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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."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Finger-pointing and chest-thumping

Bryan Bicknell of A-Channel called me today to get my reaction to the mayor’s noted tendency to blame the previous mayor and council for the bad news and take credit for the good. “At what point do you stop blaming others and take responsibility for what happens? How long should you give credit to your predecessor?” he wanted to know.

The questions are particularly pertinent as we see the current mayor struggling with how to deliver a zero per cent tax increase, a 2.5 per cent assessment growth, and 10,000 new jobs.

There has indeed been some good news and some bad news for the mayor in this regard. Keiper is closing, resulting in the loss of 200 jobs. Negotiated settlements with the inside and outside unionized workers will save the city $2.6M. General Dynamics wins a $138M deal to build light armoured vehicles for the US to flip. The city’s assessment growth came in at 1.5 per cent rather than the projected .5 per cent. A local family business, Angelo’s, goes under.

The mayor is not to blame for the job losses at Keiper; its situation is the outcome of continental and international forces far beyond his control and the control of his predecessor. Likewise, he can hardly take credit for the General Dynamics deal. As for the labour negotiations, these were pretty much concluded before the election but could not be ratified until the new council had been sworn in because the outgoing council was a “lame duck”. The original assessment growth estimate was deliberately set low because of economic uncertainty and because the city may not legally run a deficit.

As for Angelo’s, even if the mayor and all of council had shopped there daily, and some probably did, I doubt that it could have been saved.

Negative rhetoric is not unusual during an election campaign. Criticizing, casting aspersions, and laying blame by challengers are all part of the game, just as justifying past decisions and running on one’s record are par for the course for incumbents. Negative campaigns can be very effective for winning elections, as I have learned to my chagrin.

But the election is over. It’s time to focus on moving ahead.

Each council inherits the impact of decisions made by previous councils. Each council experiences the effects of outside political, economic and social forces. These are things that can’t be controlled.

What can be controlled, or at least influenced, is the tone that the mayor sets for the current council. Blaming predecessors for past decisions not only fails to ignore the context in which those decisions were made, but also marginalizes the current nine councillors who served on the previous council, many of whom enjoy significant popular support in their wards. It undermines team-building.

Municipal politics works differently from party politics. It’s not a matter of government and opposition, but of bringing together a team of 15 members who will provide a diversity of experience and viewpoints, who will debate vigorously, who will represent their constituents and the broader interests of the city.

The current mayor has experienced both types of politics, but he appears to be stuck in the adversarial approach. A little less chest thumping would go a long way to building that team.

So, for the next few months, Your Worship, give credit to the staff and the previous council for the good news, and do your best to deal constructively and collegially with the bad news. That way, come the next election, you’ll be able to point to a record of accomplishment that goes beyond the numbers. You will have built a council that is respected and whose members respect each other.


Kate B. said...

I totally agree, Gina. Blaming the past is too easy and can lead to people covering up mistakes made by the current administration. It's too bad politics is so... political.

fred said...

Our mayor is at it again, lashing out at the Library and the LTC...


for doing exactly what he's asked of them...


Is it possible that now, seeing that he can't hit that magic 0% without some fairly noticeable cutting, that he's going to try to shift the blame to those being cut? He certainly seems to be trying to rally the torch and pitchfork types...