For publication in The Kamloops Daily News, Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008
So, we have a brand new City council. Well, “brand new” might be an exaggeration, since six of the nine have been around for awhile.
It certainly is a different council, though. For one thing, there are all those new lefties who got elected.
I’m kidding about the lefties. The Kamloops and District Labour Council may be pounding its chest a little over three of its endorsees being elected but the reality is they were probably elected in spite of the KDLC, not because of it.
People vote for candidates for their own reasons, not because someone else — including the labour council — tells them to.
The KDLC would be mistaken if it thinks the election result is a mandate for council to push for a $10 minimum wage, City-funded childcare, or other issues near and dear to its heart.
After all, two-thirds of the new council was not endorsed by the labour council, so presumably those six either didn’t seek that endorsement or are in disagreement on some key points.
The lefties tag is perhaps understandable, even without the KDLC endorsement. Marg Spina used to run the local food bank, while Denis Walsh and Nancy Bepple teamed up to fight the riverfront hotel project. (Bepple somewhat outrageously tried to take credit on election night for stalling the hotel, when in fact the Save the Waterfront group had zip to do with that.)
Then, there’s the fact Walsh managed Tina Lange’s campaign three years ago, adding to the perception there’s now a clique to rival the formidable Kokanee Caucus. (The glory days of the after-hours Caucus, after all, are on the wane with the departure of one charter member to other pastures, and a second having sworn off beer in favor of water and coffee.)
I did say during election-night commentary on NL that the new council looked like a shift to the left, but on further examination it might be negligible. There’s actually a lot of business experience among the newbies.
Walsh is a business owner, so while he might tend to want developers to exhibit a social and environmental conscience, I doubt he’ll be an obstructionist.
Bepple came out of a high tek corporate environment before working at TRU, and should know a thing or two about the need for communities to grow.
While Spina is known for her community volunteerism, supporting business was part of her platform.
Lange, though not a newcomer, has that connection to Walsh. But she, too, is a business person and hasn’t demonstrated anything in the way of an anti-development bent during her first term.
Whether or not the new council will function well as a team is another question entirely. It should prove entertaining to watch the dynamic between Walsh and Bepple, and between them and the rest of council.
With Walsh coming out of the gate wanting to ban election signs even before he’s been sworn in, it might be a “sign” that we have another councillor who talks before he thinks.
He and Lange, despite their past political alliance, certainly aren’t going to agree on everything. One of the reasons Walsh was endorsed by labour was that he supports a $10 minimum wage, though he admits he currently starts some employees at $8.
Lange, on the other hand, opposes it, which prompted Peter Kerek of the labour council to call her “disingenuous” and claim that “her pocketbook is what guides her.”
If there’s no obvious right-left alignment, or even old-new, what about the man-woman thing?
The gender balance is a big plus. It’s been a long time since council has had four women members. Female councillors may or may not bring a “different perspective” to elected office, but they do make up half the population and deserve to be well-represented.
Don’t expect the women on council to be teaming up to push their own issues, though. They are all independent thinkers and any suggestion they’ll form a coalition based on gender is insulting.
It’s likely the newcomers will feel a responsibility to push for support from the incumbents on some of their campaign promises, and that’s not going to split along either gender or right-left lines.
Bepple, for example, wants to form a seniors’ council to help the City deal with seniors issues, while Pat Wallace — who has advocated for seniors for years — told the audience at one of the election forums the City already has enough committees and doesn’t need another one for seniors.
Walsh’s belief that transit should be free to everyone won’t likely endear him to the savvy veterans who understand the concept of user-pay and that the majority of voters — who don’t use transit for various reasons — would not be amused.
Frankly, I just don’t get Spina’s Education Capital of B.C. stuff. The City and TRU work wonderfully well together, for the most part, but the bottom line is the university has its own board of governors and if they decide to do something there’s squat the City can do about it.
The City also already has a joint working committee with the school district, the purpose of which is to co-operate on all matters of mutual interest.
Spina’s education “promise” will probably amount to a benign resolution committing to “co-operation” or “partnership” between the City and university, and maybe something similar with SD73.
Where does that leave the incumbents? For Wallace, John O’Fee, Peter Milobar and John DeCicco it’s pretty much business as usual other than showing patience and respect for the new members.
This will be Jim Harker’s term to decide whether he wants to be a passenger or a driver. History shows that keeping your head down is an effective way to get re-elected, for awhile. In the long term, not so good.
Harker polled a solid sixth three years ago; this year he hung onto eighth by a scant 80 votes, hardly a ringing endorsement. If he wants to champion something in his second term, he’ll have to compete with the three newcomers as they try to make their mark.
By the way, the low turnout again has people wondering how to get more people to the polls. It’s just a fact of life that a boring election will cut the turnout.
It was suggested to me on the sidewalk the other day that one of the problems is the high number of candidates — people just throw their hands up in frustration at trying to figure out who to vote for, so they don’t vote at all.
What if, she said, there was a five-day withdrawal so the less serious candidates could back out when they saw who their opponents were.
So I checked with Cindy Kennedy at City Hall, and there’s actually a 10-day interlude between nomination day and the printing of the ballots, for that very reason. Yet, no one withdrew during that time, though one candidate bailed after the ballots were already printed.