As of this publication there are two weeks left in the current Municipal election campaign. This is the time when voters start really focusing on their candidate decisions. The three perceived frontrunners in Hamilton have significant experience on Hamilton City Council. What follows are a number of criteria that voters could apply in evaluating candidates.
The Munk School of Global Affairs, in its 2014 municipal election primer observes that in the last term of Council Hamilton resolved area rating and the stadium issue—two highly divisive issues left over from the Eisenberger mayoralty. The paper suggests that the new council will take office facing a number of familiar issues—many dependent on relations with the province. These include provincial downloading, transit, land-use and the economy. The paper observes that “the mayor alone can accomplish only a limited amount—the capacity of council to deliver on its agenda depends on leadership that can sketch out a greater vision and gather councillors behind it.” As cities are creatures of the Province, voters should give weight to the ability or track record of a candidate to forge positive working relationships with the province. Councillors can afford to bash the province, Mayors—not so much.
Arguably no mayor since 2004 has enjoyed a particularly harmonious relationship with Hamilton City Council. Larry Di Ianni came closest, normally being able to cobble together a simple majority on his key issues, the exception being the Maple Leaf plant debate; but his term ended with his censure by council over campaign finance issues. During his term as mayor, Fred Eisenberger found himself on the wrong end of some lopsided standing recorded votes, and in the end was blamed for the stadium fiasco. Bob Bratina also has been censured by his council, and subjected to investigation by the Integrity Commissioner, in part because of his undisguised contempt for the voting clique that has dominated Hamilton council for years. Still the council came together on the aforementioned stadium and area rating controversies, and for the voter, probably the best question to ask is which councillor can best work between the competing issues of the old city wards and the fast-growing suburbs.
While issues like whether or not LRT will transform Hamilton dominate political discussion, the real issue is much more fundamental. Can Hamilton create a climate where industry continues to be attracted, while at the same time we diversify into a more knowledge-based economy. The two are not exclusive. Manufacturing continues to provide 30% of Hamilton’s employment. Much of it is advanced manufacturing, reliant on technology and a surprising amount of it is global in scope. Goods manufactured in Hamilton are shipped around the world. If Hamilton is to address the imbalance between the residential tax burden and the commercial-industrial sector the next mayor needs to demonstrate a thorough understanding of what now drives the local economy and what the future potential is.
At the end of the day we should choose candidates the way we choose employees or friends. Character matters. Avoid candidates who have demonstrated mistrust of the democratic process by withholding or distorting information, or who have cut corners to achieve their objectives. Look for candidates who are not afraid to speak plainly on issues and who stand up for transparency. Don’t be afraid to vote for someone who may not win.
You wouldn’t hire somebody without checking out their qualifications. Yet we elect our political leaders, entrusting them with the public purse often on the basis of name recognition alone. Looking at some of the races for council and the boards of education, there are some extremely well-qualified people offering themselves for public office. Many of the candidates have enjoyed successful careers, and most of them have lengthy resumes in community activity and volunteerism. In fairness to these people who have invested their time and money, check out their qualifications and compare it to those asking to be returned.
It has never been easier for members of the public to find out about their municipal candidates. Click on www.bayobserver.ca and follow our election 2014 link to find all the candidates and in many cases links to a candidate’s website. We won’t endorse candidates, believing that our role is to report and the reader’s role is to decide; but if you want to know what the Bay Observer has reported about a candidate over the past 4 years, click on www.bayobserver.ca and use the search window at the top of our home page to type in the name of a candidate. Looking at some of the races for council and the boards of education