The conservative slate on council is dead

Reality trumps ideology six months in

Remember that concept of slates during the municipal election in 2013? It took six months but I’m ready to declare the conservative slate on Calgary city council dead.

In my first column in November 2013 I wrote: “The reality is that if a slate did exist at city council it wouldn’t last long. Each councillor benefits their ward most (and their prospects for re-election) when they compromise with every other councillor from time to time.”

Turns out that “wouldn’t last long” is about six months at City Hall. With Councillor Brian Pincott voting with Councillors Sean Chu and Joe Magliocca on May 5 against the proposed 4.7 per cent target tax rate increase over the next four years any conservative slate on council is gone.

The slate really started to tank with the “provincial tax room” debate and the infamous $52 million per year vote that came to council late in 2013 after an election campaign that divided candidates into either “keep it” or “give it back” camps. After the election it seemed all but certain that the right-leaning councillors would achieve a huge win for the “give it back” crowd.

It wasn’t to be. A change of heart from Coun. Richard Pootmans and Coun. Shane Keating scored a huge capital infrastructure win for Keating’s southeast ward leading to a one-time tax reduction followed by years of the city keeping the provincial tax room in order to fund the Southeast Transitway. For the thin conservative-leaning majority on council that felt about as good as catching a soccer ball in the wrong place.

You’d think freezing management pay might be a good move considering the fiscal restraint demanded by some of the councillors during the election; but that died on the table 11-4 last year as well. To council’s credit they did vote to freeze their own salary increases though the vote wasn’t unanimous.

Then came the cycle track pilot project in downtown Calgary. The price tag was too high for some councillors transforming the issue into a fiscal one. It seemed like the cycle tracks were doomed; however in the end there was a modest compromise and a guarantee from city administration to find ways to substantially reduce the cost of the pilot. It passed by a razor-thin margin but pass it did.

So why did the conservative slate on council fail so fast? Our ward system.

We elect councillors from each of the 14 wards in Calgary. While each councillor is required to do what’s best for Calgary as a whole there is often the need to appeal to voters which leads to an economy of compromise. Those who don’t compromise will find it increasingly difficult to get support for investment in their wards — if your vote is explicit and predictable then what’s the point of political co-operation? Compromise is not possible with an ideologue so there is little need to go out of the way to please uncompromising councillors. They become a constant not a variable.

Council is about compromise and six months into a four-year term some in the chamber must be discovering just what that actually means.