The last time we had an election in Canada that ran more than 78 days the CPR had not been built. Most Canadians travelled by horse or walked to the polls. There’s no doubt Stephen Harpers decision to stretch the campaign has to do with the Conservative war chest, which is as big as the Liberal and NDP campaign funds combined. The plan is to carpet bomb the electorate with attack ads against Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair, leaving the Liberals and NDP in the position of having to deploy their relatively modest resources more sparingly. Still with fully two-thirds of the electorate saying they want a change in government, there is danger in the Conservative strategy of leaving themselves “out there” for such an extended period. They will be exposed as the Duffy trial resumes later this month, reminding everyone of the cynicism that precipitated the flurry of senate appointments that brought Duffy and Pam Wallin to the senate. A bad debate performance could dog any one of the leaders through the campaign. Speaking of debates, time will tell whether Harper’s boycott of debates organized by the Big Three broadcasters could backfire. Denied the role of hosting the debates, CBC, CTV and Global will instead cover and interpret the debates to Canadians. Make no mistake; such coverage can’t help but be coloured by the naked mutual loathing that Harper has cultivated with the media over the past few years. Expectations of Justin Trudeau have been so diminished by the “just not ready” ads that even a passible performance in the debates and on the hustings could have impact. Then there’s the question of whether Thomas Mulcair can withstand a period of intense media and opposition scrutiny. There’s a long race ahead and nothing is certain.
Tightening the screws at city hall
Commenting on the latest revelations of staff expense irregularities at Hamilton city hall, Councillor Sam Merulla gave much credit to members of council, saying “We’re uncovering, were shining a light, we’re exposing and making public and were holding people accountable. No aspect of the corporation will escape scrutiny. ” This is a more enthusiastic version of events than we recall when measures to clean up the culture at city hall were first introduced by City Manager Chris Murray. We recall some skepticism around the table at the time. Whatever the case, if councillors are really serious about improving the corporate culture they are going to have to address their own historic role in creating the “climate of low expectations.” Some members of council engage in questionable personal relationships with staff that can, and do, compromise performance and undermine the chain of command in the bureaucracy. Some staffers as a result have become “sacred cows” within their departments as a result of their close ties to elected members. This creates resentment by staff who just want to do their jobs and it poisons the workplace. In light of the latest revelations, some councillors may be backing away from these relationships… and that is a good thing.
Campaign finance reforms needed
The Ontario government is seeking input on ways to improve the Municipal Elections Act that governs campaign finances. We think the current rules are too inflexible. To have no choice but to ban two first time candidates from running for failure to engage an audit of financials that were otherwise clean, is ridiculous. Some measures have to be put in place to ensure that requests for compliance audits aren’t being used as retribution against candidates who have some sort of history with the complainants. A possible solution would be a publication ban on complaints against candidates until there is a ruling. This would avoid the prolonged and usually overblown media coverage these filings attract. At present campaign filing violations are deemed “strict liability’ offences. This puts the burden of proof on the accused candidate. Things like the intent of the candidate don’t count. Given that a candidate can be removed from office or banned from running, a more flexible process is needed. In cases where it is obvious there was no illegal intent, which is the case in the cast majority of these complaints, there should be a grace period allowing the candidate to correct errors. That would be more in line with the income tax act where taxpayers get a chance to re-file or otherwise address errors.