Calgary has not seen such a dysfunctional, inept Mayor and city council in generations.
This collection of vain imbeciles has lurched from scandal to squabble to a fiscal catastrophe as they pursue their myriad of personal vanity projects while city administration muddles along rudderless.
Downtown Calgary has languished under a crippling 30% vacancy rate for years while Calgary Economic Development has focused on idiotic campaigns such as sidewalk chalk drawings in Seattle, the vain pursuit of an Olympic bid and the disbursement of a $100 million corporate welfare fund that hasn’t drawn any significant corporations.
Taxes and fees continue to rise at record rates while citizens watch their dollars pissed away on some of the ugliest, foreign sourced public “art” projects on the planet.
Traffic congestion continues to rise as streets are narrowed for an ever growing but barely utilized network of bike tracks.
The vision of a hipster’s paradise in the “East village” which will draw residents, enterprise and tourists has never materialized despite years of disproportionate focus of tax dollars and attention to eastern downtown.
Satellite communities such as Airdrie, Cochrane and Okotoks are experiencing a boom as people and businesses continue to flee the overbearing tax and regulation of the city of Calgary driven by a collection of disparate ideologues on council and in city administration.
Don’t just take my word for it. Lets look at the words of some poor souls who have had to cover the antics at Calgary city hall for 30 years.
Rick Bell never pulls punches and speaks rather bluntly to say the least. He couldn’t find a rating lower than “F” to use for them.
Or how about Don Braid? He usually isn’t too colorful and stays on the diplomatic side.
It really takes a piss poor city council to convince a seasoned columnist to call for a move so extreme as having the provincial government to intervene and fire them.
I don’t agree with provincial intervention in this case but in watching the collection of clowns in city hall this last few years I can certainly understand the sentiment.
So what to do?
Well to begin with we need to democratically fire most if not all of city council in the next election. Incumbent advantage coupled with voter apathy led to having every incumbent councilor re-elected in the last election. We need to create the means and environment where we can decisively flush these people from council chambers en masse.
Beyond electoral accountability, we need to work to ensure that the Mayor and council remain accountable between elections as well.
We need to have councilors with strong guidance from electors rather than having them drift along on their ideological or whimsical paths. The personal vanity projects and pursuit of legacies needs to end and a holistic approach to governing needs to take hold.
We need councilors who actually campaign honestly. No more pretending to be conservative only to become shameless spenders upon getting a seat.
We need councilors to work together on projects rather than bickering and cutting deals behind closed doors.
Finally we need policy guidance and the will to follow through with it.
To help achieve all of these goals what we need to do is create a municipal political party. Rest assured, that won’t make things any more partisan, it will simply bring the partisanship into the open where it belongs.
A party system isn’t a panacea of course but then nothing is. The only thing worse than an official party guiding things is having unofficial alliances and parties guiding things and that is what we are witnessing now.
We need to clean city hall out and only with an organized party will we be able to break loose those entrenched council mushrooms such as Ray Jones and Dianne Colley-Urquhart who have built careers spanning decades in city chambers while really accomplishing very little.
Incumbents in city hall hold a tremendous advantage in going into an election. They have name recognition and maintain an organizational system from past elections along with data that they can acquire while in office which helps in their re-election campaigns.
A party will provide candidates who are challenging incumbent councilors (and the Mayor) with the resources required to unseat the entrenched councilors.
To begin with, a party can provide training for their selected candidates before an election. Campaigning is a learned art form and many challengers have never run in or seriously worked on an election campaign before. They may potentially be excellent mayoral or council material but if they don’t know how to campaign they will never win the seat. An integral part of that training is the nomination process. If a person can’t defeat challengers for the right to run, they won’t be able to beat an incumbent city councilor. A party nomination process will weed out the weak and bring the winners to the forefront.
Following nominations, the party can hold training sessions for candidates and volunteers leading up to the election.
In a field overloaded with independent candidates, it is nearly impossible for a candidate to stand out. Incumbents are thrilled when a pile of people run against them in an election. It splits the vote 6 ways and the incumbent can win comfortably even with a minority of voters. Just ask Druh Farrell.
A candidate endorsed by a party will stand out. They will have standardized branding shared by 14 other candidates around the city. The party logo alone will make the candidate unique in their ward race.
With standardized branding, candidates can also take advantage of economies of scale which helps make the best use of those ever scarce campaign funds. Printers will give much better prices to a party which approaches with an order for hundreds of thousands of literature pieces and thousands of signs versus independents with small orders. Social media and website development can be created where candidates work with templates rather than paying individual web designers. Campaign office spaces can be shared as well.
A party can help provide and build the requisite database management training and be an organizational hub for prospective volunteers.
If we want to remove the bulk of incumbents on city council, a party will bring about the means to finally do so.
Once in office, councilors sharing a partisan bond will have a sense of unity and direction. Unlike the our current batch of councilors, they will be able to agree on general principles and get things done. There should be a degree of independence among the councilors but in the broader issues they will be far better in working together as fellow party members rather than a ramshackle collection of self serving independents.
A leader elected by a party will help in guiding this unity as well. Nenshi as a Mayor has been a complete failure in providing any sort of cohesion in city council. Nenshi is there for Nenshi and it shows. If a Mayor has won a party leadership process, it indicates that they already have an understanding of leadership and how to build coalitions.
Between elections, a party can bring accountability to councilors as well. Party members in a ward can keep their councilor in check and if the councilor deviates too far from their electoral base, they will lose their nomination for the next race. Fake conservatives such as Shane Keating or Ward Sutherland won’t make it past one term. Councilors will have to remain engaged with their wards if they want to keep their jobs.
Policy development can be a painful and drawn out process to say the least. I remember my terms as VP Policy for the Wildrose Party. The process is critical however. A party can provide the study and critique necessary in order to build a comprehensive policy set. While an individual may come with some expertise in a couple of fields, they can never cover everything. With the combined effort of a party, policies can be built to cover most city needs.
In having a party study policies, councilors won’t be as beholden to city administration for policy development. Countless millions are pissed away in the cottage industry of studies and commissions formed by city hall as councilors kick policy questions down the road to city administration rather than try to take them on themselves. A party can do much of this and at no cost to taxpayers. Administration driven policies invariably are modeled to benefit members of the administration rather than the taxpayers footing the bill. Lets take that role out of the hands of bureaucrats.
Calgary is heading down an ugly road with no end in sight right now. If we don’t change how we take on the next election, the outcome of the election will be no different. The incumbents will return and Calgary can look forward to four more years of dysfunctional squabbling and idiotic pet projects from councilors while core needs continue to be neglected. The massive tax and fee increases will continue as well.
A party system isn’t perfect but it beats the hell out of the mess that Calgary is enduring right now. The time to get this party going is yesterday. It will take two years to get this up and running in time for the next election. It won’t be easy to pull off but nothing worthwhile is.
Nobody can afford the status-quo any longer.