Candidates band together in municipal contests

The argument over party politics hits towns and cities

Candidate slates are popping up around Alberta in advance of October’s municipal elections. Groups of candidates bound by a common platform and campaigning for each other is a familiar part of provincial and federal elections — it’s the essence of party politics. But it’s rarely seen at the city level in Alberta.

There are currently two candidate groups in the province that have announced formal slates: Red Deer First and Team Airdrie United. Coalitions in Calgary and High River are still unconfirmed.

Red Deer First’s platform is focused on increased fiscal responsibility transparency and economic development. Team Airdrie United is more specific promising if elected to address issues of housing density and bringing 24-hour health care to town.

Much of the hullabaloo around municipal slates relates to whether they have backing from political parties or big business.

When Calgary’s conservative Manning Centre revealed intentions in March 2013 to train a slate of candidates for this year’s election the media and public were wary. When a video of Shane Homes’ Cal Wenzel was leaked to Global News in April making it clear the Manning slate had the financial backing of housing developers bent on getting pro-development candidates into office the public backlash was strong and the plan appeared to fizzle out.

Team Airdrie United may have a similar foundation according to Calgary Ald. Jim Stevenson. Stevenson is on the executive committee of the Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP) a contentious land-use framework shared by Calgary and 14 surrounding municipalities. Stevenson says that in March during a meeting meant to explain to MLAs how the CRP works Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson said he would personally see to it that a slate of candidates would win office and withdraw Airdrie from the CRP.

“He said that the housing was terrible in Airdrie and this was… because of the CRP and he said that it was going to be an issue in this election. In fact he was going to make it an issue” says Stevenson.

It “bothered me” he adds. “I am a strong conservative so my leanings are naturally more to the PCs and the Wildrose… But I am not in favour of party politics getting involved in the municipal elections because when you get party politics involved at the municipal level then you don’t have the freedom and the flexibility that I do as a member of Calgary city council.”

Anderson and the Wildrose Party have both made official statements denying either are fielding municipal candidates. Anderson says he supports Team Airdrie United in principal but has only given them “some advice” and a small donation primarily because his mother is one of the candidates.

“There’s certainly no movement from the Wildrose or even the PCs or NDP or Liberals that I can see provincially to run party slates” says Anderson.

“You’re going to have these kinds of indirect relationships with parties when you’re dealing with politics because people who participate in municipal politics often participate in provincial politics. I think [the Wildrose affiliation] is a red herring” he adds.

Revelations over the short-lived Manning Centre slate and possible Wildrose ties in other communities have left some worrying that electing united candidates will lead to town councils dominated by right-wing ideologues controlled by the monied interests that helped them gain office.

Yet former PC MLA Tom Sindlinger sees it differently. Since 2010 Sindlinger has been part of a group of Calgarians trying to organize municipal candidates who will prioritize green space and community preservation over new developments.

Their Communities First project has yet to gain full support from any candidate but he says many are open to their concepts. On September 16 Communities First and the Save McCall Lake Group ran an ad in the Calgary Herald featuring the pictures of six ward candidates who endorse saving the McCall Lake public golf course — a small step but one Sindlinger considers significant.

He says voters shouldn’t fear slates. He points out they could have any or no party affiliation and that most are issues-based.

“If I were a candidate I would associate myself with a slate if I were comfortable with what it was trying to do” he says. He explains that the most important task for a candidate is to achieve name recognition among voters. Associating themselves with a platform or united group with a clear agenda can make that task much easier.

“If somebody can come up with an issue and own it and be identified as the owner of that issue I think it will be very helpful” says Sindlinger.

Meanwhile Ald. Stevenson confirms Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s appraisal of council as being free of coalitions or voting blocks. Stevenson says he would like it to remain that way although he has no problem with increasing the ratio of right-leaning councillors.

“We don’t have any problems getting liberal-minded or NDP-minded people on city councils…. I think that it’s good that the Manning group are bringing some training forward for people that are conservative-minded” he says.