematic way of choosing our Regional Chair, he was chosen for the position by his fellow Regional Councillors. You can see how this system could result in back-room deals. For example: “I’ll scratch your back (vote for you for Regional Chair), you scratch mine (help me get elected to the police board.)”

To be fair, these backroom deals are nothing new. But never have they resulted in less competent politicians filling such prominent positions in Niagara. One look at the disastrous year both Regional Council and the Police Board have had will confirm that.

The Police Services Board is the civilian governing body of the Niagara Regional Police Service. It sets the police budget and works with the Chief on policing priorities.

The Region has three representatives on the Board; the Regional Chair and two Councillors, who are selected by vote by the other Regional Councillors. Because Chair Caslin decided to defer his position on the Board, three Councillors were required. Board membership, in addition to its duties and responsibilities, comes with an additional salary of around $7,000 (about 25% of the base Regional Councillor salary.)

Six Councillors put their names forward for election to the Board; Barrick, Bentley, Burroughs, D’Angela, Gale and Petrowski. Barrick, Gale and Petrowski all received a majority of votes on the first ballot. Here’s how the voting went

PoliceBoardVote.jpg

It would be fair to say that Barrick, Gale and Petrowski are all members of what’s been called the “conservative cabal” that includes our current Regional Chair and controls the balance of Regional Council decisions. Their other merits for selection to the important position of Police Board member are opaque.

Barrick is also chair of the Region’s budget committee and a large portion of the budget goes to the police, so perhaps that’s a good reason for inclusion. Gale was briefly a cop at one point in his life. Petrowski has come into conflict with the NRPS in the past.

Whatever the reason or scheme for having these three selected to the Board, they all became subject to its Code of Conduct upon joining. It is safe to say that Petrowski’s infamous homophobic comments and his recent Islamaphobic rhetoric cause him to be in violation of that Code.

PoliceBoardCode

7. Board members shall discharge their duties loyally, faithfully, impartially and according to the Act, any other Act and any regulation, rule or by-law, as provided in their oath or affirmation of office

8. Board members shall uphold the letter and spirit of the Code of Conduct set out in this regulation and shall discharge their duties in a manner that will inspire public confidence in the abilities and integrity of the board.

9. Board members shall discharge their duties in a manner that respects the dignity of individuals and in accordance with the Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Canada).

13. Board members shall refrain from engaging in conduct that would discredit or compromise the integrity of the board or the police force.

If the board determines that a board member has breached the Code of Conduct set out in this Regulation, the board shall record that determination in its minutes and may, (a) require the member to appear before the board and be reprimanded; (b) request that the Ministry of the Solicitor General conduct an investigation into the member’s conduct; or (c) request that the Commission conduct an investigation into the member’s conduct under Section 25 of the Act.

Section 25 of the Police Services Act states (emphasis mine):

Penalties, member of board

(5) If the Commission concludes, after a hearing, that a member of a board is guilty of misconduct or is not performing or is incapable of performing the duties of his or her position in a satisfactory manner, it may remove or suspend the member.  R.S.O. 1990, c. P.15, s. 25 (5).

The Commission in this case is the Police Services Board.

PoliceBoardMembers

This is not like people who say about refugees that we should “help our own vulnerable citizens first” (which is a position I also disagree with.) This is a political representative sowing fear and discord about the entirety of a minority population; members of which he already represents.

It is my opinion that Petrowski can’t be trusted to perform his duties in an unbiased manner. Further, his comments have the potential to negatively impact the relationship between police and the residents they serve.

Petrowski should resign from the police board after yet another compromising opinion of his has been made known. Knowing him, he will not resign.

The responsibility to have him removed, thus, falls to those who irresponsibly worked and voted to have him placed in that position in the first place. I am hopeful they will not abandon their responsibility and rectify their error.

Councillors disrespect business leader – is gender the reason?

Fact: Niagara Region Council is made up of 31 individuals. Only 4 are women.

My post last week about an elected Regional Chair featured this paragraph:

First: not only was the motion defeated; at the Corporate Services Committee, the CEO of the chamber, Mishka Balsom, was subjected to many patronizing remarks from Councillors; presumably for her transgression of taking the time to represent her organization’s well-founded hope for change with a good presentation on why an elected Chair is needed. One Councillor asked Ms. Balsom if she understood and could explain how Canadians elected our Prime Minister; another suggested she wasn’t running her organization or communicating with her members correctly. This brow-beating went on for over an hour. A clip (beginning around the 25 minute mark) can be found here. I remind you, this is the representative of the greater business community being told not “thanks, but no thanks” but instead “no, you ignorant incompetent” by our fair Regional Councillors.

I decided to look at Balsom’s presentation and the response from Councillors further. I watched it so you don’t have to, but if you’d like, you can see the video here.

The scene

1297752088866_ORIGINAL

The Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce (GNCC) represents 1,550 businesses throughout Niagara; those businesses employ 45,000 people.It is “the champion of business in Niagara.” Suffice it to say, it is an important organization.

Governance reform has been on the GNCC’s agenda for at least four years now. In a 2013 survey, 80% of the GNCC’s membership supported changing Niagara Region’s governance model to include an elected Regional Chair. In 2014 the GNCC actually asked candidates for Regional Council to commit to this governance reform.

On September 23rd, Niagara Region’s Corporate Services Committee had a motion on their agenda concerning moving towards an elected chair. So, seeing this item on the agenda, the GNCC’s CEO, Mishka Balsom, decided to ask to make a delegation to the Committee. This is common. Walter Sendzik (former CEO), Kithio Mwanzia (former policy director) and others have presented many times on behalf of the chamber at various local councils.

Balsom became CEO of the GNCC in April of this year. Prior to that she founded a successful consulting company and worked in the magazine business. She was chosen over 100 other candidates to be CEO. She’s a successful, qualified person. I’ve met her a few times; she’s a genuinely nice person and a good leader. This was her first time presenting on behalf of the GNCC to a Regional committee or council.

How’d it go?

Balsom presented a good case for why the GNCC wants to see reform, the benefits of an elected chair and how our current system is antiquated compared to other regions.

After a delegation, Councillors have an opportunity to ask questions of the presenters. This typically lasts anywhere from zero to twenty minutes. I recall in January that Kithio Mwanzia presented to St. Catharines Council on behalf of the Chamber on governance reform, which was at the time a ‘hot topic’ of some controversy in St. Catharines. His question period lasted twenty minutes. Balsom was questioned for an hour.

An hour? Why?

There was more to this story than just “Councillors make a bad decision.” Doug Herod wrote a good article in the Standard about Councillors poor reasoning for rejecting governance reform and I’ve covered that angle previously. It has happened in the past that question periods last an hour, but rarely at a Committee meeting, which often has less media presence and thus, less grandstanding, from Councillors.

The real issue, the real embarrassment, of what happened that day was the way Councillors treated Balsom. Four councillors (Quirk, Maloney, Annunziata and Heit) asked standard questions that could be expected. Some agreed with governance reform and some did not but they all asked pertinent questions and did so with a normal, respectful tone. Five Councillors asked insulting or frivolous questions in a patronizing tone.

Who said what?

Let’s keep in mind, this is essentially the “face” of the business community representing the wishes of the business community. She’s an intelligent, successful and respectful woman. She was not chastising Council or Councillors themselves and was not criticizing any of their work. [Some paraphrasing done for clarity below.]

selina_volpatti Councillor Selina Volpatti, Niagara Falls – “Ms. Balsom, I’m sure you’re aware of how we elect our Prime Minister. Could you describe to me how we do that?”

Off to a good start here. Balsom did well to deflect this insulting “question”: “You’re asking me how the political system works? I think we’re all aware of it.”

Volpatti finished by saying there was little interest in the topic, despite Balsom having just said 80% of their membership is very interested in it.

BobGaleCouncillor Bob Gale, Niagara Falls – This is where things really got going. I should point out that Councillor Gale is the Chair of two companies that are GNCC members. You would think this possible conflict would lead him to support Balsom and the GNCC. You would be wrong. Instead he used his political position to question the GNCC’s priorities, its website and its leadership:

  • “I’m looking at your website and there’s no transparency; it doesn’t say who’s on the committees. Is that standard?”
  • “When was the last time you [GNCC] made a presentation to Council?” And that would have been on what? This issue again? I’m going to suggest to you that this is not an issue in Niagara Falls. I would suggest that your Chamber, and I’ll be strong with what I say, keep your eyes on the prize. You’re in front of us on an issue here…I could stand in front of your members and see if they care about this. You’re here talking about a non-issue. I expect the chamber…” (here Gale was rightfully cut off since he was not asking questions, just telling the presenter how to run her organization.)
  • “Is this the most important item you think you should be making a presentation on?” [Balsom says “I saw it on your agenda today…] Gale interrupts: “I got no agenda please.”
  • “I support you standing up for what you think is right but I would suggest your members don’t agree with that.”

Reminder: the GNCC shouldn’t be on trial here.

AndyPCouncillor Andy Petrowski, St. Catharines – Petrowski begins by questioning Balsom and the GNCC’s organization, wondering why the decision to present to Council was made “at the last minute.” Early on Petrowski had to be reminded to keep questions to the presentation, instead of belittling the GNCC or Balsom.

  • “I just find it interesting, given our depressed economy, challenged jobs, challenged underemployment, our challenged private sector income, yet you’re in front of us today, you think this is even more burning than those issues and I would even suggest to you your internal issues of communicating with your own members, who’s on your committees and getting your website up to date. You find this to be the burning issue of that?”
  • “I was questioning your priorities.”

BartMavesCouncillor Bart Maves, Niagara Falls

  • “If we had an elected chair, would the candidate receiving the highest votes be the Chair?”
  • “I’m just curious to know what powers does the Regional Chair have now. Explain it to me.” [This is similar to Volpatti’s “how do we elect our PM” question. Balsom is forced to “prove” herself by answering simple questions. It is a childish tactic.]
  • Maves answers for her: “He doesn’t have any power.” This isn’t true. Maves is a veteran politician, who knows that the Regional Chair is very different than a Councillor, in that it’s a full-time position with dedicated staff support; the Chair also sets the legislative and financial agendas and acts as the “face” of the Region.
  • Maves brings up that a Chair could run on a platform that is different than a Councillor’s platform. So how could they work together? This happens literally every municipal election featuring a Mayor and city councillors. The sky has not, yet, fallen. Again, Maves knows this.
  • “So the GNCC hasn’t had a conversation about the number of Regional councillors?” This isn’t what’s up for discussion today, so it’s a strange criticism.
  • “Whenever this conversation comes up, because it seems instead of concentrating on the business of the Region and improving things so businesses can flourish and create jobs; we want to navel-gaze and focus on internal issues.”
  • “Inevitably also right now in municipal politics, there’s no party politics.” (I won’t blame you if your eyes just rolled out of head and across the floor.)
  • “If you’re Regional Chair and you’re raising money, inevitably the parties would get involved.” (Balsom: The GNCC is a non-partisan organization and this isn’t what we’re discussing today. This is true, this a detail that would be confronted in the process; Balsom is just asking that the process begins today.) Maves: “so your organization hasn’t had the conversation about the cost of this election, or the party’s being involved in this? It sounds like you haven’t addressed these issues.”

After ten minutes of untruths and spurious questioning, Maves is cut off by the Chair of the committee, David Barrick.

AlCaslinRegional Chair Al Caslin, St. Catharines – Chair Caslin starts off with a paternalistic “Hi Mishka. Tough room.” Ah, the proverbial arm around the shoulder. Then, in just about the most condescending tone possible: “Would it be OK with you if we stopped talking about ourselves and got on with our strategic plan and our focus on prosperity and creating jobs in Niagara?”

With that, Balsom’s hour of grilling comes to an end.

So what does this mean?

At best, this incident shows us that our Council, which is apparently “open for business“, is not even interested in hearing from the business community. If someone as prominent and important as the CEO of the GNCC has their delegation used as an excuse to put their organization and leadership on trial, why would any citizen feel confident sharing their own opinions?

I will leave it to you to decide if her gender played a role in her treatment. What I can say, again, is I have witnessed many occasions that Walter Sendzik, Kithio Mwanzia and other male Chamber representatives presented to local councils just like Balsom did. Rarely are they questioned for as long as Balsom was. They never had their own competency or their organization’s competency questioned. They were not insulted with childish questions.

Leaving aside that Balsom is a woman. Leaving aside she is the face of an important community in Niagara. Leaving aside she’s a successful person. Leaving aside she’s a smart person. Leaving aside she’s a nice person. She’s a person and she deserves dignity and respect from our elected representatives. She did not receive these.

If Niagara is going to progress we need to demand better of our elected representatives. We need diverse, thoughtful and intelligent representation.

We need a Council that respects its citizens, no matter their opinion, their sexual orientation or their gender identity. We are not receiving this.

But hey, at least they gave themselves a pay raise.

External links:

Doug Herod: http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2015/09/25/herod-councillors-are-legends-in-their-own-minds-2

Niagara This Week: http://www.niagarathisweek.com/news-story/5927386-regional-politicians-reject-idea-of-directly-elected-regional-chair/

2 Billion Dollars and Zero Mandate – Niagara’s highest paid municipal politician

There are 125 Municipal politicians in Niagara. The highest paid of those positions earns $165,000 a year, including benefits and expenses. That particular position earns the most for a good reason: it is in charge of a corporation that has an operating and capital budget of approximately $500-million a year. For four years. That’s two billion taxpayer dollars.

And, unlike the other 124, the voters of Niagara do not elect this position: the Niagara Region Chair.

Not only is that position not elected by residents, “in Niagara, the number of residents who know who the Chair is is startlingly few” according to Fort Erie Mayor Wayne Redekop.

Unfortunately and ironically, Mr. Redekop recently used that quote as an argument for maintaining the status quo in Niagara. I would suggest Mr. Redekop’s quote is both true and indicative of a major democratic problem in Niagara. The highest-paid Municipal politician in Niagara, in charge of the largest budget, is not even accountable to voters on election day, let alone the other 1,460 days of their term. This post is not a commentary on the current Regional Chair or any previous, but the position itself.

Residents should not only be aware of who is in charge of spending two billion of their dollars, but should have a say in choosing that person; just as they do with their local Mayor.

Wait, so if the people of Niagara don’t elect our highest paid politician, who does?

The voters of Niagara elect 18 Regional Councillors, in addition to the 12 local mayors that join them to make for a 30-member Regional Council. Then, in a backroom election process than can only be described as “opaque”, those 30 members themselves vote for one to become Chair. To recap:

  • Highest-paid municipal politician in Niagara
  • No one can be on a ballot, and thus be held accounted for, this position
  • No one openly campaigns for this position, with any sort of platform for what their vision for Niagara
  • .007% of Niagarans have a choice in this incredibly important position

The Regional Chair is a full-time position that is responsible for the legislative and economic agendas for the Region, runs Council meetings and is the primary liaison for Niagara with Provincial, Federal, and other governments.

So, while this position serves as the face for Niagara, it is only accountable to 30 people. I think it is safe to say this is hardly a mandate to direct the spending of two billion dollars.

An obvious problem, but surely we are just doing it the way others do…

Almost no one does it this way anymore. Waterloo, Halton, Durham and York have either changed to an elected chair or are in the process. Peel has begun the process.

Well maybe no one has suggested change in Niagara…

You would hope the answer were so simple.

Unfortunately, the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, representing approximately 1,500 businesses in Niagara have said an elected Chair is a priority for the business community. Seeing that, in January a motion came before Niagara Region Council to start the process of governance reform. This motion, only asking for a process to begin, was deferred. Hey, why get an early start? After deferral the motion came up again in July. Can you say deferred again?

After a motion merely asking to begin a process was deferred a second time, Niagara Regional Councillors actually had two opportunities at this. On September 22, a motion was brought forward to the Corporate Services Committee by Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn regarding beginning the process to change to an elected chair. This process would include public consultation and options for how to move forward. This motion was defeated at committee. The motion was then pulled up for discussion at the following Council, last week; a glimmer of hope, maybe a week brought everyone to their senses. Mayors Augustyn and Sendzik, among others, maybe some very sage points about why Niagara needed to update its governance while still tackling other ideas. Now was finally the time right? Nope. A directly-elected Chair was confirmed defeated.

Why was it defeated? That after the following paragraph.

First: not only was the motion defeated; at the Corporate Services Committee, the CEO of the chamber, Mishka Balsom, was subjected to many patronizing remarks from Councillors; presumably for her transgression of taking the time to represent her organization’s well-founded hope for change with a good presentation on why an elected Chair is needed. One Councillor asked Ms. Balsom if she understood and could explain how Canadians elected our Prime Minister; another suggested she wasn’t running her organization or communicating with her members correctly. This brow-beating went on for over an hour. A clip (beginning around the 25 minute mark) can be found here. I remind you, this is the representative of the greater business community being told not “thanks, but no thanks” but instead “no, you ignorant incompetent” by our fair Regional Councillors.

Now why did said fair Councillors reject having an elected Chair?

That’s where the silliness begins in earnest.

Why our highest-paid politician shouldn’t be required to have a mandate (according to Regional Councillors)

Having watched the Corporate Services Committee meeting and Regional Council, here were the “reasons” given for not progressing our current system to include an elected chair (in addition to Mr. Redekop’s “reason” stated earlier.)

  1. If the Chair were elected Region-wide, the smaller municipalities could never hope to have a Chair from their community.
    • The elected Chair of Waterloo is from Wilmot; the smallest township in the Region of Waterloo
  2. A campaign for Regional Chair would require too much money, limiting candidates
    • The campaign limit for elected Chair in Halton, Waterloo and Durham are higher than would be in Niagara, because those Regions are larger. But the most any candidate spent in those campaigns was very small — $16K in Halton; $56K in Waterloo; and $74K in Durham
    • This means the Chair position would be no more limited than any Mayoral campaign in Niagara
  3. We don’t have time to address this issue and/or there are more important issues
    • You’re laughing at my deep cynicism for satirizing a politician for claiming they can’t do their job (addressing issues) because they’re too busy; unfortunately this is actually what happened.
    • How addressing one issue prevents you from addressing another will always be beyond me. Maybe Regional Councillors cannot walk and talk at the same time.
    • Waste management is more important than snow removal, so should Regional Council not address snow removal on regional roads?
    • The very idea that this particular Regional Council is short on time is absurd. Two of their last four meetings have lasted less than two hours (four and a half hours are allotted for meetings.)
    • Quite a few Councillors said their focus is “jobs and the economy”. The effect Niagara Region Council can have on the macroeconomics of the job market here is a post for another time, but suffice it to say it registers as absurd when the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce suggests a change important to its members (businesses), that the suggestion is dismissed as not being aligned with what’s good for jobs and the economy.

So what now?

In the end, only seven Councillors supported beginning the process of having a democratically-elected Regional Chair. These seven were: Augustyn, Baty, Edgar, Hodgson, Rigby, Sendzik and Timms. The rest ensured we could not even begin the process until 2019; with earliest implementation in the 2022 election.

Conclusion

Is a directly-elected Regional Chair the most important issue facing Niagara? Hardly. Is it even top 50? Arguably.

Could it have been addressed by this group of Regional Councillors while still addressing other priorities? Absolutely.

Is it emblematic of the state of Niagara that citizens of Niagara’s first opportunity, with good fortune and better politicians, to hold their highest-paid politician accountable through voting will be in 2022? Absolutely. We are already well-behind governance reform compared to other regions. We will be even more so by 2022. Keep in mind these are the same regions that our Councillors often wistfully wonder why they’re improving at a faster rate than Niagara.

During Ms. Balsom’s presentation, our current (unelected) Regional Chair asked her this: “Would it be OK with you if we stopped talking about ourselves and got on with our strategic plan and our focus on prosperity and creating jobs in Niagara?”

Because, hey, if they aren’t addressing this issue, it is because they’re busy with others right? I will let Brock University poli sci professor David Siegel answer that: SIEGEL: Not much to show for council’s Year 1

Oh.

Well at least they voted themselves a pay raise?

external links:

  1. Region budget information: http://www.niagararegion.ca/government/budget/2015-budget-overview.aspx
  2. Niagara This Week: http://www.niagarathisweek.com/news-story/5927386-regional-politicians-reject-idea-of-directly-elected-regional-chair/
  3. St. Catharines Standard: http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2015/10/05/review-of-regional-chair-selection-a-no-go
  4. Municipal leaders’ salaries and information (2013): http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2013/04/01/democracys-price-tag-niagara-politicians-pay

N1agara: Cui Bono?

Hubbub about One Niagara City (N1agara is my chosen, 21st-century moniker) has cropped up again recently, due to a meeting of local business leaders.  (http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2015/06/23/region-gets-blast-from-business-sector)

Let me start by saying George Darte and Tom Rankin are great business leaders and great community leaders. Each has made a large, lasting and positive impact in Niagara through both their businesses and their community work. It is important, however, to remember that they are not a Business/Community Leader. Being successful in business does not necessarily mean you’re going to become a community leader, and being a community leader does not require you to be a business person. In a similar vein, it is important that we are able to separate “what’s good for the business community” and “what’s good for the community.” These will (often) be one and the same, but not always.

I’ve discussed N1agara previously (https://niagaranext.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/oneniagara/) but wanted to try to answer a more specific question this time around. Namely: Cui Bono? Who benefits from N1agara? Without re-stating my previous post in its entirety, a quick summary: Niagara does not have a single urban centre the region revolves around, amalgamation has not found success where it has been tried and finally, amalgamation does not lead to a decrease in municipal spending (http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2014/01/13/amalgamation_brought_fewer_ontario_cities_but_more_city_workers_report_finds.html).

The last point is an important one, as cutting costs leading to reduced taxes is the most frequently cited argument for N1agara. In many ways, amalgamation is more about taxes than it is about governance. Improved service delivery and “cutting red tape” are usually cited as potential byproducts of amalgamation. But make no mistake, the crux of the pro-N1agara argument is about cutting costs.

In fact, in the very Standard article that kick-started the recent outbreak of hubbub, here are some quotes from local business leaders:

“[W]e want one City of Niagara. That’s your first line item in cutting costs.”

“We have to do something, we’re almost bankrupt. We’ve got seniors who can’t afford to pay our taxes. We’ve got working people who can’t afford to pay our taxes”

“If (the interest rate) spikes — if Putin decides to start shooting, which he probably will and the interest rates start climbing, you are bankrupt,” Fox said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his aggression in Ukraine. You are going to be going the way of Detroit. There’s a part of me … that actually would like to see that happen, because it would solve the problem. So if you don’t want that to happen … stop spending money. We need a plan to significantly pay off the debt over time.”

(I included that last one for comic relief; the idea that an outbreak of a large-scale war with Russia would be particularly worrisome for us locally because of Niagara Region’s debt load is hilariously single-minded, and only topped by comparing us to Detroit, a city that claimed bankruptcy for a multitude of reasons but had a debt load 3600% higher than we do currently. Maybe don’t use the “Detroit” comparison quite yet…)

Sounds like our taxes compare negatively to the rest of Ontario.

http://www.niagararegion.ca/government/budget-taxes/municipal-tax-comparisons.aspx

It would appear our tax rates for similar residential, commercial and industrial properties is actually close to the lowest among comparable municipalities in Ontario . In fact, businesses seem to get a big break in Niagara, considering the lower tax rates for residential, commercial and industrial properties. Certainly, at worst, our tax rate could be considered “normal” if not “low”. This leaves alone other ways businesses are aided in Niagara, like development charges being waived (http://www.niagarafallsreview.ca/2013/01/18/region-waives-development-charges-for-industry), or money simply handed to businesses by government  to the tune of 19.7 million dollars (http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2015/04/22/speedway-incentives-approved ) (talk about picking winners and losers.)

What about that pesky debt rate, how does it compare?

Long-Term Liabilities (debt)/Capita
Hamilton  $                     702.83
Durham Region  $                     343.47
Waterloo Region  $                     840.46
Niagara Region  $                     606.58

So, amalgamation wouldn’t help cut costs, and Niagara doesn’t currently have significantly higher taxes or debt load even if it did. So why is the business community crying out for lower taxes (by way of N1agara)?


Cui Bono?

If taxes aren’t the reason businesses are staying away (as our tax rates are good or normal), lowering them further won’t help attract more businesses. Even if N1agara did lead to lower taxes, (which we’ve seen it hasn’t), who would benefit from this? Currently established businesses (like I don’t know, all the ones at the roundtable at the Region this week) would save significant amounts of money right away if taxes were lowered. Cuts to services would be required, as we have seen that attrition alone isn’t enough to put amalgamated municipalities in the black. Even if laying off staff was enough, it just means a higher unemployment rate when those municipal workers are laid off. So unemployment goes up, services get worse and this benefits Niagara how?


 

Conclusion

The main problem with Niagara’s problems is that we have not even articulated, let alone agreed upon, Niagara’s problems or possible solutions. We have just consistently heard from the business community about its problems because it has a loud voice and a united goal ($$$). Again, I like George Darte and Tom Rankin, but this isn’t about the greater good. I’m not discounting the business community, I think good, responsible and successful businesses are important to any community. But that is just one part.

Is status quo acceptable? I think any reasonable person would say that it is not. We know that the jobs issue is a big one, but is it the only one? Is it a cause of problems or a symptom of problems or both?  Is the problem that we are spending too much or not spending enough to provide better services that may attract businesses and people? Are we overgoverned, misgoverned or adequately governed? Should we amalgamate or better collaborate while maintaining our municipalities? Do we want to become a commuter, bedroom community? There are a myriad of complex questions that N1agara seeks to solve with one solution. It cannot.

It is fine (and great!) to have an opinion on the proper way forward, but it should be backed up by facts, precedents and impact if it is to be taken seriously. An absolutely exhaustive statistical analysis of amalgamation is beyond my scope, but it also hasn’t been carried out yet, so why are still putting the N1agara horse before the analysis cart?

My opinion? Sure, you’ve come all this way: leverage our advantages (like tourism dollars and proximity to the border) to provide better services (roads, transit, community programs) without increasing taxes. Instead of a flat tax cut across the board, give the thousands of non-local students who graduate every year here a reason to stay in Niagara by providing property tax breaks for hiring Brock or Niagara College grads. Grow the population by making Niagara attractive to all, not just corporations. Address the complex issues with intelligent, nuanced solutions. Simple? Yes. But it requires a lot of cooperation and hard work.

Just one citizen’s opinion.

How Each of the Five Mayoral Candidates Can Win*

The St. Catharines Mayoral election has approximately 10 more days of campaigning left. The race is wide open, and frankly, victory is available for the taking. In this post I’m going to lay out how each candidate can win the election in the next ten days.

Now, according to the Forum poll from October 10th, Jeff Burch is leading the way currently. This was affirmed by Burch himself and (mistakenly) by his two main opponents at the last debate. Burch has also been touting the poll frequently in his social media accounts and website. What’s important to keep in mind though is not that Burch is in the lead, but that only 23% of committed voters are voting for Burch. Even leaving alone that other candidates could take a bite out of that 23% support in the coming days, that means over three quarters of the electorate are not voting for Burch (at this time.) Wide open.

With only one debate and 10 days left, let’s look at what each candidate can do to win.

*Some housekeeping: as genius as I am, I can’t divine a single, reasonable way that Mark Stevens or Jim Fannon can actually win the election, but they can achieve victory in different ways.

For kicks, let’s go in ascending order based on that Forum poll.

Jim Fannon (3% in Forum Poll): As stated, I don’t think Jim Fannon has a reasonable chance of winning this election. I think Jim Fannon would admit that (he admitted he was a long shot soon after filing.) Fannon’s greatest outcome in this race would be a return to relative “Niagara political” relevance. He has been on a “relevance decline” of sorts, since at least 2006 when he was the local federal Green candidate. Since then he’s done: not much, in terms of politics, save for his CKTB radio show being cancelled after a brief run. Having shed the partisan politics to focus on local, this campaign feels like a “foot in the door” for Fannon to participate in the political conversation again.

My 10-day plan for him would consist of continuing to use humour and criticism of the mainstreamers to generate mentions, but supplement that by adding to his drastic reform ideas some reasonable, short-term ideas. He has shown he can be a part of the conversation again, now he needs to show he can be a serious candidate. This means not just needling the others, but promoting some of his own ideas (even if that means writing them down.) If he does that (and stays active during the next four years), I see no reason why he can’t be a viable candidate for Regional Council in 2018.

Mark Stevens (5%): Stevens is like Fannon. Stevens is nothing like Fannon. Okay, okay. Best case scenario for Stevens, like Fannon, is political relevance, not being the Mayor of St. Catharines. Unlike Fannon, though, Stevens is coming completely out of the blue. Yes, yes, I know he’s contributed to his community in different ways in the past and should be lauded for that. But politically speaking, he’s a brand new face/voice. In a lot of ways, he’s won already. Most, if not all, the other candidates and many media voices have praised his development over the course of the campaign. He speaks honestly and has attainable goals for the city. He asked some cutting questions of his fellow candidates at the last debate and even was endorsed by one, in a way.

My plan for Stevens is simple: be better prepared at the next debate. I fully believe he will be since he’s improved in every debate, but I think he would gain a lot of points if he could go a full debate without saying “I don’t know much about that” to a question about something a prospective mayor should know. If he can prepare for those questions and deliver smart answers, he may move from fringe candidate (5% support) to something closer to mainstream. At the last debate, Stevens mentioned he wanted to see some change so it made sense to become involved and run for Mayor. I think Stevens should tweak that goal a little bit. He can get some political capital from this campaign and if he can keep it up over the next four years, a successful run for a City Council spot could be on the cards. From there, who knows? Mark Stevens for Mayor, 2022?

Peter Secord (15%): Secord is a really tough nut to crack. On the one hand, he had a lot of momentum by announcing his candidacy very early. On the other, he took some criticism for seemingly changing his stripes upon going from Councillor Secord to Candidate Secord. On the one hand, he looked to be the conservative, “book-managing” candidate a lot of people thought St. Catharines would need after a period of spending. On the other, he has allowed himself to be trumped by the introduction of a more charismatic candidate who also had conservative support**. On the one hand, he’s a strong, mainstream candidate with a local political and business background that should see him draw on Ward support and business support. On the other hand, he doesn’t seem to actually want to be Mayor, compared to the enthusiasm, fervour and passion Burch and Sendzik’s campaigns have featured. He has specific plans, which is great, but they don’t seem to be engendering a lot of praise. I can’t figure him out, but maybe that’s my own failure.

**(Digression: the split in the small ‘c’ conservatives during this election could be a novella in itself. At a time when a conservative candidate had a good chance of winning, the big players (both prominent and behind the scenes) have got involved but after years of working together for Dykstra, Siscoe, Hudak etc., have divided themselves, for various personal and political reasons, between Sendzik and Secord. In the process they may have torpedoed their chance to have their ideology represented in the next term.  Would love to do a long post about it if I could ever get more inside information. So much intrigue for one part of one municipal race.)

Anyway, my plan for Secord is relatively simple. At the next debate, he needs to focus on conveying why he wants to be mayor. I have no idea right now other than maybe he thought he could and it was the next logical step. That’s not enough. The worst mud you can sling at Sendzik’s intentions is that he’s ambitious. I think that’s great. There is no doubting for me that Sendzik really, really wants to be mayor. Burch, rightly or wrongly, seems to genuinely believe he’s the best candidate to carry on McMullan’s legacy. They have genuine reasons for running and let people know about them. Secord? I don’t see it. The Federal Conservatives want to get more involved in local politics so maybe Dykstra figured Secord was his best bet. But man, don’t let people think that! So, step 1: passion and belief. Step 2: new substance. As I’ve said previously, I don’t like his tax freeze idea. I think it ultimately hurts the citizens of St. Catharines long-term for the short-term benefit of a couple bucks a month to property owners. BUT, it is an idea that will appeal to a lot of residents who don’t think long-term and just want to see their tax bill go down. These residents will vote a lot. That’s good for Secord, that’s a good play. But now he needs some new plays to supplement it. I wouldn’t promote his “business council” idea any more as it doesn’t seem to be well-thought or well-supported. Other than freezing taxes, what is the city, under Mayor Secord going to do differently? This is difficult when you’re advocating a tax freeze; it is hard to promise goodies with less money. But even just in process: will there be more public open houses? Less committees? Zoning changes to promote growth? Incentives for residential development in the downtown core? Just give us something, Secord. You have the vote of those who wish to see taxes down; but it has got you to 15%. You need more. This debate is your last chance, since you don’t utilize web or social media as well as other candidates.

Walter Sendzik (16%): A quick note: I wrote the most about Sendzik in the last post. While not a conscious choice, this was likely due my being most frustrated with his campaign. This is because as a young person in Niagara, I would love to see a Sendzik-type Mayor. He is young himself, he’s enthusiastic, he’s not an “old boy” and he has shown a genuine interest and commitment to the area’s welfare in the last 8 years.  He has a long-term vision of St. Catharines and its place in Niagara and the world. The problem? That’s all it is, a vision. Sendzik has goals and they sound well and good. His vision sounds great. When I read his website, the “vision” section sounds wonderful and makes me excited to see his plan to achieve that is vision. But there is no plan, yet. I thought originally he could run on one big idea and win because he had strong starting support and team. But he hasn’t picked a big issue to run on. It is hard for me to believe his experienced campaign team thought he could parachute into this election, have the same general vision of Burch’s campaign team and win. Harder still for me to believe anyway thought his Port Place gambit was a good one. The 16% support he has now is probably the same support he had the day he announced his campaign, which is a great starting point but I can’t imagine how he thought that number would grow without specific ideas.

My path to victory for Sendzik is simple: tell us your specific plans and don’t mention Port Place, unless it is to say “these guys haven’t done anything to whip this developer into shape, I will.” We are past the point where he can drop one big concrete idea and coast to victory. We know his team uses web and social media regularly, so use that! If I were him I would start dropping concrete, specific ideas every single day until election day (and maybe this has started, he has a video about restoring beaches up as of Wednesday. This isn’t really a plan per se, but at least an idea others haven’t touched on.)  So don’t say “increase mixed-use development downtown”; say “modernize the complex zoning by-laws that hold back downtown development and provide incentives for business and residents to re-locate there.” Not “pursue business and remove barriers” but “as my first priority, use my knowledge of business needs as former Chamber CEO to reduce wait times for permits but removing two layers of bureacracy.” You want GO Transit? Great. Everyone wants GO. How’re you the one to get it? What would you do differently than Burch or Secord? Just tell us, please. Give me a plan, not platitudes. You don’t need to work so hard selling yourself; sell your unique ideas. And don’t mention Port Place or its developer in anything other than the negative light it deserves.

Jeff Burch (23%): Burch, like Secord, is a good candidate. He has local political experience and experience within the labour movement. He seems to be generally respected a City Councillor and has strong Ward support. He has similar generalized vision points as Sendzik but has differentiated by putting out some very specific ideas on his website, such as enhancing the Enterprise Centre in St. Catharines to help businesses and his Green plan. He has generally handled himself well at debates, despite a target on his back. He has wide-ranging base of support/endorsements, from labour to politicians to educators to big business. He is the closest thing to an incumbent there is in the race, and incumbents have a great track record locally. So, having acknowledged those things…isn’t 23% a very disappointing support number? Should his campaign really be touting this as a positive that 77% of people haven’t committed to Burch?! Look, it’s a tough and big field of candidates so he gets some slack. But in a year where the conservative/corporate vote is seemingly split, and his two other candidates haven’t capitalized on opportunities, shouldn’t he have a more significant lead?!

Burch is acting like a front-runner and that is fine. I praised him for seeming mature during the last debate and I do feel he comported himself fine. But, in the last 10 days he can’t get lazy or complacent. There’s a huge chunk of people who aren’t voting for him, as of the last poll. Big or good moves by either Secord or Sendzik will seem him surpassed if he sits idle.

For the last debate, he better be prepared for the targeting and have a better answers prepared for silly questions other than just “that’s a silly question.” He will need to keep pace with the Secord and Sendzik campaigns, which should have renewed pushes in the final 10 days. It is clear from the poll that he doesn’t have the support of many, yet. How will he get that? He needs to stay active and add even more substance to his campaign. “Status quo” isn’t an exciting thing to run on. It might make sense at a time like this, but it isn’t going to motivate undecided and isn’t going to motivate supporters to make sure they vote. He needs to make it clear how a city under Mayor Burch will be improved than the city under Mayor McMullan (that doesn’t mean Mayor McMullan was bad, but people expect progress.) Finally, at the last debate he needs to come off as more mayor-like than his competitors, and that doesn’t mean remaining seated and chuckling off questions.

Everything is left to play for. Should be an exciting week. Thanks for reading.

On the #FutureIsNow Mayoral Debate and “Front-Runner” Status

Introduction

The “Jaycees” (http://jcistcatharines.ca/) put on a debate Wednesday night at the Days Inn in St. Catharines. While ostensibly aimed at younger voters (#FutureIsNow), the crowd probably skewed a little bit older than that target demographic. Being a member of the vague “young” voters myself, my only gripe in an otherwise well-planned and executed event is that the content really didn’t differ from the other debates. There weren’t many questions (or answers) specific to young voters, but maybe young voters don’t have specific questions or maybe most election issues appeal to young and older voters alike. Again, a great event though, certainly aided by the fact this was the 6th debate; Jaycees learned well what wasn’t working at previous debates.

Quick summary if you think this post is tl;dr: much improved format with more actual debating rather than just reading campaign pamphlets, 4 out of 5 candidates acquitted themselves well (sorry Secord), we didn’t hear any “new” ideas compared to past debates but did get to learn more about the prospective Mayors’ personalities and the Jaycees put on a great event.

Summary

A standing-room-only crowd met for the 6th St. Catharines Mayoral Debate Wednesday night. At stake, 33% of the electorate, anywhere from 9,000 to 15,000 undecided votes according to the most recent poll (but more on that later.) If I had to guess, I would say most in the room were decided voters, but obviously the content of the debate would reach more than just the 300-400 present.

The Jaycees are a young professionals organization, but this debate wasn’t really for young people, as witnessed by make-up of the crowd (a lot of politicians or candidates, many middle-aged or older decided supporters.) Having said that, it was encouraging to see a sizable contingent of young people, who (by my estimation) skewed pretty evenly between Burch and Sendzik supporters, though the latter probably had slightly more. (Speaking of politicians glad to see it took Andy Petrowski about six seconds to embarrass himself; shouting from the crowd at Burch during his first answer. Petrowski (and another young Sendzik staffer later for a similar infraction) had to be silenced by the moderator. Burch quickly quipped “don’t vote for Andy Petrowski.”)

The format gave each candidate a one minute introduction, several general questions that all answered, candidate-to-candidate question, answer and rebuttal, and a closing statement from each. The candidate-to-candidate questions were by far the most interesting parts of the night, inducing much laughter, oohs and cheering from the crowd.

In my opinion, the biggest issue we are currently facing in this election is we can’t find a big issue, and that continued Wednesday night. Like in the other debates, candidates generally agreed on just about every “what” and only had minor squabbles about “how”. All agree Port is a mess, all agree jobs are important, all agree downtown needs continued revitalization, all agree integrated public transit and GO are important. Now that’s not too damning an assessment of this race, as most of those things would be agreeable to most mainstream candidates.

They certainly have tried to differentiate themselves and it is nice that Port Dalhousie finally got extended more airtime after being bizarrely absent from the first debate. From what I can tell, at this point, each candidate has tried to sell themselves as the following:

Burch: status quo, leadership experience

Sendzik: business-friendly, leadership experience

Secord: two-year tax freeze, business experience

Stevens: blue-collar, non-politician

Fannon: drastic reform, positivity

Those are all fine planks to establish (except Secord’s disastrous one-issue platform, but at least he’s being bold.)

So what did we learn about each candidate and their platform Wednesday night?

Candidate by Candidate

Jeff Burch: Handled himself well despite having a big target on his back. Sendzik caught him out with a question about why Burch didn’t step down from a taxpayer-funded job at the Folks Arts Centre when he announced his candidacy. Burch never really answered, but was able to score points by reminding of the Chamber’s much-maligned survey to candidates while Sendzik was still CEO. I thought he was a bit soft on Port Dalhousie, but does have a record of being against the development. Answered a couple of other tough questions well. Stevens asked why he said he’d only run if McMullan wasn’t and whether he’s running on “more of the same.” Burch answered each honestly; yes, he is running on status quo (more or less) and that respecting McMullan’s ability as mayor doesn’t mean he lacks ambition or self-belief. Of all candidates, he came off as the most mature; I’m not sure other candidates will score a lot of points against his personality. I don’t think Secord or Sendzik will win by impugning Burch, he’s too solid (if unexciting); they should focus on selling themselves and their ideas (but more on that at the end.)

Walter Sendzik: I believe Sendzik knew this was a good opportunity for him; a debate set up by “Walter”-type people (young business pros) and had a lot of support in the room. Whether he took the opportunity is up for debate. Like I said, there weren’t many new ideas but it was a new atmosphere/format. Sendzik went for a sort of rah-rah speaking style that I’m not sure suits him and allowed the other candidates (mostly Fannon) to apply the “snake oil salesman” label. I don’t think that is fair and others might have preferred his style over the laid-back Burch and Secord. What I’ve yet to really get from Sendzik are specifics. He’s selling himself on success as Chamber CEO and I think he has a solid background to run for Mayor, but so do at least two of his opponents. He backed away from “One Niagara” that the Chamber has been associated with for a long time and instead insisted his focus was on “one Niagara economy.” Other than Port Place (more on that in a second), I’m not really sure what Sendzik’s specific plan is or how it might differentiate from Burch’s. The four things listed under his “Vision” on his website are almost comically vague (“Residents First”, “Establish St. Catharines As a Leader”, “Grow The Local Economy” and “Enhance Our Community Life”.) I think it is absolutely fine to run that you’re a strong leader with a genuine interest in your community…if you weren’t running against another strong candidate. I don’t think Sendzik has responded to the challenge of another opponent with a solid background/base. His campaign slogan is Fresh Thinking, New Ideas, but I haven’t seen the latter.

As for specifics of the debate, I think he got his message across well (again, I don’t think it’s a specific-enough message, but it’s his message.) He had good, incisive questions for the other candidates and answered their questions well (smartly “endorsing” Stevens when Fannon tried to trip him up by asking who Sendzik would vote for other than himself.) The one thing that the other candidates did catch him on was selling the success of the Chamber while simultaneously blasting the current state of employment in St. Catharines. Did you bring jobs or are there no jobs? He may want to have a better answer for that next time.

Now, as for the one issue where Sendzik clearly stands apart, is on Port Place. Sendzik (and Secord, for the record) were original and committed supporters of the development. That’s fine, many in the city were at the time. The problem is, for the last couple of years that development has been a nightmare and the developer considered a bit of a pariah. Sendzik, maybe in an attempt to differentiate or maybe because he genuinely still believes in the project (or both), has attached himself to the developer. This is just a very strange political move. I’m not sure what Sendzik stands to gain by attaching himself to someone who is universally loathed. Maybe he figures he wasn’t going to get many votes in Port Dalhousie so he’s punting that ward, but the only people who might be “won over” by this stance are probably already-decided Sendzik voters in the business community (and I can’t imagine any of them would publicly support this developer.) Odd, odd, odd. A better stance might be: “Port Place is an unmitigated disaster and the developer has been a nightmare, but Secord/Burch have had years to navigate the disaster and done nothing; it’s time for a new voice.”

Peter Secord: Wasn’t his room and frankly he didn’t seem too interested in being there. He does have a reputation on Council as a smart, if unexciting guy and I would say that has looked accurate so far. Not a lot of passion and basically took every opportunity to bang the only drum he seems to have, the “two-year tax freeze.” I think that’s a horrible idea and maybe that is making me biased against him overall. Tried to go partisan against Burch and labour/NDP, which was bizarre as Burch quickly pointed out that Rick Dykstra, Federal Conservative MP was a big part of the Secord campaign. Ended up squabbling with Fannon a lot and I don’t see much to gain there. Again, probably just not his room; can’t imagine a single person under the age of 40 voting for him but I’m sure that’s fine to him as the tax-freeze will appeal to the older voting demographic. Weird night for him, which ended with him touting his wife’s new business, for some reason. Other than appealing to older voters and siphoning some of Sendzik’s support, not sure where he fits in this campaign.

Mark Stevens: Came across about the same as he has in previous debates. He asked a lot of good questions of the other candidates and clearly has done some research on their platforms and background. As for his answers to questions, it is very odd that he’s so unprepared, answering a lot of questions (honestly, which is better than making stuff up) with things like “I don’t know much about that.” His speaking style has improved from debate to debate but he hasn’t seemed to have learned which questions he was going to be asked. Other candidates generally treated him as a non-threat, except maybe Fannon who impugned his intellectual capability at one point (for some reason?) For Stevens, I understand why he’s running and believe he has a somewhat genuine campaign. He mentioned at one point the only way to get experience is to run and be elected, which is true, but odd he would go right for top spot. Either way, he’s been a beneficial part of the conversation and has brought a different background to the race. Not sure who he will “take votes from” on Election Day; probably Burch.

Jim Fannon: Where to begin? Was probably the most entertaining candidate at the debate. I’m just not sure that’s actually a good or beneficial thing. He obviously has some personal history/issues with Secord and Sendzik that bleed a bit into his anti-business platform (though this might also be genuine seeing as he was a Green Party candidate.) Mentioned he was a realtor a lot, for some reason. Fannon’s biggest problem is the campaign already had a fringe/outsider candidate in Stevens before Fannon signed up so he doesn’t really have a role. Having said that, his needling of the three mainstream candidates was humourous and put them in awkward positions frequently. Unfortunately, all three handled these situations well, which probably wasn’t what Fannon was going for.

About Jeff Burch, “Front-Runner”:

Burch was targeted like a front-runner because, according to a new poll, that’s exactly what he is. Here’s why that wasn’t wise: he has a slim lead according to a single poll and was given more speaking time than the other candidates (which they only have themselves to blame for by asking him so many questions) because of it. Even if that poll is accurate (and I believe its validity, but has a 4% margin of error and we have seen how different polls can be in the Toronto race) here’s what that lead would mean. Here’s where the Forum poll had each of the three front-runners.

Burch: 23%
Sendzik: 16%
Secord: 15%

In the 2010 municipal election, 29,372 people voted for mayor. If we use these numbers and project them onto those Forum percentages, the election results would look like this in 2014:

Burch: 6,756
Sendzik: 4,700
Secord: 4,406

Even if this poll is 100% accurate, the third place challenge is only behind 2,350 votes; which isn’t many when 9,693 are undecided. And again, this is one poll and uses a voter count that is likely significantly lower than this year’s election. If we use a number like 38,000 (like the last time the incumbent didn’t run), that would mean 12,540 undecided voters. On top of that, another winning strategy might be to target not just undecided, but the 60,000 non-voters as well. Between undecided and non-voters, that’s approximately 72% of total potential voters (or 10 times the amount of committed Burch voters.)

Given how many votes are up for grabs treating Burch like a clear front-runner was a poor political move. When so many votes are up for grabs, don’t concede that status to a rival who only has approximately 7,000 committed voters. Theoretically, at this point, “getting out the vote” from your base might be the determiner of this election. In my mind, Sendzik and Secord should have gone after the other’s support (which they did, less so) while trying to attract a large chunk of that 33%. By giving Burch more air time, they gifted him more opportunity to woo that 33%. If they knew Burch to be a gaffe-prone buffoon, it may make sense, but they know that he is a polished politician.

Now you might say “how many undecideds were even at the debate?”, but that would suppose I’m only speaking of this debate whereas the truth is the debate was a microcosm of the campaign. Instead of promoting their own vision/connections/ideas/traits (or, at worst, going after each other), Secord and Sendzik have ceded front-runner status to Burch. And from this they may have a difficult time recovering.

With one debate left, and so much to play for, let’s see if they change tack.

Thanks for reading and would love to hear your comments below or on Twitter.