Many people think that partisan politics is a bad thing. I think that most can agree though that what is even worse than a political party in a partisan system is a hidden political party in a system that is expected to be non partisan. That is what the initial incarnation of the now defunct CivicCamp group was.
It was recently reported that CivicCamp has disbanded. That isn’t exactly true as the legally registered CivicCamp still exists and it was formed over a year ago.
What has happened is that the group that used to run Naheed Nenshi’s personal political party that wasn’t a political party have given up on the name that they purposely refused to register in order to dodge accountability.
Nenshi and some supporters formed CivicCamp prior to the 2010 civic election in Calgary. There are many advantages to having an organization of people focused on common policy goals trying to get a person elected. Without a formal party system in municipal politics however, the ever canny Nenshi formed CivicCamp which claimed to be non-partisan when it was clearly anything but.
The organization was purposely formed without being legally registered anywhere. This meant that the key people involved and the means of funding never had to be disclosed publically. That avoided the clearly sticky questions that would have come about if folks realized that this apparently non-partisan group was almost exclusively populated by Naheed Nenshi’s supporters. Official campaign financing has some pretty strict rules as well. With a group that isn’t a group however, finance questions could be dodged.
Let’s be clear. CivicCamp was a political party. “A political party is an organization of people which seeks to achieve goals common to its members through the acquisition and exercise of political power.”
After the 2010 election CivicCamp became a useful tool in promoting Nenshi’s policy initiatives and ideals to a divided council. Again, no disclosure was given on who ran this group or who funded it despite their making formal presentations to council and providing input on committee. Rather nifty politics.
In the 2013 CivicCamp went back into campaign mode. This is where the line really was crossed as this group that wasn’t a group somehow secured financing from the Calgary Foundation and then proceeded to go into full campaign mode for Nenshi and his chosen council members (an informal council political party).
While refusing to disclose their own financing until late into the election, the CivicCamp group hypocritically, selectively and relentlessly harangued candidates who were not a part of Nenshi’s slate by demanding that these candidates disclose their finances earlier than the legally required disclosure date. In one circumstance one of the CivicCamp gang even camped outside of the campaign office of one of the candidates. They were conspicuously silent on the disclosures of the Nenshi slate however even though some of them were pretty slow in releasing their backers too.
In a political move worthy of Frank Underwood, the CivicCamp group assumed control of all of the forums for mayoral and council candidates. Organizing forums is a tough and thankless task so when a group of folks raised their hands and offered to take on the task, alas few took issue with it.
In election forums, people can usually ask questions from the floor. This allows ground level concerns and issues to be presented directly to candidates and we can watch the unvarnished responses and answers from the contenders for the electoral spots. CivicCamp would have none of this however. What they did was “crowd source” among their supporters and created a set of ranked questions that would be presented to the candidates. Unsurprisingly the questions came out looking as if Naheed Nenshi’s mother (or likely his sister) wrote them. While tax increases polled high on the list of concerns of most Calgarians, somehow it didn’t even make the list of CivicCamp softballs for Nenshi. It was simply brutal and took away the whole point of open forums.
In one of the forums, Brian Pincott (hard left councillor and part of the Nenshi slate) didn’t like the moderator and complained. The CivicCamp group quickly obliged and replaced the moderator with one to Pincott’s liking of course.
Having watched this display I simply couldn’t stomach it any longer. I did a NUANS search and then formally formed and registered CivicCamp as a non-profit society. The initial group’s careful efforts to conceal themselves left them wide open for me to do so. Had they simply spent $80 and filled out a form they could have prevented that but of course that would have meant practicing the accountability and transparency that they tried to demand of some candidates in the election.
While the disbanded group is claiming that they are simply moving along because they have accomplished so much (sounds like Danielle Smith) The reality is that they simply cant do anything any longer now that I own the name. I even offered to give them the name and registration if they wanted to make things open and formal. They refused the offer which is rather telling.
To be clear here, many if not most of the people involved in that CivicCamp group were well meaning. These were not people trying to harm the city and they were volunteers. It is not like they were pocketing funds. Despite those intentions, they still were participating in an astroturfing effort that masked what was essentially a political party. I could not abide by that any longer.
There is nothing and there was nothing stopping this group from forming and operating as a registered non profit society. They just have to embrace accountability and transparency. As long as they refuse to do so though, I can hardly feel badly that their club just cant hold itself together.
Practicing accountability and transparency is more difficult than demanding others do so. It sure ads credibility when one practices these things as well as preaches them.
I do hope that the folks behind the initial CivicCamp group have learned from this.