Edmonton City Councillor Michael Oshry

Let’s end the myth of partisan-free city council elections

We need to keep politics out of elections: That sums up recent comments made by Edmonton City Councillor Michael Oshry. The west Edmonton councillor has waded into the 32-candidate by-election race in southeast Edmonton’s Ward 12, questioning the decision of some MLAs to endorse candidates in the municipal contest.

Mr. Oshry’s comments have sparked a resurgence of the popular and misinformed myth that “there is no partisan politics in municipal elections.”

It is natural for politically engaged people to be involved in elections for different levels of government. In fact, the most successful campaigns I have been involved in at a municipal level have attracted organizers and volunteers from a variety of partisan loyalties. It is also not uncommon for municipal politicians to have party connections or the support of politicians from other levels of government. Despite this, no one is proposing to bring political parties back to city council, as existed in Edmonton until the late 1980s.

Like all municipal elections in Edmonton, a number of candidates running in the Ward 12 by-election have party affiliations or are being supported by individuals involved in party politics at the provincial and federal levels.

If partisan affiliations in provincial and federal elections or endorsements from provincial or federal politicians precluded citizens from running for political office, then a number of current city councillors, including Mr. Oshry, would be ineligible to serve.

  • Mr. Oshry was endorsed by St. Albert PC MLA Stephen Khan during the 2013 municipal election.
  • Councillor Tony Caterina ran as a PC candidate in the 2015 election and ran as an Alberta Alliance candidate in the 2004 provincial election.
  • Councillor Bev Esslinger was a PC candidate in 2012 election.
  • Councillor Ed Gibbons was a Liberal MLA from 1997 to 2001. In 2015, he donated $375.00 to the Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville PC Association and in 2007 and 2011 he donated $850 and $1,100 to the PC Party.
  • Mayor Don Iveson donated $250 to Linda Duncan’s election campaign in 2008, while he was city councillor.
  • Councillor Dave Loken campaigned for NDP candidate Janis Irwin in the 2015 federal election and donated more than $2,000 to the Alberta NDP between 2011 and 2014.
  • Councillor Mike Nickel is a former PC Party constituency director. In 2014, he donated $318.25 to the Leduc-Beaumont Wildrose Association and in 2005 he donated $600 to the PC Party.
  • Councillor Michael Walters was an Alberta Party candidate in the 2012 election and endorsed a PC candidate in the 2015 election. He also ran for an NDP nomination in 2000.

Here is a look back at some municipal politicians from the recent past who have had partisan affiliations:

  • Former mayor Stephen Mandel was a PC MLA from 2014 to 2015. He donated $3,000 to the PC Party between 2010 and 2012, while he was Mayor of Edmonton.
  • Former councillor Kim Krushell was a local PC Party constituency association president before being elected as a city councillor. In 2008, she donated $425 to the PC Party. She now serves as a regional director for the PC Party.
  • Former councillor Karen Leibovici was a Liberal MLA from 1993 to 2001 and a federal Liberal candidate in 2015. During her mayoral bid in 2013, she was endorsed by a handful of PC MLAs, including then-deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk and PC MLA David Xiao.
  • Former councillor Linda Sloan was a Liberal MLA from 1997 to 2001. She ran for the Liberal Party leadership in 1998.
  • Former councillor Jane Batty donated $425 to the PC Party in 2010.
  • Former councillor Wendy Kinsella ran as a PC candidate in the 2001 election, while she was still a sitting city councillor.
  • Former councillor Brian Mason was elected as an NDP MLA in a 2000 by-election. He is now Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation.
  • Perhaps the strangest example of partisan involvement in municipal politics was in 2007, when the Wildrose Party donated $250 to Kerry Diotte‘s city council campaign. This is the only example I have found of a political party actually donating money to a municipal election candidate.

These lists demonstrate that after more than four decades of PC governments in Alberta, support for the governing party became engrained in all levels of politics to the point where support for the PCs from municipal politicians was not seen as partisanship, just the way the business of politics was done.

25 thoughts on “Let’s end the myth of partisan-free city council elections

  1. Nav

    I think few people actually believe there is zero provincial involvement, but what has gone on this election is simply jaw dropping.

    $100 dollars per head was the charge to gain access to a sitting minister. The proceeds went entirely to a city council candidate. I guarantee you no one is spending $100 to hang out with a ward 12 candidate, they were there to have access to the minister. There were around 200 people there I hear which amounts to a de facto donation of $20,000, dwarfing any of your prior examples and certainly enough to influence the candidate.

    What’s even more infuriating is the defence, “everyone else is doing it.” There is an obvious ethical issue here, and it’s a shame that it’s being side-stepped by a lot of prominent people holding publically accountable roles.

    Reply
    1. Dave Cournoyer Post author

      Thanks for reading and leaving the comment. As I wrote in the post, I don’t think the involvement of partisans in municipal elections is surprising or negative. Elections draw people together behind candidates they believe in or share similar values with.

      I don’t see evidence of any attempt to hide the purpose of the fundraiser that Shannon Phillips participated in with Nav Kaur. You can disagree with their politics or argue it was inappropriate, but I don’t see any ethical issues with it.

      Reply
  2. Miradart

    This is a very good list. We have all seen how partisanship has infiltrated every level of US politics. It is good to see how this story is sort of a “Sunshine List” of the currently elected.

    Going forward (and with diligence [pre, and during the elections] ) this would be a great tool for future municipal elections.

    Often we voters can “See” the affiliation trends, but a fully disclosed list of who donated to their municipal election, would be a VERY good thing. I see St Albert just voted against a voluntary disclosure of funders, so hopefully the provincial gov’t moves quickly to extend the mandate they operate under to the municipalities and cities in AB.

    But to go back a sec, I’m still no fan of Oshry. I don’t care how disconnected this young punk is to the past, but “City of Champions” should have stayed. It’s only his need to be a headline leading and sound bite grabbing prick, that cost us our NO COST slogan. “Post-Slogan” my patootie! Stand for something, or stand aside. The grownups need to talk now.

    Reply
    1. Jerrymacgp

      While I don’t entirely disagree, one of the arguments often made against disclosure of local election contributions is the lack of tax deductibility for such contributions. In other words, since donors can’t claim local election contributions for tax credits, why should they be required to disclose them. I’m not sure the two issues are as connected as that, but that has been the argument.

      As for making such contributions tax creditable, what level of taxation would they be credited against? Certainly not federal income tax. Provincial income tax? That would mean taxpayers in Edmonton would be indirectly subsidizing civic election candidates in Calgary, and Grande Prairie, and so on, and vice versa; might not be a popular idea. What about property taxes? That would mean renters would get no tax credit, not an idea I would favour.

      Lots of issues to figure out before we go down this road, and yet, I think disclosure would help unmask naked self interest such as by real estate developers.

      Reply
  3. Dan B

    “These lists demonstrate that after more than four decades of PC governments in Alberta, support for the governing party became engrained in all levels of politics to the point where support for the PCs from municipal politicians was not seen as partisanship, just the way the business of politics was done.”

    So sadly true. The Tories deserved to be kicked out. The NDP will give us some needed fresh air before the conservatives weasel their way back into power.

    Reply
  4. Heather

    Hi Nav, I was there on Saturday night with about 40 other people– Not 200. There was a wonderful panel discussion equally shared by the 3 guest speakers. I got my ticket as a sponsored ticket as I’m low income and was grateful for the experience. I learned a lot. I’m sorry you seem so offended by the really rather inocuous event. It’s not at all what you describe above. Good luck to your candidate in ward 12, it’s been a great race and kudos to you for being engaged like me!!

    Reply
  5. Liam

    Great read, Dave. Ultimately the support is coming from individuals in an open manner. I don’t think being an elected official excludes you from being engaged with candidates that you support (the obvious caveat being, that it’s you speaking or spending time/money, not your office.)

    Even if you were a Councillor elected with, say, a team of experienced PC or NDP campaigners and some big name partisan endorsements, you ultimately are in an office without a central party lean back on. One vote among 12 others. Build your own relationships and work to get at least 7 votes so you can get motions passed and represent your ward and your city.

    Reply
  6. Nick Chamchuk (for city councillor) Ward 12

    The article Dave wrote was a good one, but the premise is faulty. There are several quality candidates running in this election with no political attachments, or baggage, as I call it. Though I agree that several of the people running, that have lost elections all over Millwoods and Edmonton, (missing Dan Johnstone), shouldn’t have run, the electorate will have the final say, on Feb. 22, 2016. I am one of the candidates who has never run, quit my high-paying job with STARS, and get no support from any party, no lists to call, volunteers to work-nothing for them to do, and my 12 election signs are Eskimo colours, in honour of a long drought that ended.

    I would go as far to say that an endorsement from Stephen Mandel might become a “kiss of death” for the candidate, as he couldn’t even win his own seat!. Getting union money, or developer dough is equally daunting, as a starving public has little appetite for extravagance. I think the people with the fewest connections, myself included, will do the best with voters. Think about it, two long-time conservative governments just bit the dust, and Mr. Sandhu was well-connected. The NDP is fighting popularity concerns with the rural public, Kaur should be concerned, and likely is. The wild-maned Liberal Prime Minister is hated by many, so Butler is probably out, again. The only Green Party candidate withdrew.

    My committed voters come from all circles, parties, and occupations. What they like are ideas not sparring, freedom not complicity. There are several candidates that may knock off the “big names”, as some call them. I follow politics closely, and have never heard of the big names. Ideas will win this job. People ask me “Who ya with?’. or “Who ya for?”. I respond “With you”, and “For you”. I fight the battle over illegal signage, twitter-warring with candidate’s friends and campaigners over the laws we all signed off on, and only a handful of candidates respect! My peeps ask, “If they’re breaking the law now, what are they gonna do if elected?” Good question. I turned down what I considered a bribe on Nomination, as Butler asked, “What would it take to join our team?” A freakin miracle, dude. First of all, why does a candidate need a team, for a job they’ll have to do alone? He was cleared of wrongdoing, but I was very careful, as I care about my reputation. Another candidate bribed me with his vote, if I would agree to give $46,001 of my salary to make up for Sohi’s severance, I refused that one as well, nice try Victor. I researched Sohi’s deep involvement with land developers, and the P3’s made common by Mandel, turning down an offer of an “meeting”. You gotta keep your hands clean, but have to get “blood” on them to win.

    So Dave, some of us are trying to clean up the image of Councillor, and some sitting Councillors will be hitting the bricks in 2017. I’ll speak for the others this one time, and say we’re all disappointed in your journalistic lack of impartiality.

    Reply
    1. Kyle H

      I would just like to respectfully point out that councillors do not do their job “alone,” and that goes double for political campaigns. Ridiculous to think otherwise, no offense.

      Reply
  7. Jamie

    It’s time that we formally move to a party based system at electoral levels. People identify with ideology which translates into party lines. This will make the system much more open and transparent.

    Reply
  8. Brian

    The only major thing missing from this list are the names of current City Councillors who are supporting one or another of the Ward 12 candidates either overtly or covertly. This, I think, may prove to be more upsetting to future Council discussions than past or present party affiliations.

    Reply
  9. Barry

    If Oshry wants to talk about political influence in municipal government, then let’s talk about all the developers who contributed to his campaign. Or how Stephen Mandel, who later became a PC minister under Prentice, endorsed Oshry.

    Reply
  10. Garry

    Hi Dave,

    I think it is important to differentiate that elected officials also have personal lives and that as private individuals they can donate money or volunteer their time to whichever party, candidate, organization, or charity that they want to support.

    I think you are confusing the issue.

    The issue is that the fundraiser was advertised as: “an intimate evening with Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips and Ward 12 city council candidate Nav Kaur”. Shannon Phillips was using her position as an elected official, not as a private individual, to help fund raise for a candidate. Elected officials are supposed to represent all citizens and should not be trying to use their position to influence an election.

    That is the issue.

    Reply
    1. Dave Cournoyer Post author

      Hi Garry – Thanks for the comment. Elected officials are free to donate their personal time and personal money to whatever charitable or political cause they choose. I don’t see anything wrong with Shannon Phillips speaking at this event and supporting a candidate of her choice, but I suppose that is a decision the voters in Lethbridge-West will need to make in the next election.
      – Dave

      Reply
      1. Garry

        Dave,

        Since we are talking about open disclosure, would you mind declaring if you are currently a member of and/or have contributed to any political party?

        Reply
        1. Dave Cournoyer Post author

          Hi Garry – Thanks for the comment. I’m not a member of any political party. I was a Liberal Party member in the mid-2000s and an Alberta Party member around 2010-2011.

          I haven’t donated to a political party in a number of years but have made donations to the campaigns of individual candidates who I believed would be good representatives. In 2015, I made donations to NDP candidates Sarah Hoffman in Edmonton-Glenora, Janis Irwin in Edmonton-Griesbach and PC candidate Chris Labossiere in Edmonton-Rutherford.

          – Dave

          Reply
  11. The Dude

    I’m not concerned about party politics in municipal elections, but it’s funny you should mention Hoffman, Irwin, and Labossiere. Check the photos of Nav Kaur’s volunteer team. A lot of the same faces there. Don’t forget about Don Iveson and Gil McGowan too. Some even lent their time to Bob Hawkesworth in the Calgary-Foothills by-election.

    I want to say that this loose association of U of A Student Union hacks from the 2000’s seem to be becoming Edmonton’s version of Tammany Hall, but that would be giving them FAR too much credit.

    Reply
  12. Dave

    Mr. Mandel handled the issue of partisanship fairly well while he was mayor. While it was no secret he supported the PC’s, he was not a cheerleader for them and did not promote them. In fact, at times he severely criticized them. He was elected on his own merits and did not really owe the PC party anything.

    City councilors and the mayor have to work together and while they may have different political philosophies, making civic politics more partisan will make it harder for people to work together, not easier.

    Also, being too partisan cuts both ways. It may get some voters to support a candidate, but it could also turn off other voters. Many people who voted for Mayor Mandel never voted PC and if they saw him as a PC partisan, they might not have voted for him.

    I think civic politics works best without bringing in the federal and provincial parties too much.

    Reply
  13. Shane Bergdahl

    Good article, Dave. There was also some good banter in the comments as well.

    While I don’t like Party politics in the Municipal level, it is a fact of life. As for having a fundraiser with a Minister may sound wrong (and could be, depending how it is done), any campaign needs dollars. Running for Councillor (or any other political position) isn’t cheap.

    No matter how much we might sit on our soapbox and say you shouldn’t take money from this person or that person or that Corporation, you need the money to run a campaign. Surprisingly there isn’t many people willing to hand over $50 or more to support someone’s campaign.

    You need that money to buy signs and print materials so the voters will notice you. If you don’t you generally don’t get elected. Voters (generally) are lazy and don’t spend a lot of time researching the Candidates. Some do but most don’t. You need signs and print materials to make their choice easier.

    The Candidate also need to remember that individuals and companies give money not only to support the run, but also to have access to the individual to discuss “things” that are important to them. It is not to buy the Candidate’s support for those “things”.

    You don’t need to be stupid to have ethics, you need ethics or you are stupid.

    Reply
  14. David

    A municipal election is not the US presidential election and the importance of money can be over estimated. Even here at the federal or provincial level, big spending does not always result in victory. Some of the victories in the last provincial election definitely support that.

    Voters are becoming more skeptical about big spending candidates and parties and suspect (perhaps rightly so) that those who raise a lot of money may owe a lot of favors to a lot of people and may put their financial supporters interests ahead that of the public.

    The pursuit of the almighty dollar might seem like a good justification for questionable actions by candidates, but they need to remember it can also sully their reputation or hurt their campaign if does not seem ethical or right.

    Reply
  15. Nick Chamchuk (for city councillor) Ward 12

    Good point Shane, but how much does one need. I budgeted it out, and only had to raise $1,400 from the public. Did that after Christmas season, when I told supporters to give to humanitarian causes, then another 2 weeks to pay off credit cards. So I’ve actively fundraised for less than 1 month, to show leadership in fiscal areas, and I’m a STARS fundraiser, see the irony?

    You don’t need a lot of money to have an effective campaign, all you need is effort, and brains, all of the other have only one of those criteria. What most people don’t know, is that the sheer volume of candidates was designed by a couple of candidates to vote split to enable 1 to win. Wasn’t me, I’ve never heard of any of these people before, except Thibert, and her campaign is the most pathetic of all, she had her husband hit my political page with 27 comments while i kept my cool, and I’ve been referring her supporters to it for weeks.

    All you bloggists should read each others blogs, then you’d know a thing or two. By the way Kyle, Ku-de-tah turned out to be Klu – de – naw. Racism doesn’t wash in millwoods dude.
    I’m still referring people to Corn’s page, (because it is default hit for googling Ward 12 anyway.

    Nick Chamchuk for Ward 12 (Candidate).

    Reply
  16. Garry

    Sorry Nick but your premise is flawed. You budgeted it out and found you only need $1400.00? That is fine, except you have no chance of winning the election. You could have budgeted $0 or $3200.00 and it would come to the same thing. Previous successful municipal elections have shown that you need to raise between $50,000 and $80,000 to win a council seat and around $500,000 to win the mayoral race. Just because somebody raises that amount is no guarantee of winning, but if you don’t raise that amount you don’t have a chance. I think it is great that you want to be involved on city council and I wish you all the best, but I hope you don’t get your hopes up too much so that you aren’t too disappointed on Election Day. On one hand I truly believe that running for political office should be open to all but on the other hand I wish that at least half the candidates in this election would realize they don’t have a chance to win and drop out (like Jeb Bush) so that people can concentrate on the serious contenders.

    Reply

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