We live in a country where the prime minister can’t even declare a national day of mourning. So Ontario’s workers will work while millions upon millions elsewhere in Canada and the Commonwealth nations either spend the day watching the funeral of the late Queen Elizabeth II, or, just as validly, enjoying one of the tangible benefits of living in a constitutional democracy via an unexpected day off. But Uncle Doug knows best, right? Right.
Two stories from Burlington. Is City Hall successfully walking the fine line of allowing councillors to do their jobs without using it as part of their re-election campaigns? Or are we seeing pattern of weakness by the city manager and clerk in the face of a strong mayor and her most loyal councillor? Would mayoral hopeful Marianne Meed Ward have accepted in 2018 what Mayor Marianne Meed Ward insists is business as usual in 2022? Hmm.
And Burlington’s coyote problem has escalated alarmingly and dangerously. Should things have been done differently? Should things change now? And what about those whistles?
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Nicholas Paul: sound editing.
The Quadrafonics: fantastic opening and closing tunes!
Image: Christopher Michel from San Francisco, USA, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
So I spoke with City Manager Tim Commisso on Tuesday about this. I made the point (as I had made in more than one email with him and the City Clerk) that they have a duty to pause such events in the short campaign period. The optics are very bad. Many of us say “of course it is in Ward 3.” Whether it is technically allowed (I believe it shouldn’t be, and I also take issue with the fact that sitting council members have the power to write election rule by-laws for their own benefit), doesn’t matter. We want and expect more than the bare minimum. There is no reason why this event could not be closed to council members. The point is supposed to be that staff hears from residents. Well then, only staff is needed. Surely they can take the comments back to council.
People in the Ward 3 park will recognize two people, even without introductions or naming them: the Mayor who is all over media continually and their Ward 3 councillor. Nobody will recognize any non-incumbents. So it isn’t a level playing field at all. The election by-law states that it be a level playing field. And if the Mayor and Councillor are speaking with residents on the budget, or any other item, that, now, is campaigning. He talked (as did the Clerk) a lot about not allowing campaign materials, signs, etc. That is obvious and easy to monitor and was never the point.
Tim seemed to, in my opinion, concede where I was coming from and when I asked how it would be possible for staff to “intervene” and stop campaigning when that includes speaking to people, he admitted they can’t. I then suggested that non-incumbents should also be able to speak to people and he agreed that they should be. He said “we can’t stop people from talking.” He said that that he wants all candidates to feel welcome. We agreed that a good idea would be to send out a note to all candidates saying they are welcome to attend, reminding of the no campaign literature, signs etc rule but acknowledging that they can speak to people. This was certainly my interpretation as the call ended.
Yet yesterday the Clerk sent out an email to all candidates. IMO, it had the polar opposite of a “welcoming” vibe. It sounded terse and full of warnings and specifically stated that candidates must attend “as a resident/observer only.” So tomorrow I will be very interested to see if the incumbents are speaking with residents or are they standing there refusing to engage when residents naturally speak to them? And if they are, which surely they will, then what will the Clerk do when non-incumbents dare speak to residents also? It is absurd.
I am reminded of the many, many days of the MMW 2018 campaign, the cries of foul from candidate Meed Ward at much less egregious conduct by the City and her rallying cry of “it’s all about democracy”. Well, four years later and with an incumbent’s perspective her tune is much different and her sense of what constitutes a ‘level playing field’ somewhat distorted.
Apparently, the warm and open invitation to candidates from the City Clerk
(who I hope will be at the event to prevent misconduct) contained the
“This message, including any attachments, is privileged and intended only
for the addressee(s) named above. If you are not the intended recipient, you
must not read, use or disseminate the information contained in this
email/fax. If you have received this email/fax transmission in error, please
notify the sender immediately by telephone, fax or email and permanently
delete this email from your computer/shred this fax, including any
attachments, without making a copy. Access to this email/fax by anyone else
Apart from being legally unenforceable (and he should know it), it is decidedly pissy. Actually, the conduct of the Clerk during this election period has been an odd combination of hapless incompetence and ‘perverse pissyness”.
So the clarion call for 2022 would seem to be “it’s all about autocracy” as the food trucks (and the votes) roll in.
As noted in the podcast, the issue is not with the event per se but with its timing. All City-funded events that could be interpreted as campaigning should be suspended for an appropriate period – August 1st to October 25th for example. However, Burlington has a very poor record of sound judgement in this regard and of providing as level a playing field as possible in the face of inherent incumbent advantage.
The current City Manager and City Clerk have repeatedly proven themselves incapable of standing up to a Mayor who takes every advantage of media opportunities – those that are acceptable and those that may skirt the rules. For example, she can be seen at “Love Your Neighbourhood” parties hosted in the different wards that are provided a $500 stimulus gift from the City. The relative merit of the City gift aside, these events should be suspended during the election period. However, both City Manager and Clerk are virtually blind to what is or is not appropriate. Repeatedly, they cite the ‘business as usual’ defence but it is NOT a usual time; it is an election period. Finally, the favouritism shown by the Mayor to her ‘sure vote Councillor’ Nisan is well known and repeatedly demonstrated.
Two final things – first, Councillor Kearns was the first to say that she would not attend the “Food for Feedback” event and she cited its unfairness to all candidates as the reason. She should be congratulated. Secondly, as far as Ward 3 goes, I very much look forward to videoing Roland’s ingestion of his shirt.
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