Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Slates In Calgary Municipal Elections

While Calgary's municipal elections are ostensibly "non-partisan", in so far as we don't have the various political parties directly involved, it is naive to think that we don't have slates of candidates backed by interest groups of one sort or another.

In the last several elections, we have had what I will politely classify as "right wing" slates of one sort or another fielding candidates.  In 2007 and in 2010, we had slates running which were backed/endorsed by the political far right.  The usual outcome was that one or two of the slate candidates might get elected.

Over the last fifteen years, these groups have gotten more subtle, and much more careful about letting themselves be known.  If you try to pin any of the candidates down as to their affiliations, they will prevaricate and dodge the question as much as possible in order to maintain the appearance of being non-partisan.

That is partly why the Cal Wenzel homebuilder's video that came to light this spring is so significant.  It was common knowledge that the Manning Centre was making a play in the civic politics arena, and Wenzel's speech told us a lot about who was behind it.

Do we have a slate running in Calgary in 2013?  Officially, no.  Practically, we do.  It came to light again this week when six candidates and two previously unheard of "grassroots" (possibly astroturf groups, it's hard to tell) organizations banded together to take out a full page ad in the Calgary Herald.  When five of those six candidates are running in wards that Wenzel specifically named as targets for unseating the incumbent, it smells distinctly like we have a slate running.  Even fishier is the fact that they are taking out this ad about a golf course that isn't in any of the wards they are running for.

I don't like slates for one very simple reason - they are inevitably very narrowly focused on a particular political viewpoint, and as such are ultimately partisan in nature.  When the funding is coming from people who are willing to push seven figure amounts around, I think we have to become extremely worried about the expectations that will be attached to that kind of money in the long term.

There is also an underlying dishonesty with slates.  They inevitably try to run below the public radar (the slates in 2007 and 2010 could be identified by some common affiliations, with the slate running this year, the affiliations are better hidden, and except for Wenzel's speech, would be difficult to unearth unless you had access to the "student" lists from the Manning Centre's training programs.

While I am not thrilled with Mayor Nenshi's response to this ad, I can sympathize with the fact that it's quite clear that the big money conservative power base in Calgary are gunning to undermine Nenshi whatever way they can.  Ever since his victory in 2010, the Calgary Sun has been overtly hostile to just about everything he has done, and the fact that the developers led by Wenzel were willing to fork over a million dollars to the Manning Centre to "train" a group of sympathetic candidates, one can imagine that Nenshi feels distinctly under siege.

If we are going to play partisan politics like that, let's get it out in the open so that voters know what they are voting for and can assess it with a clear head.  Anything less than this is dishonesty on the part of our candidates.

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