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"Ever wonder if City Council is as contentious and chaotic as it is sometimes portrayed? Here you can get a progressive perspective on some of the issues from someone who spent four years in the trenches. Totally unbiased, though! Feel free to comment but keep it respectful, just like they do at council."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A big blue tent: Politics makes strange bedfellows

On City Council, they frequently voted in opposition to each other. Can they sing from the same hymnbook?

There’s a rumour out there, likely to be confirmed (or possibly denied) Friday morning that Cheryl Miller will be seeking the nomination for the Progressive Conservatives (provincial) in London-Fanshawe. With Nancy Branscombe already nominated to represent the same party in London North Centre, this could get interesting.

When Miller announced that she was not seeking re-election to City Council, many of us were not convinced she meant it. She had made similar statements prior to past elections although she certainly was more adamant about it this time around.

Being on Council was probably more fun when the votes went her way without even working for it. The past four years were different. Too often she found herself on the losing side of controversial votes, especially when the vote was on issues dealing with development versus environmental protection.

The loss of Board of Control was a serious blow to Miller. With a Board of Control she could usually count on three or four votes going her way; without it, who knows? Increasingly, she began to use newstalk radio as a means of voicing her unhappiness with Council and some of its members. By the time she announced that she would be co-chairing Joe Fontana’s campaign, her personal attacks on the Mayor were nothing short of vicious.

When I campaigned municipally, I was often asked about my party leanings. I would respond that I thought it was important to put aside party politics when representing municipal constituents. Indeed, I found it easy to work with people of all political stripes as long as you stay focussed on the issues and the well-being of the community. But there were some on Council for whom party affiliation was paramount, either their own or that of others.

There were also some surprises. I found Nancy Branscombe to be far different from what I would have expected based on her past candidacy for the Canadian Alliance party. She turned out be non-ideological, hard-working and co-operative. We didn’t always agree but we could talk and agree that the city and our constituents should come before any dogma. I think she learned that I wasn’t some flaming revolutionary.

I also learned that party affiliation is not necessarily a guarantee of social and economic values, even for those who have strong party loyalties. Some of the Liberal members of Council are well to the “right” of the Conservative members. This made it easy for Liberal members like Bud Polhill and Roger Caranci to align themselves with Conservatives like Tom Gosnell, Paul VanMeerbergen and Cheryl Miller.

I think ultimately, at the municipal level, the issue is not one of party politics but how closely one is tied to the development industry, by occupation in the case of Gosnell, Miller and Caranci, and by campaign donations for all. In 2006, for example, Miller received $10,000 in donations almost all from the development industry, including those that were described as coming from individuals. Most were at the maximum of $750.

Nancy Branscombe, on the other hand, refused to accept any donations over $100, individuals and corporations alike. That makes her much more independent in her decision-making.

That difference quickly manifests itself in voting patterns, with Branscombe and Miller often finding themselves in opposition on controversial votes whether they dealt with problematic development applications, environmental protection or dinging the taxpayer (Miller was more likely to vote in favour of items that would increase taxes).

They also differed in the degree of involvement in committee and council work with Branscombe chairing two heavy duty Council committees (Service Review and London Transit Commission Long Term Growth) during her first term. Miller, on the other hand, was rarely to be seen at City Hall other than for Monday night Standing Committees or Council and she sometimes missed crucial votes on various items including budget items. She did spend more time on the airwaves, however.

When she announced her intention to seek the nomination for the London North Centre Progressive Conservative Party, Branscombe stated that she believed she could do even more for her constituents if she were elected to Queen’s Park. But in party politics, she will have to follow the party line. And so will Miller. It will be interesting to see how these two very different Conservatives manage to sing from the same hymnbook.

And who can sing louder?


Sean Hurley said...

As a keen observer of provincial politics, I can tell you Ms. Miller's views are far better represented in Mr. Hudak's party than those of Ms. Branscombe. Mr. Hudak has made no bones about his agenda which includes a War on All Things Green and a return to days long past and unrecoverable which is to say he is without an economic platform of any value.

I have also noticed Ms. Branscombe participating in events to promote disgruntlement over electricity prices when Mr. Hudak's solution to Ontario's energy future, nuclear, would break the fiscal back of the province while burdening future generations with a mess that can't ever be cleaned up.

Anonymous said...

Yep, Miller is a hard rightist, more mouth than brains. Mean and never one to let facts get in her way.