Edmonton Civic Election Ward 6 has been dominated by the presence of two candidates who came out of the gate early and have been mobilizing all kinds of forces. It is impressive politicking, and I have already blogged about the difference between being the best at campaigning and being the best at the job.
I have already blogged about a head-to-head comparison of Heather MacKenzie and Candas Jane Dorsey with respect to ActivatED2013, a group claiming to be in favour of "progressive" candidates but with a shifting definition for what that means. (And today they once again repeated the erroneous information that only MacKenzie has held elected public office - and they know this is false. But hey, they ignored the union/business donations and the P3s and the qualifications of other candidates in their endorsement - see my other blog post - so why expect anything different?)
Now let's talk about Scott McKeen and what I observed at the forums and from people on the doorsteps.
First, let me take a moment and admit that I am irked about the choice of a moustache as his iconic symbol. That choice, which might seem innocuous enough, symbolizes something completely different to me. Instead of a policy, he offers a prop. Not just any prop, but one that is almost uniquely gendered. If you choose to make such a gendered prop your brand, what is the message? If a female candidate had used the outline of her lipstick-decorated lips or a cartooned image of another part of her anatomy or hairstyle, what would the message be? Would we respect it? In an election where there are questions about whether or not there will be any women on the council, it seems oddly out of touch to have a candidate using a moustache as a symbol. Now, McKeen might well say it is the most memorable thing about him - which means he needs to work on his platform some more.
Second, McKeen was very slow to develop a platform. He wasn't alone in this - there were other candidates who waited to gather more input from residents of Ward 6 before finalizing their platform. But McKeen's experience, which is largely based on 8 years reporting on City Council meetings (by his own admission), he would have us believe has prepared him uniquely for a leadership role. Well, shouldn't someone who wants us to believe he has been deeply observant for 8 years be starting the campaign with some idea of what he wants to achieve as a councillor? So as the campaign has progressed, and as McKeen has talked vague points in the forums, I have wondered exactly what he thinks he would contribute. In terms of ideas, almost every other candidate outstrips McKeen - and it shouldn't be that way if McKeen truly believes his reporting is equivalent to being qualified to do. It is especially weird since McKeen ran unsuccessfully in the last election.
Third, this week I started delivering election flyers to homes in Oliver (his current base) and Grovenor and Glenora. People I know in those areas expressed puzzlement: McKeen had come to their door but he didn't seem to have anything concrete to say. All right, so maybe the people I know were just expressing solidarity with my candidate. Except that people I didn't know - but who wanted to talk about the election because I was there with a flyer in my hand, even though I am not the candidate - were saying the same thing. McKeen has name recognition, but they find his platform feels like he's saying what he thinks will get him elected. It is not the platform of a leader. Most of the other candidates outstrip him in this regard for both the breadth of their platforms and their ideas: Kapitza, Forsythe, MacKenzie, Dorsey, Hollis. Kyle Brown had a clear but narrow focus on green initiatives - but at least he wasn't afraid to start somewhere! Taz Bouchier likewise - tackling some of the harder social issues of a complex Ward. (Note: this statement should not be construed as endorsing those platforms.) Some of the others did not shine.
Fourth, I attended the World Cafe reverse forum. There were several Ward 6 candidates in attendance, and I got to sit at tables with some of them. The purpose of a reverse forum is for the citizens to tell the candidates what they think and feel about issues affecting them. Some of the candidates were really receptive and well prepared. Others were receptive but not as well-read on the various issues affecting these people - and there were several "Oh, really? I didn't know that." moments from those candidates - which is excellent. After all, you can't know what you don't know (although I would maintain that these candidates should have known something).
But there were also candidates who walked right past anyone from a different Ward (the numbers were on the name tags), who interrupted speakers at the tables, and who appeared to think they had nothing to learn from the citizens. I watched one man try to express a complicated issue only to be interrupted several times by two candidates - one of them McKeen - until another candidate intervened and asked everyone to let the man tell his story. Now, maybe McKeen thought his interruptions were helpful - but they came across as dismissive and rude.
Fifth (and possibly related), McKeen always seems to be headed to the next thing rather than giving his full focus to the people in front of him. Perhaps he thinks his name recognition and moustache mean people don't need to know anything more. Showing up only briefly at events where other candidates are really committing to spending time with the people who took the trouble to come out...well, it does look like a media person deciding these people don't count enough when he could be spending time with other people.
Sixth, the platform itself. I will go through his website tabs.
The following is an excerpt from Scott McKeen's election website under the tab "Key Ideas" (http://www.scottmckeen.ca/key_ideas)
- We must build the core of our city together. Consultation and engagement with Ward 6 residents is Scott’s top priority.
- Ward 6 is Edmonton’s showpiece. Only proper funding and attention from City Hall will allow it to reach its potential.
- Investing in Ward 6 communities will attract new residents and slow urban sprawl. High-quality urban design, with neighbourhood input and integration, is essential.
- Scott will fight for preventative, community policing in Ward 6. Cops walking beats is proven to prevent disorder and crime.
- Prudent investment in high-calibre facilities and civic services is the Edmonton way. But council is duty-bound to use restraint on tax increases and borrowing.
1) Consultation is his priority. Is that an idea? How about making sure the various city departments revise their consultation processes. Councillors have been listening; it is administration that tends to decide first and listen later. McKeen should know that if he's been paying attention.
2) Ward 6 is a showpiece. Umm, Ward 6 comprises many neighbourhoods that are not "showpieces" and might not want to be, and other neighbourhoods that ARE showpieces and don't need more money. As for proper attention and funding from City Hall - well, there are going to be competing demands for city funding - and there are some complexities around conflicting views on development. Also, downtown is more likely to be able to attract some kinds of private development. So what is the "idea" here? A vague, half-baked statement that is supposed to make you want to vote for him because he will...do...well, we don't know exactly what.
3) "Investing in Ward 6 communities will attract new residents and slow urban sprawl. High-quality urban design, with neighbourhood input and integration, is essential." Well, Ward 6 is already getting huge investment. This is not new. The arena. The LRT. The Royal Alberta Museum. The constant redoing of Jasper Ave. The Quarters. Boyle Renaissance. Where has McKeen been? The "fair" share of development money is probably accounted for. So what more does McKeen propose?
4) The policing fight: sorry, McKeen, but your opponent Dexx Williams has this one covered in greater detail and with real experience. And your opponent Candas Jane Dorsey has been serving on EPS committees for 17 years. This vague statement is all you could come up with? I don't see an "idea" here.
5) "Prudent investment in high-calibre facilities and civic services is the Edmonton way. But council is duty-bound to use restraint on tax increases and borrowing." With his statement, McKeen doesn't even say which way he will lean. Or how it works with his previous "ideas" that cost more $$.
Look at the Major Projects tab. What you will find is a summary for the arena, the Rossdale site, the City Centre Airport. Except what does McKeen say? All he says boils down to this: these were planned by previous administrations and we will follow the plan. See anything new there? ANYTHING? I mean, there is a moustache. That's different. Any ideas, any contribution, any acknowledgment that those projects continue to be divisive? What about new ideas for Ward 6? What about the planned disruption of the east end of Ward 6 by the LRT?
Ah, that's in the Transportation tab. Here's the problem: while McKeen has a policy on the LRT not dividing communities, it was his competitor Candas Jane Dorsey who was actually tackling City Hall and the Transportation department in a protracted struggle over the routes. As for the other Transportation issues, McKeen wants good roads and bike lanes and walkability. Who doesn't? And he wants there to be money for all these things. Good luck with that. So is there a single real idea or plan here? How does he propose to change the LRT routes when years of consultation have failed? He must know that, right? A man with such a keen interest in the city? And then there's that last bit - about nuisance vehicles. My favourite quote from this page:
"Secondly, cars with little or no noise suppression are more common today."
True. As are quieter electric cars and hybrid cars. With serious issues about transportation in and out of the city core, with development causing more stress on vital downtown arteries, with the whole question of how we build and maintain our bridges, with the issues of parking lots vs development - THIS is where McKeen offers something concrete: ticketing the odd noisy car? He's kidding, right? No, he's not. Because that's as far as he's able to commit right now. For someone who was covering City Hall all those years when some key decisions were made, the lack of vision or detail here is...baffling. But, hey, he has a moustache.
Next tab: Safety.
Community policing is not a new idea - and McKeen is right that the city started in that direction and seems to have lost its way. This, again, is a place where Williams and Dorsey have the edge. His desire for safety-oriented urban design is also nothing new - but how does he propose to make it a reality? Zoning? Permits? And how can you balance that desire for changing neighbourhoods with a desire for balancing budgets?
Putting the Poverty Reduction Strategy on this page borders on an insult. Poverty reduction is not a safety issue, keeping "the rest of us" safe from the homeless. Poverty is about a lot more than not having a home. So McKeen says other areas of the city need to accept housing facilities. Guess what? That does not address poverty. Putting the facilities in affluent neighbourhoods doesn't always meet with kindness. The economic opportunities for the homeless - the bottle depots and the scrap yard and the day labour offices - what is the plan for having opportunity in those other communities? Yes, a focus on housing can help address the other issues. But putting facilities in areas with higher real estate costs and a need to add services - well, that is expensive. Where does the money come from? How will he overcome the resistance of other communities? Is he not aware of the Quarters plans? Sorry - the Ward 6 candidates from the east side (Candas Jane Dorsey and Alfie White, both residents of Boyle Street and both having been involved in the Boyle Renaissance development) are ahead of McKeen on this one.
As for neighbourhood cleanliness and putting the core first - well, hardly a new idea. So how do you convince the other areas who want their streets cleaned - the noisy areas paying high taxes - that the core comes first? Edmonton IS pretty clean. There are some specific problem areas - and the best way of dealing with dirt and garbage is prevention. So...where is the money going to come for this wish-list of a perfectly shiny city centre? And what about the other areas that think of themselves as showpieces - Glenora, for example?
Great Neighbourhoods tab: infill housing and densification. Well, there's not a single new idea here.
I've been hearing some great ideas in some of the City consultations on The Quarters, Chinatown, Boyle Street, McCauley. These neighbourhoods are not going to maintain character through infill (although bad infill will hurt them). Soundscape as an element of the Chinatown part of the Quarters, twinning with a town in Italy to boost connections with Little Italy, promoting unique cultural features... These ideas are not coming from Scott McKeen.
Municipal Services tab: At last, something specific! Three items, all of which require more money and I am curious about the benefit.
Seniors tab: he will carry on the work already in progress. Ummm. That's nice. What about initiatives to repair sidewalks outside their homes? What about increasing the number of appropriate assisted living or long-term care facilities? What about working with the various agencies that are trying to help seniors remain independent? What about dealing with food deserts that make it hard for seniors to get groceries?
City-Wide Priorities tab:
- McKeen's musings on a regional model focus on increased provincial funding - like that has not been a constant chorus from Mandel et al. Notice that McKeen shies away from discussing regional cooperation models.
The City Charter idea is interesting, but how will it work? This might be one of the few elements of McKeen's platform that intrigues me.
A vague nod praising sustainability. Not a plan or ideas, just indicating that he's for sustainability. What candidate isn't?
Arts and Culture? McKeen is outstripped in this area by Dorsey, who was a driving force behind some of our municipal and provincial cultural institutions.
- Engagement: It is not new for a councillor to be engaged with the public. That is not where the disjoint lies. Nor is McKeen the only (or the best, given the contents of this election site) communicator in the campaign. Yes, a newsletter to explain decisions would be nice - how much will that cost? Why are the media outlets not good enough? Why not use the network of community leagues for that? (There's an example of a REAL idea, McKeen. You're welcome!)
Sorry, folks. Nothing here but the 'stache.
McKeen is popular, but I have not been impressed by his platform or his public appearances. Still find Dorsey to be the best of the lot, with MacKenzie second. If being a City Hall reporter makes you an expert on being a councillor, being a medical reporter should make you a shoe-in as a doctor.
Dorsey, MacKenzie and Forsythe have all had leadership positions in organizations dealing with various aspects of the City administration. Their experience is deeper and more direct than McKeen's. If you feel a moustache is the most important thing about a candidate, then by all means vote for one.