Smear campaigns and anonymous groups dominate St. Albert election

Artwork from the anonymous St. Albert Insight blog.
Artwork from ‘St. Albert Insight’ attacks Mayor Nolan Crouse. St. Albert Insight is one of the many anonymous websites that have popped up during this month’s municipal election in St. Albert.

A rash of anonymous and semi-anonymous third-party groups have emerged with plans to influence the outcome in the City of St. Albert‘s municipal election.

With a population of more than 60,000, the second largest city in Alberta’s capital region has grown in leaps and bounds as the number of residents has increased by one-third over the past two decades. An affluent bedroom community without a significant business or industrial tax-base, St. Albert depends almost entirely on residential taxation to fill its city coffers.

Although it describes itself as a “grassroots group of concerned citizens”, ‘St. Albert Think-Tank‘ remains completely anonymous. Think-Tank opposes downtown revitalizations plans it claims will “change the St. Albert downtown core to resemble that of a major city such as Toronto or Montreal”, and opposes extension of Light-Rail Transit from Edmonton to St. Albert, flimsily arguing the city needs a population of 500,000 before an LRT line would be feasible.

Think-Tank plans to host an election forum on October 16, yet refuses to give election candidates any advanced notice as to the identity of the group’s leaders, membership or even the moderators at the planned all-candidates forum.

In an October 3rd email sent to Mayor Nolan Crouse and all council candidates, the group’s organizer declared that “the full membership list of the Think Tank is of no consequence,” and, despite continuing to remain completely anonymous, is “providing absolute openness and transparency.” (download a pdf copy of the email)

While the identity of the individual or individuals behind St. Albert Think-Tank remains a secret to the public, the group has purchased large advertisements in the community’s award winning newspaper, the St. Albert Gazette. The Gazette would know the names of the individuals who purchased the advertisement, yet the paper does not yet appear to have reported on the group’s agenda or who is hiding behind the advertisement.

More artwork from the anonymous St. Albert Insight blog attacking Mayor Nolan Crouse and council candidates its author disagrees with.
Artwork from the anonymous blog St. Albert Insight attacks Mayor Nolan Crouse and council candidates its author disagrees with.

Striking a real negative tone, two anonymous blogs – Stabnow and St. Albert Insight – have also been attacking the mayor and council candidates who do not fit within the authors narrow and bitterly toned anti-government agenda.

Another group, the Election Action Committee (EAC), remains semi-anonymous. The name of former St. Albert Taxpayers Association president Gord Henniger is listed as a contact and the group’s website appears to exists for the sole purpose of attacking incumbent Mayor Crouse.

The EAC has also purchased ads in the Gazette and loudly voices its opposition to taxes and various projects that any sensible person would think could improve the quality of life of St. Albertans, including LRT expansion and the proposed downtown area revitalization plan (the website also includes a strange daily recap of someone’s vacation in California).

In a recent ad in the St. Albert Gazette, the EAC claims that property taxes have increased by 26.37% since Mayor Crouse was first elected nine years ago. Whether or not that total is true, municipal taxes in St. Albert have only increased an average of 3.23% annually over the past five years. This remains fairly low compared to other cities in Alberta during the same period (4.62% in Red Deer, 4.53% in Strathcona County, 4.46% in Grande Prairie, 7.72% in Calgary and 5.63% in Edmonton).

Very poorly chosen "famous quotes" on the St. Albert Election Action Committee website.
Very poorly chosen “famous quotes” on the St. Albert Election Action Committee website.

But it is the “Famous Quotes” section of the Election Action Committee website that is most shocking. The page includes quotes from many historical luminaries, including Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler, which I am sure will be of interest to the candidates who the EAC has endorsedShelley Biermanski, Ted Durham, Sheena Hughes, John Goldsmith, Bob Russell, Cam Mackay, Malcolm Parker, Mark Cassidy, and Norm Harley.

While the two groups demand transparency from their municipal government, neither of these groups are transparent. I have emailed St. Albert Think-Tank and the Election Action Committee requesting information about their financial backers and who is involved in the groups. Neither have responded to my requests at the time this post was published.

37 thoughts on “Smear campaigns and anonymous groups dominate St. Albert election”

  1. Thanks for writing this Dave. I saw the adverts in the gazette and wondered who these people were. I guess they don’t want us to know who is pushing their agenda. I will share this with my friends adn family.

  2. I absolutely love this article. The urinal graphic is actually the slate of candidates I am voting for. I think it actually helps people who are sick of the anonymous and misleading EAC ads in the Gazette because it shows us exactly who to vote for.

  3. Curious you don’t use the example of the Mayor tweeting an anonymous attack letter, claiming to be from SATA, as smear.

    Or the reports of the Mayor referring to a certain person as a F—- C—t. Yes, there are many witnesses to that incident.

    Bias, I see you.

    Anyone who thinks LRT to St. Albert is something to even consider, Answers the door when the phone rings.

  4. This whole idea of calling out “the truth” and if only people see what you saw they would change their minds is just horse shit. Anytime I read stuff the attitude is “how can anyone vote for X because they did Y!” or what I called “gotcha!” tactics when I visited your chat room the other day.

    I think the ideas the group has would have far more credibility if they were even slightly open to the idea that other people can have a dissenting opinion on an issue without it being due to pure ignorance, overlooking extreme character flaws on other people who hold that opinion, or some form of developmental disability.

    I commend the group for keeping an open discussion forum (mybirdie.ca), but I have the strange feeling that it does so only because it really does think of it as a channel to get “the truth” out, and that things they say couldn’t possibly offend anyone. (Don, who runs the chat, says he encourages diversity of opinion, and I have no reason to doubt him, but others who hang out there are not so tolerant).

    HINT: Your problem isn’t that your message isn’t getting out.

    Frankly, I hope they crank things up as they’ve been doing, because it will just lend more credence to more progressive and/or balanced candidates. As I said before, heads will explode at election results, just like last time.

  5. Perhaps the tentacles of the ‘Manning Institute of Bat Shit Craziness’ are reaching into the electoral process in St. Albert?

  6. Dave, have you ever heard of “opposition”? These groups you skewer are citizens of St Albert that are concerned by the direction this city is going. When you have St Albert city council exercising total control over municipal planning where residents concerns are completely ignored – what do you suggest the people do? The Gazette has once again undergone big changes, what was once an award winning newspaper, is now mostly about censorship and bias. You live in Edm but you write this article having looked at your supposed facts from one side; investigate what you profess to know and gather facts from both sides before you throw a side under the bus.

  7. For the record, @ Mark Roseman. The Live Chat on my web site is my own creation and is neither part of, nor controlled by any of the groups David mentions in his article. The Live Chat feature has been in existence for five years and was begun long before any of those groups were formed. It is independently owned and operated by myself as a St. Albert licensed small home business and I am not a member of any of those groups. I allow anyone to use the feature and only ask users abide by a couple of simple rules. I try hard to moderate the site to keep the discussion on track and prevent name calling, etc. Some of those groups have linked to my site to promote the Live Chat, but any further association ends there. It is mine and mine alone.

  8. Don, apologies if I implied otherwise; my comments apply to what I’m guessing are some of the “regulars” who participate there, and fully appreciate the distinction between them and the service you run. For the record, you were very welcoming to me, and made the humorous but pointed attempts, characteristic of a good moderator, to try to tone down the personal attacks that others were making.

    Leo, is that all residents’ concerns being ignored, or just ones by people who aren’t puppets of the administration? Is giving a voice to other opinions your definitive proof (“gotcha!”) of media censorship and bias?

  9. What a one-sided article. These citizens get off their asses to try and change things but are chastized and bullied. I have been bullied by crouse as well as there are others. Anonymous letters have arrived at my home. This is a very dysfunctional council. Why have these group risen? because people are not happy. crouse will do anything to win. Shame on you Mr. cournoyer.

  10. By the way 10 witnesses heard and saw crouse say F***ing Cu** and lunging at shelley and gord with NO provocation. He has also demonstrated outbursts at others. Can he remember the car aerial incident??

    (edited to remove profane language)

  11. Mark, what would you call a local newspaper that refuses comments that argue contrary to their “unbiased” view? I assume you read the Gazette online; ever noticed that almost all the stories/comments/editorials have 0 comments? If you’ve lived in SA longer than 3 months you would know that this was not always the case.

  12. I think it’s interesting that many of the people attacking Dave for writing this are posting from aliases and fake names. If you have an opinion that you feel strongly about, have the conviction to put your name to it. I think that’s the basis of what Dave is saying here.

    Having said that, I will form my own opinions and I encourage residents of St. Albert to do the same. Don’t fall victim to smear campaigns, propaganda, or having other people’s opinions forced on me. From either side. If they want you to strongly consider their opinion and give it validity and weight… see if they feel strongly enough to sign their name to it. Otherwise just assume that they don’t put any merit into their own opinions.

    All the best to every candidate running in the election. You all, each and every one of you, deserve our thanks and respect for volunteering your time. No matter if you’re elected to a seat or not. I, John Carle, am proud enough of you all to put my name to that statement.

  13. Thanks for this piece. I am sure you will now be accused of being biased, a Crouse supporter, elitist, rich, ignorant, a city hall dupe….

    I hope this piece encourages people to go visit the sites mentioned, also mybirdie.ca, and see the mindset of those supporting Biermanski, Durham, Hughes, Cassidy, MacKay, Harley etc. .

  14. Regarding municipal property tax increases. Yes, property taxes in St Albert are high, we all know that and most of us know that ,as you point out, this is mainly due to the very low industrial/commercial tax base.

    Opponents of the present mayor are quick to cite figures showing the total property tax increase during his nine years as councillor and mayor. I feel this to be a typical distortion as the total tax increase for a two term mayor will almost certainly be higher than that of a one term mayor. The average annual percentage increase is a better measure so I calculated this for the 30 + years that I have lived in St Albert and the figures show that the mayor compares quite favourably with previous councils. Here, are my results largest to smallest : 8.85% p.a Chalifoux 2nd term, 5.64% Plain, 5.43% Fowler, 4.50% Crouse, 2.02% Ratchinsky, 1.14% Chalifoux ( 1st term).

  15. To sum up, and in tribute to currently-in-town-John-Cleese-collaborator Michael Palin:

    “Come and see the violence inherent in the system. Help! Help! I’m being repressed!”

  16. Do people think that those who oppose Crouse and current incumbents gather their opinions from the wind? There’s a reason Crouse is a target, just like there’s a reason some decide to remain anonymous. If you can’t figure out why, you have bigger issues than exposing smear tactics.

    Anyone that thinks that some candidates/incumbents are above using questionable schemes to drive their campaigns, I suggest you open your eyes and wake up.

    And those of you that use sweeping statements to identify non-supporters of the incumbents, realize that you are doing the very same thing that this article criticizes.

  17. Great piece……the folks that object to it are those that object to anyone whom voices an opposing viewpoint….and usually name calling is the best they can do.
    Just an aside, the LRT thing is two different issues. Those for or against the LRT running through St Albert, and those for or against the LRT running up to St Albert.
    Oh, and why would any candidate appear at a forum where those asking the questions are so afraid of using their names that they demand that they remain some secret society on their own…..

  18. Now you know what happens when you put your name out there. Bashing! That is why sometimes anonymous is better. Many are scared of reprocessions. That is where we get into trouble and governments go from bad to worse.

  19. as a resident of 34 years I agree with Dave, you want change, you want to quote Hitler as a leader, you want to smear people on this blog or in any part of politics then put your name out there. These people are cowards. I have no problem with people who oppose or want to look at another direction but come out of the shadows, face the citizens and your neighbours so they see you. I also question the credentials of some of the people these groups endorse, I read their brochures and most of them have never even sat on a board of directors never mind lead a city. If the world was right St. Albert would be just another neighbourhood of Edmonton. Put up or Shut up.

  20. Concerned : what do you mean by drastically? Increases in taxes are a fact of life anywhere. St Albert is not different and the current council’s record is not as bad, compared to previous councils, as some would have us believe. If you do not believe my numbers, get our your own tax assessment and do the math yourself.

  21. I read all blogs, all websites, all campaign propaganda with a grain of salt, yours included. I think that having a truly unbiased blog for example is near impossible as everyone has candidates they are supporting for one reason or another. I definitely have candidates I will be supporting and some there is no way I would support, and others I am on the fence on. I want to attend all the forums to see how the candidates answer and use that information to help me make my decision on who I will be voting for.

    Having attended the Chambers forum at the election, I was dismayed with the process as they screened the questions and thus it is not truly “open” to any and every question. That being said, I will attend this year again as it is another opportunity to learn. I will also attend the Think Tank and SATA forums which are open and where questions from the floor are not screened to see how candidates react and/or answer these questions. For me, all forums are important and not only should citizens see them as such, but so should all candidates. I am not happy that the current mayor is boycotting the Think Tank forum because of the anonymity of the group. Really, I don’t know or care who forms the group. I think that very different questions will be asked in this forum as compared to the Chamber’s forum and I want to see/hear/learn from each of the candidates. So the mayor choosing not to attend makes me uncomfortable. Why would a candidate not want to take EVERY opportunity possible to present their platform? Granted, he may not have a lot of supporters in some of the forums, but his responses could really help some voters who are still undecided make up their minds (either for or against re-electing him).

    I don’t like “dirty” politics, but I also don’t like my intelligence being insulted. This blog implies that people can be fooled into voting for the wrong people, or that anyone who does not vote the way this blog is biased is not intelligent. I looked up the footnoted references on the Think Tank ads and they all are legit references (council documents, meeting minutes, Gazette articles). So to simply dismiss them as lies or untruths is insulting to me. Are their ads biased? Definitely! But so is your blog. So really I think that what everyone needs to do for this election is to do their own research. Look up what is being put out there on the different mediums with a grain of salt, try to determine what are issues for you and how does each candidate address your issues and then make educated choices.

    Sorry for the long post. But it is frustrating to see yet another blog trying to point fingers, smear, etc. and then try to appear to be better than those they smearing.

  22. Dean someone did put up and he was trashed. Do you NOT get it. Being honest and up front makes you a target!

  23. 2010 election mayoral candidate ms. Biermanskis car was syruped and roof slashed. This time her car was keyed deeply. But did she run out and spread the word. No she remained classy. Did she go on twitter and incite everyone to twitter and retweet? Did she jump on it and say Woe is me. Please feel sorry for me. No

  24. Knowing that a, no longer, secret group of developers were trying to take control of Calgary council I think it entirely reasonable that we know who is behind the groups mentioned in this article. Do you these groups have personal/business interests to promote with the support of tame councillors?

  25. Concerned, that’s terrible that Shelley would have her car vandalized. Hopefully the next step of that hate group won’t be to post threats against his family… Oh wait.

  26. John Carle, are you suggesting Shelley has influence over an alleged hate group? Is that what non-Crouse supporters are now?

  27. Not at all Leo; quite the opposite. I actually quite like Shelley, and know she would have too much class for that.

    I’m just pointing out that there are “people” (can we call these creatures people?) who are doing drastic things against both candidates. All of them shame our community; an election shouldn’t be this way.

    Sadly, and I hope both camps listen to me here, there are likely some very great potential candidates who won’t put their names forward in the next election because of the behaviour of these “people” this year. If you don’t like these candidates; then don’t scare the new ones away!

  28. As a near 40 year resident of St. Albert, I find this current civic election most intriguing. The 2013 election boasts a large number of candidates, with varying skills, perspectives and experiences for the voting public to consider. For all who have put their name forward, my full respect and good luck.

    As in all public office contests, there is a spectrum of true intentions as to why each is running. There are those who are running on a single platform, with the hope of changing one aspect of government. Some crave the supposed power public office offers. There are those who run in the hopes of securing a job and a living. And the others fall somewhere along that continuum. And then there are candidates who run with truly altruistic intentions… to serve the interests of the ENTIRE community, through a balanced vision and leadership.

    The primary characteristic I look for in elected officials is LEADERSHIP. Leadership, as defined by the conservative publication Forbes magazine: “Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.” Based on that definition, candidates that are running on a single platform such as of fiscal responsibility and lower taxes, or the Arts, or the Environment…you simply do not represent the LEADERSHIP I am looking for. I am looking for balanced individuals who can represent the interests of all, and can find compromise in working with the community and fellow councillors.

    And for candidates who are running as part of pseudo slates, or are backed by individuals or organizations that refuse to make themselves public… the informed voters of St. Albert will see through this facade, as the vast majority of voters are also looking for LEADERSHIP – not one-trick ponies. As for anonymous ads in papers, or tweeters, blog posters et. al. Please don’t insult the intelligence of the public by claiming you are afraid to reveal your name. If you are prepared to present your convictions in a public forum, be prepared to post your name and stand by them… Whether you be an individual or an organized group.

  29. Dave, as a resident of St. Albert who has served on the Board of Directors of the St. Albert Taxpayers Association, a personal friend of David Climenhaga, Nolan Crouse, Cam MacKay and Gord Hennigar, let me give you my two cents under my own name.

    First off, many people are opposed to the money being spent on the LRT because we feel it’s badly planned and a waste of money. We are blowing $500,000 on a study to determine if the LRT is feasible. Never mind that Mayor Crouse himself has said that the LRT probably won’t be coming for 30 years or more, so why are we spending money on a study that is going to be out of date by the time the LRT is actually ready to come out here?

    http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20130327/SAG0904/303279992/0/sag

    As for DARP, it adds a huge amount of unnecessary red tape and added costs for people who want to set up downtown. It sets out what kinds of businesses are allowed, establishes minimum height requirements for buildings (on very wet and unstable land, which leads to a huge increase in costs for people wanting to build on it), tax money being spent on new administration buildings, and more. All this is hardly necessary when the downtown merchants have turned the area around City Hall into a specialized shopping and services district that doesn’t even try to compete with the big box stores.

    http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20110608/SAG0904/306089964/0/SAG

    Even the St. Albert Gazette has weighed in on the problems:

    http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20110601/SAG0902/306019979/0/SAG

    Before slamming people who have concerns about DARP or the LRT spending, try and actually see just why so many people are actually concerned about these issues in the first place.

    Also, before you start smearing groups like SATA as narrow and anti-government, try actually learning about what the group supports tax money being spent on. When it comes to things like Meals On Wheels and other programs for low-income and other disadvantaged citizens, SATA members are quite happy to see their tax dollars spent on.

    http://www.stalberttaxpayers.org/index_htm_files/St_%20Albert_Taxpayers_Association_What_We_Stand_For.pdf

    The people here who criticize the “narrow, anti-government agenda” should also consider that, when it comes to arts and heritage spending, some people in our community never seem to think that it is enough. They come up with these elaborate wish lists that they expect City taxpayers to pay for, and once that wish list is fulfilled they simply come up with another one. They come across, to me, as considering the public purse to be an ATM from which they are entitled to draw as much money as they want. If you dare to criticize them, you are accused of wanting to “destroy the spirit of the community” and not caring about St. Albert:

    http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20120321/SAG0904/303219979/0/sag

    Supporters of SATA and groups like the Election Action Committee are accused of demonizing anyone who dares to express a dissenting opinion. There is something to that-more than once, I’ve had to play Devil’s Advocate and try and take the edge off the criticisms other people have wanted to make-but people on the other side of the fence, like Carol Watamaniuk, can and will demonize anyone with a dissenting opinion who dares to disagree with THEIR agenda.

    I’ve been employed by St. Albert’s Musée Héritage Museum. I’ve supported the Michif Institute. I love our heritage sites, and I’ve written articles educating the public about St. Albert’s history. But this demonization and attacking is a two-way street. If we’re going to call out the St. Albert Think Tank for doing it, we should also criticize those on the other side of the fence who do it:

    http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20120407/SAG0904/304079950/0/sag

  30. Thanks Jared, I thought that was very helpful.

    What initially (around last election I think) got my back up with the SATA folks was the repeated claims (sorry, I don’t have references) that they spoke for all taxpayers. That, coupled with the underlying narrative about “if only people knew the true facts…” and assertions that if people didn’t agree they were either ignorant or stooges.

    There’s room for diversity of opinion and healthy disagreement about arts funding, downtown redevelopment, and a whole range of issues. And in fact, it’s usually those things that produces the innovative solutions that succeed in pushing things forward. When it turns into a “we win, you lose” no-compromise “us vs. them” it gets ridiculous.

    I’m happy when people are pushing for tax accountability, and others are pushing for more arts funding. I have no doubt there are serious flaws in DARP, but I also see huge long term problems with the existing downtown model. Happy to have people on both sides of that. Not happy if they accuse others of not listening to them or being stupid if they don’t get their own way.

    FWIW, while I don’t watch the day-to-day goings-on of municipal politicians like some people do, and while I’m sure there are many counter-examples that can be presented (“gotcha!”), any even-slightly functioning organization would grind to a complete halt if people weren’t talking and listening to all kind of people about all kinds of things. That’s obviously happening.

    I had a moment of deja vu when writing this, and vaguely remembered a letter I’d written to the Gazette around last election. Sure enough…

    Residents are more than taxpayers

    I think the level of discourse here has gotten way out of hand, at times venturing into the realm of paranoia, and I know that can’t be healthy for anyone.

  31. Take a look at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’ Municipal Spending Watch 2013 document http://www.cfib-fcei.ca/english/article/5430-alberta-municipal-spending-watch-2013.html . This business funded group presents an analysis showing that spending of Alberta Municipalities is unsustainable. St. Albert’s spending is the 5th worst in the 20 municipalities. St. Albert. According to the City of Edmonton: Residential Property Tax Survey 2010 St. Albert municipal taxes for the same house, similar neighbourhood, in the mid sized cities, showed St. Albert’s were the highest. Edmonton has discontinued this study and it doesn’t seem to be on their website any longer. Must be that it provided votes with too much information on how their city was doing. Anyone wanting a copy? I have a pdf version of it saved previously from their website. Seems like what your readers might see as credible sources are telling the same story!

  32. I think Cam McKay has been done a decent job on council. It is too bad that he is connected with this “tea party ” group.

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