Powell River’s next civic election is now less than one year away. Is it too early to start thinking about it? Maybe, but for political junkies such as me, one year out seems about right.
There are rumours that some in the business community are already talking about finding candidates for the next election. One has to assume business-oriented candidates will be challenging what I have called the new majority: councillors Russell Brewer, Rob Southcott, CaroleAnn Leishman and Karen Skadsheim.
Most will remember the last election and the controversy around the issue of slates, or candidates running together on a common platform and asking their supporters to vote for all the slate candidates.
Of course, there were no slates, despite mayor Dave Formosa’s declaration to the contrary. In a paid advertisement, he suggested candidates Skadsheim, Leishman and Southcott were part of a slate; they were not. They all ran completely separate campaigns focusing on a variety of issues.
The controversy arose in the mayor’s letter when he effectively called on people to support his own slate of incumbents.
In the last week of the election, several of those running on the mayor’s team put up matching lawn signs, a pretty clear indication of a slate. But even in that case there was no common platform, just a pitch for the status quo.
Are people opposed to slates? It is hard to judge, but conventional wisdom suggests that is the case. When existing political parties have run candidates in civic elections in other cities and provinces, they have been largely rejected.
On the other hand, in Vancouver, civic elections have featured civic parties for decades and voters seem satisfied with how democracy is served in that city.
Party politics can be polarizing and become so partisan and nasty at the provincial and federal level that some people are put off by politics altogether.
On the other hand, slates and parties have the advantage of saying to voters: these are our values, this is our vision of the city we will fight for and here are three things we pledge to accomplish if we are elected.
One of the reasons voter turnout in civic elections is so low is because voters do not know enough about the individual candidates. They fear voting for someone who might turn out to have completely contrary values.
While left-right politics are not always obvious at the civic level, many issues do reflect this tension. One of the first decisions of the current council was to finally put an end to the ill-considered plan to privatize our waste treatment to Catalyst Paper Corporation. Residents had shown overwhelming opposition to the scheme.
If there is an initiative by the business community to run candidates will they reflect business-dominated councils in other cities and push for lower taxes, cuts in services and less attention to issues like affordable housing? As for the new majority on council, they have a year to demonstrate their commitment to the environment and social justice with some concrete accomplishments.
And what about slates? We could do worse than having two competing slates of candidates in the next election. Clear choices for the future of Powell River might even convince more people to vote.
Murray Dobbin is a Powell River freelance writer and social commentator.