Do party politics advance the municipal agenda?
Whenever I was asked about which party I represented when running for municipal office, I would remind the voter that at the municipal level, there are no parties, only individuals. I did that, not only because party politics is usually a negative factor at the municipal level (i.e. it usually loses you more votes than can be gained), I also genuinely believe that without parties you can better represent your constituents at the local level.
Let’s face it: many of the issues dealt with locally do not contain a strong ideological element. People want potholes filled, properties maintained, sidewalks cleared. Constituents expect a return phone call and assistance in learning how to navigate around city hall.
Not that values aren’t important; they certainly are. Strongly held values about transparency and accountability, for example, help to ensure that councillors work to put in place the mechanisms that facilitate their implementation. Values about democracy will encourage councillors to insist on public participation and consultation. Values of equality and fairness can give voice to those who have difficulty being heard. Valuing the environment will mean that questions about environmental impacts are raised in debate about growth and development. Each party will stress certain political values. That is why people, especially those who are politically active, frequently join them.
But holding certain values isn’t the same as advancing those individuals who share them or who are part of the group. In my four years on council, I found it easy to find agreement on a wide variety of issues- social, economic, environmental, cultural- with people of all political persuasions, providing we were willing to deal with the issues rather than promoting a club or party. You leave your party politics on the doorstep.
That’s not to say that members of council don’t care about their political affiliations. Some clearly do, and usually not in a way that encourages cooperation.
So I found it disturbing that Mayor Joe Fontana chose to use the Diamond Aircraft situation to showcase his political friends.And I was disappointed to learn that MP Glen Pearson, for whom I have the greatest respect, participated in what was clearly a partisan set up.
Diamond Aircraft is hoping to get a $35M federal government loan, to add to the $20M loan it received in 2008, to get its production of its five-seater D-Jet off the ground. The company has been through some rough times with the recent economic recession. When people have big losses in the stock market, they are not likely to be shopping for private jets, so some government help would come in handy. More production means more jobs, as many as 500 it is claimed, and certainly, the city would benefit from that.
It wouldn’t be the first private company to benefit from federal largesse as part of a job-saving and job creating plan. Certainly, saving 200 existing jobs, and perhaps creating an additional 300, would be helpful in meeting the mayor’s target of 2,000 new jobs per year.
No wonder the mayor was interested in whether and when the money would arrive. And with an election likely in the near future, surely now was the time to put on the pressure to close the deal.
But why make a partisan issue out of it? Why not get together all the elected federal representatives- Irene Mathyssen, Glen Pearson, Ed Holder, Joe Preston- together to get their commitment to bring the issue forward to Ottawa? And weren’t they recently at city hall meeting with the Finance and Administration Committee to discuss issues just like this?
Instead, the Mayor, himself a former liberal MP and cabinet minister, chose to invite Liberal MP Glen Pearson and two other Liberal candidates, Roger Caranci and Doug Ferguson, along with Liberal Industry critic John McCallum, to tour the plant and hold a news conference. That’s what you do when you are running for a party, not when you are the mayor of a city that depends on cooperation and goodwill from higher levels of government regardless of the party in power.
It wasn’t long ago that our local federal politicians were celebrated in the media for their cooperative approaches to issues, working together for the good of the people of London.
But clearly, our own mayor doesn’t get it.
It’s the same style that he uses all too often at council and committees, promoting his favourites and marginalizing those who are not on “his team.”
But to get what he wants, whether its jobs or a special tax levy for pet projects, he will need the support of more than his team of party stalwarts. He will need the support of a majority of council and good relations with whatever parties are in power after the next federal and provincial elections.
He's not likely to get that with a guest list that's too exclusive.