Wiping the slate clean at City Hall

After heated campaign council needs to move forward

Post-election it’s all smiles at city hall. With a slight majority of councillors now adding a conservative blue hue to the downtown chambers a looming budget “adjustment” coming later this month and a media marinated in the idea of a slate on city council it’s no wonder the mayor is eager to move beyond the election story of slates slates slates.

Politically the whole slates narrative was a great one for the election. It created the crisis that was necessary to get supporters to the polls. It attempted to immunize the campaigns against the “Well we’re going to win anyway so why bother doing anything” fate. And as election day neared it became clear that the slate story was alive and well. I myself received many questions about it but only near the end.

So the story of slates was a sticky one. The unions passed along their preferences as did a few homebuilders as did the mayor and eventually voters. But with some big decisions coming down the halls towards council chambers has the slate stuck too well?

In my opinion there are going to be some folks in the chamber who are eager to get beyond the talk of slates. For the short-term the mayor will be the main proponent of getting beyond the conflict of the election. While strategically useful during an election the concept of the slate is right nasty if it continues into the council chamber. Imagine being on the losing end of every key vote 9-6 — that would be a long four-year term.

The mayor isn’t going to be the only one eager to get over the slate talk. While there is likely already some discussion within City Hall about aligning on certain votes especially with the budget “adjustment” coming up the nature of civic governance and our ward system will quickly smack that thinking with a dose of reality.

With each councillor representing a ward and with each ward having needs that are satisfied through promised or present funding from the city a group of councillors voting down the budget adjustment in November would find themselves in a pickle. Sure a group of like-minded folks could vote down the budget adjustment but those same councillors will need to say what they would cut to bring taxes to an appropriate level. This is where things get complicated.

Do they cut funding for recreation programming for seniors transit hours parks maintenance snow and ice control police services fire services arts interchanges or traffic calming? And which wards will take the biggest hit from these cuts? Suddenly a defeated budget will become a competition for compromise.

The reality is that if a slate did exist on city council it wouldn’t last long. Each councillor benefits their ward (and their prospects for re-election) most when they compromise with every other councillor from time to time. It just so happens this is also good for the City of Calgary.

If there is a slate it’s going to wipe itself clean.

Chris Harper was a candidate in the most recent election for Ward 1. His city hall column will appear every other week.