I must admit I didn’t see this one coming.
Although I was aware that Nancy Branscombe had continued to be active in party politics at provincial and federal levels, I was taken aback when she called me Friday morning to give me a heads up of the news release that would follow that afternoon. She would be seeking the Progressive Conservative nomination for the riding of London North Centre in the 2011 provincial election.
My first thought was for Joni Baechler and other progressive voices on council. Joni and Nancy have worked well together. Although they have not always voted the same way on issues, they share some core values on financial sustainability and development and their styles have been complimentary. Should Nancy be successful in gaining the nomination and winning the seat in October, her win will certainly be a significant loss for our local council, especially after Susan Eagle’s move to Barrie.
There is no doubt that Nancy has shown strong leadership on council, especially on financial matters. It was she who, frustrated with the inability to make significant inroads on the budget, spearheaded the Services Review Committee which culminated in an entirely new approach to budgeting, the first Service-based budget in the province. Her style is forthright and she doesn’t mince words.
That makes it all the more curious that Mayor Fontana would take it upon himself to warn Branscombe to "pay attention" and to avoid “political grandstanding”. Although grandstanding is not unknown on council, especially by members who have been nominated to represent their parties at the federal level (think Paul VanMeerbergen in 2008 and Roger Caranci during the past year), Branscombe’s style is direct and focussed, bordering on blunt. She sticks to the issues, does her homework, and doesn’t worry unduly about who gets the credit as long as the job gets done. She is not likely to be “distracted”.
Why, as Fontana seems to imply, would Branscombe be unable to carry out her municipal responsibilities and participate in a provincial campaign as well? What about the precedent of Caranci and VanMeerbergen? And they had the additional “distraction” of full-time jobs! What about all the other members of council? Are they not “distracted” by their jobs of social worker, executive, teacher, entrepreneur, sales representative?
Branscombe says she made her decision to run after meeting PC leader Tim Hudak a couple of weeks ago. She argues that she may be able to do more for London and her constituents as a member of a provincial PC government than as a member of council. Be that as it may, isn’t it also possible that the mayor’s treatment of her in the committee appointments may have helped to solidify her decision? Why participate if your achievements and contributions are not recognized or valued, especially when you are being courted by your own political family whose political fortunes appear to be on the upswing?
Whatever the outcome of the nomination meeting and the provincial election, I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to work with Nancy Branscombe. Despite our political differences, we were able to find common ground and work cooperatively at the municipal level.
That is what is so special about municipal politics: it is possible for people of different political stripes to work together in a spirit of goodwill in the interest of the community. That is not something that happens frequently at the federal or provincial level.
Let’s hope that the new council is able to achieve that possibility, to forget about their or their colleagues' Liberal or Conservative or NDP affiliation and focus on the task at hand.
For the London Free Press story, click here.