Tuesday, May 15, 2012

PREMIER FEARS NDP GAINS IN ST. JOHN'S

Partisan politics have no place at City Hall!

That appears to be the rallying call from our premier, the current mayor and a legion of commentators responding to National NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair's premature endorsement of Councilor Sheilagh O'Leary's possible bid for the Mayor's chair.

Mulcair let the cat out of the bag while addressing the NDP faithful at a fundraising diner over the weekend. O'Leary says she has not committed to run for mayor in 2013, but obviously there have been ample discussions with folks like the leader of the Official Opposition to convince him that she is.

Listening to the premier offer the national leader a tongue lashing for meddling in municipal affairs made me wonder where all that passion and faux bravado was when it comes to questioning the Harper Government on issues like E.I. Reform, the closed search and rescue facility in St.John's and a litany of other contentious fed/prov issues.

Why would the premier get herself involved with comments made by the leader of the federal NDP about a longtime supporter of the NDP. The answer has nothing to do with partisan politics in municipal campaigns and all to do with the Progressive Conservative's concerns about the increasing support of the NDP in the city. The NDP have demonstrated that they can influence local issues (grass root issues). They are the biggest threat facing the PC's in seat rich St. John's. Anything they do that grows their organization and influence is a threat to the current status quo.

Lets face it, Newfoundland and Labrador Municipal politics has always had a partisan taste to it. Sometimes it has been overt, other times it has been more widespread.   The current mayor opened himself up to it when he endorsed and campaigned for PC candidates in the last provincial election. His candidate lost and I am sure those that campaigned for the winner have not forgotten Doc O'Keefe's foray into that campaign. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

As for slates. There are many past examples of both official and unofficial slates. A group of reformers may run as a bloc or behind the scenes candidates will agree to support one another.  These "slated" are normally  focused on specific issues (and vote trading) rather than ideology.

Often municipal campaigns are cluttered with party workers from all three parties, they lay down their partisanship in support of an individual. That does not mean that party's do not try and get their supporters elected to municipalities. They like to get people who have a similar viewpoint on issues to run for office. Municipal government is the cradle for aspiring provincial and federal politicians. We have just not seen the formation of parties to field candidates in municipal elections.

Party politics is not unknown to municipal politics in Canada and other countries. For example, there is a decades old tradition of party politics in Vancouver and Montreal. municipal politics. New York,  Tokyo, Stockholm, Rome, Berlin and London all have parties of their own.

I have worked and managed municipal campaigns in this city and have found that  it doesn't matter that you are affiliated with the P.C's,  the NDP, or the Liberals, when it comes to city issues, people can work together to back the same candidate to fix something regardless of their political labels.

Personally, I hope municipal politics does not become a fractured partisan wasteland, where councilors are divided by party ideology. Consensus building and working together has been a hallmark of municipal governance. If allowed to fall into an adversarial, government-opposition format, the cogs of municipal governance could grind to a halt.

I am all ears and mouth for a ideological  discussion about introducing party politics at the municipal level. What I dislike is the obvious contempt that the current leadership has for the idea when it is not their party that may benefit form it.

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