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.
- Nav Kaur has been endorsed by New Democratic Party MLAs Rod Loyola and Shannon Phillips and recent federal Liberal candidate Beatrice Ghettuba.
- Arundeep Sandhu was vice-president of organization for the Progressive Conservative Party until late 2015 and posted on his Twitter feed that he has the support of Sherwood Park Conservative MP Garnett Genuis.
- Danisha Bhaloo has been endorsed by former PC MLAs Stephen Mandel and Heather Klimchuk and her campaign manager, Catherine Keill, is a former PC candidate and current Vice President of Communications for the PC Party.
- Yash Pal Sharma has been endorsed by former PC MLA Peter Sandhu.
- Balraj Manhas ran for a PC Party nomination in 2015.
- Moe Banga was a candidate for a federal Conservative nomination in 2014.
- Don Koziak ran as a Wildrose Party candidate in 2012 and 2015.
- Laura Thibert was briefly nominated as a Wildrose Party candidate before the 2015 election.
- Mike Butler has run for the NDP and Liberals in numerous provincial and federal elections.
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.