Iveson vs. Leibovici a generational battle.

Polls indicate that Don Iveson will be the next mayor of Edmonton. Of course, polling has been about as on-target lately as the Edmonton Eskimo offence. Polls also said Christie Clark would not be the premier of B.C. (she is), and that Danielle Smith could be the premier of Alberta (she isn’t).

But Iveson’s lead over Karen Leibovici and Kerry Diotte seem to be too big to be wrong, and there is a very good chance that Iveson will win. I won’t be particularly upset if he does, but neither will I be excited — and I can say the same about Leibovici. (I can’t say the same about Diotte, but I’m not even considering a Diotte victory.)

I was hoping this election would be a good one, but it has disappointed. With Diotte not a real factor, the race is between Leibovici and Iveson. And the way I see it, the only real difference between the two main challengers is about 30 years experience. (A note on Diotte: I wish he had just run for his guaranteed council seat. I like a lot of what Diotte says — he’s the kind of financial curmudgeon a council needs — but a mayor needs to project positivity, not negativity. He could have been a powerful player on an inexperienced city council. That’s a shame.)

Seriously, does anyone really believe that Edmonton will be substantially different in four years under Don Iveson as mayor than it would be under Karen Leibovici as mayor?  Both are, essentially, liberal progressives. They both promise better roads, more LRT, watching your tax dollars, blah blah blah.

I suppose there are differences in their policies, but who has time to wade through all their statements on the issues? Check out Iveson’s website: endless, boring term papers on every issue under the sun. Leibovici’s is better, but not by much. Only the most dedicated of voter (and that would not be me) would have the time or inclination to wade through thousands of words of policy and promises. (Note to both candidates: there is something called a ‘bullet point’ that works very well. Look into it.) If they differ in substance on any major issue, they haven’t made it clear to me.

This is what makes the poll today in the Edmonton Journal so amusing to me. The Leger poll found 43% believe Iveson “has the best vision for the long term future of the city”.  My guess is that you could ask that 43% to outline Iveson’s vision of the future of Edmonton, and they wouldn’t have an answer. Iveson scored heavily again on the question of “who will focus on the right priorities for Edmonton”.  Again, is there really any major difference between Leibovici and Iveson that would rate such a disparity?

So why the split? Forget the policies — I think there is a clue to be found in the endorsements of both candidates, and they way they present them.

Leibovici took out a full-page ad in the Journal listing prominent Edmontonians who endorse her candidacy. It’s a who’s who of Edmonton established money, with a smattering of some loathsome Conservative MLAs (interestingly for a former Liberal MLA, no support from Liberals). Collectively, they’re worth hundreds of millions. It’s the Establishment, if I may use an old 1960s term.

Iveson seems to be ignoring the mainstream media (I don’t recall seeing any ads for him in the Journal), and putting his money on the web. His list of endorsements is less well known, mostly young up and comers, the kinds of names you see on those self-serving ‘Top 40 under 40’ lists.   Let’s call them the Future Establishment.

The difference, as I see it, is generational. Leibovici deserves a shot at running the show more than Iveson, whose resume is anemic at best.  But it may come down to how Edmontonians seem themselves reflected in the mayoralty candidates. Are we a little dowdy and middle aged, or young and moderately handsome? We’ll know on Monday.

Memo to council candidates: here’s how to get my vote.

The civic election campaign is now officially underway, even though, judging from the thousands of signs that are now mostly knocked down along city boulevards, it has been on unofficially since Labour Day.

This will certainly be the most interesting civic election campaign in many years, with an unbeatable mayor stepping down, and six almost as unbeatable councilors stepping aside. Incumbents are generally favored in most any election, but much more so in a civic election. Even though a civic politician has more impact on your day-to-day life than your MP and MLA combined, civic votes generally have a dismal turnout, and with no party affiliation to vote for, name recognition is often all it takes.

I live in a Ward 5, where there is no incumbent, with means I will have to pay attention to the candidates in my area. So far, I am unimpressed. I recently got some literature from a candidate. It didn’t address one single civic issue; it was all platitudes about what a great city Edmonton is (cough, cough) and how the candidate will make it better (cough, cough again) just by their very presence. There are a couple of other candidates in my ward who has littered the ward with thousands upon thousands of their signs, in the hopes that signs on public property will create an impression of support. That’s how politics works, folks.

I haven’t paid too much attention to the civic vote, but not that it’s one month away, it’s time to get down to business.  So listen up, council candidates; I have one vote to give away. Somebody’s going to get it, and it might just be you! But, you’ll have to work for it.

Here’s what I want.

I don’t want promises. City councilors have a terrible time keeping promises. They are, after all, just one person on a 13-member council, one vote. Trying to get something past the other members of council — or an even greater obstacle, the bureaucracy — is a herculean, nearly impossible task. So, don’t make any promises you can’t keep.

What I want to hear from you is where you stand.

Where do you stand on tax increases? I know a candidate can’t promise a break in Edmonton’s yearly tax increases, but I’d like to hear a guarantee that you’ll vote against any tax hike. I have yet to hear why city council can’t go to the bureaucracy and tell them, “Guess what? You’re getting no additional money in next year’s budget. Work with it.” I will vote for anyone who says they will propose a zero percent increase for all city departments, including that most sacred of sacred cows, the police.  I will also vote for anyone who believes that the city has way too many employees, and who will fight to put a freeze on any further civic hiring.

Where do you stand on our roads? (In a pothole, is my guess.) I’ll vote for anyone who advocates for an increase in the roads budget. Ah, but you’re saying, ‘how can you do that with no increase in the civic budget?’ I dunno. Not my problem. Take it from another department, but do something to fix our roads. They are an embarrassment to our city.

I will vote for any candidate who will vote against the next pie-in-the-sky project from a city department manager. Edmonton is paying way too much attention to civic desserts, and not enough on the bread-and-butter, meat-and-potatoes stuff that makes a city run (roads, infrastructure, that kind of thing).  The candidate who will ask for the firing of the next city employee who comes up with an idea for a funicular to the river valley, or a redesign of Churchill Square, or another multi-million dollar footbridge across the river, will get my vote.

I know, of course, that no candidate would ever talk in these tones. Not upbeat enough, with too much hard-nosed financial thinking, and not enough platitudes and murmurings of sweet nothings. So, I’ll settle for anyone who even suggests any of the above. Give me something to latch onto, some statement that maybe, just maybe, the city needs to reorder its priorities, and you’ll get my vote.

Let the groveling begin!


Pros and cons of Edmonton’s mayoralty candidates.

First off, thank you Kerry Diotte, Karen Leibovici and Don Iveson. Thank you all for giving Edmontonians the best mayoralty race in years, likely better than 2004 when Stephen Mandel upset Bill Smith, and maybe even better than the three-way fight between Bill Smith, Robert Noce and Mike Nickel in 2001. Mayoralty races bring out the voters, and if nothing else this year’s voter turnout will almost certainly beat the pathetic 33% turnout of 2010. Mind you, it’s pretty well impossible not to beat that number.

Now that the major players are in place, let’s do a quick handicap of the three genuine contenders — and the other guy.

Kerry Diotte

Pros: Diotte is best positioned to tap into the Angry Voter bloc, peeved that city taxes keep going up even as the potholes get bigger. He is the only mayoralty candidate who consistently voted against the arena proposal, which will stand him in good stead with the considerable number of Edmontonians (particularly the older voter) who don’t like the deal. Never underestimate the power of the disgruntled voter; gruntled voters stay home, disgruntled voters go to the polls.

Cons: Could be seen as Mr. No, the kind of guy who doesn’t want the city to spend money. Period.  Again, many voters will see him as regressive, at odds with their perception of Edmonton as a progressive city. After only one term on city council, he may be seen as attempting to go too far, too fast.

Karen Leibovici

Pros: A familiar face to Edmonton voters (former Liberal MLA 1993-2001, city councillor since 2001), Leibovici may be seen as a stabilizing force on a city council that will have at least six rookies on a 13-member council. Leibovici clearly knows what it takes to win, and after so many years in politics will likely have the best organization (and most money) behind her. Consistent supporter of the arena, which will please the progressive, pro-arena crowd. If Diotte is the conservative candidate, Leibovici is the liberal.

Cons: Leibovici may be too familiar of a face; a public figure for 20 years, at 61 she will have worn out her welcome with some. And with so much history to go on, her past voting record may be used against her if she can be portrayed as a tax-and-spend liberal.  Consistent support of the arena deal (which I believe will become the polarizing issue of the election, along with road conditions) may backfire. As a long-time member of council and a Mandel supporter, she could become the lightning rod for voters angry with anything council has done in the last decade.

Don Iveson

Pros: By far the youngest candidate at 34, Iveson is a fresh face despite being on council for two terms. Will hold great appeal to the 30-something voters who want Edmonton to be seen as a happening city, and provide an answer to Edmontonians suffering from Naheed Nenshi-envy. A handsome young guy with a young, multi-ethnic family, Iveson will be a favorite among progressive voters. Originally a doubter about the arena deal, Iveson changed his tune and voted in favor at the final vote. Some will see this as being pragmatic, and fighting for the best deal possible for the city.

Cons: Still young by political standards, Iveson’s “real world” experience is pretty thin. Will also be seen by some voters as being too big for his britches (that would be something older voters would say) for reaching for the top job with so little experience. His arena vote will be seen as a ‘flip-flop’ by some.

Curtis Penner

Pros: None.

Cons: Risks being confused with infamous Edmonton Oiler loafer Dustin Penner.

So who has the advantage? Well, it’s way too soon to tell. This is one of those rare elections that will actually be decided by the campaign. I can picture scenarios where any of the three real contenders could win, but that’s a blog for a different time. Right now, I’m just glad that we will have three contenders will real visions for Edmonton. This is going to be fun, in a nerdy political way.

Kerry Diotte the front-runner … for now.

For months now, the city has been watching a tedious production called Waiting for Stephen to come to its end — is Mayor Mandel in, or is he out? All other potential or rumoured candidates — Karen Leibovici, Don Iveson, Kerry Diotte and Amajreet Sohi — have kept their powder dry waiting for the mayor to make up his mind. Now, with the arena deal done and his single biggest project of his mayoralty now a certainty (as much as we can call anything about the arena a certainty), it seems more likely than ever that Mandel will not run again. An incumbent mayor is awfully difficult to dislodge (in Quebec, the only way to get rid of an incumbent mayor is to haul him off to jail), and if Mandel decides not to run, the dominos will start to fall.

By not waiting for Mandel to make his decision known, Diotte has thrown down the gauntlet, not just to the mayor but also to the would-be mayors: he announced today that running for mayor, whatever Mandel does. That’s a bold move, and a smart one. Diotte is saying that he’s not afraid of the incumbent, and that he’s not the kind of guy to sit back and coast to an easy win in his ward like all the other namby-pamby maybe mayors.

Diotte will likely take aim at the great mass of disgruntled Edmontonians. They’re angry that the city is spending millions on an arena for a hockey team, that we’ve got an administration whose first job seems to be to come up with multi-million dollar pie-in-the-sky spending ideas, that adds to its payroll at a rate that far exceeds the city’s growth — but we can’t keep our roads from crumbling. That’s a large constituency, just waiting to be courted.

The strategy, if that is indeed Diotte’s plan, is risky. There is always a chance of being perceived as an anti-everything kind of guy. While there will be many who will applaud Diotte’s stand on the arena (he consistently voted against the deal) and his almost line-by-line parsing of city budgets, many more will see him as small minded penny-pincher with no great vision for the city.  Remember Mike Nickel, all around troublemaker? Turfed by the voters, defeated by a young upstart named Don Iveson in 2007. Going much further back, alderman Ed Leger was a consistent negative force on council before the public finally got tired of his negativity and turfed him in 1986.

Mandel is no fan of Diotte’s, it appears. On the morning news shows today, he called Diotte “irrelevant”, said he “has done nothing to contribute to the success of the city”, has “no vision for the city” and spends council meetings tweeting. Those are the strongest, most personal words I’ve ever heard from a mayor about a councillor. His surprising broadside means either a) Mandel is running again, and he took the opportunity to blast a possible opponent; or b) isn’t running again, but can’t stand the idea of a perceived do-nothing like Diotte in the mayor’s chair.

But right now, as of 3 p.m. on May 16th, Diotte is the favourite to win the mayoralty, predominantly because no one else is running right now. However, now that Diotte has officially started the race, the pressure now builds on other potential candidates. How do the others rate?

If Leibovici decides to run, she will become the front-runner, I think. Iveson would likely become the favourite of Edmonton’s young, Facebooking, Tweeting, downtown crowd, who are sorely underrepresented on city council. The fact that he changed his vote on the arena deal — from consistently opposed to supportive on the final vote — shouldn’t do him any harm. Circumstances change, and so should politicians. Amarjeet Sohi, a decent councillor touted by some as a mayoralty candidate, should best just stick to his ward; he doesn’t have the experience, profile or charisma to be a legitimate mayoralty candidate.

However it shakes down, the race is now fully underway. Diotte is off and running, with everyone else — including the incumbent — still pondering if they want to join the fray. If nothing else, this should make the election a whole lot more interesting.

This was not a prank.

Whatever remaining credibility the single-issue pressure group Envision Edmonton has with the voters has been (or at least should be) shot to hell with the fake reporter scandal (Fakegate?) .

If you’re reading this blog, you’re no doubt familiar with the scandal, but I’ll recap. A high-profile Envision Edmonton volunteer, Nathan Black, posed as a reporter for the Seattle Times and wrote a blog entry that claimed that Mayor Stephen Mandel was supporting the closure of the City Centre Airport to benefit this wealthy developer friends. Black actually conducted interviews, characterized as being quite abusive by city councillor Amarjeet Sohi, who fell for the scam.  (Why anyone would think the Seattle Times would have an interest in the Edmonton civic election is beyond me, but we’re a trusting people. This hasn’t made news in Seattle, although I did find this story http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2010066754_copjobs15m.html about Edmonton trying to recruit cops in Seattle from 2009 which is fun reading.)

Black is also a volunteer for David Dorward, which comes as no surprise since Dorward is basically a straw man for Envision Edmonton. While Dorward has denounced Black’s actions, Envision Edmonton called it just a “prank” by a well-meaning, overzealous volunteer.

Ah, no, it’s not. Creating an alter-ego and posing as a reporter is fraud, and writing a blog (which Black denies doing, to be fair) that questions the integrity of a mayoralty candidate without a shred of evidence borders on slander. Or libel. One or the other.

Our entire news gathering process is built on a very thin foundation of trust. If someone phones a politician claiming to be a a reporter, the politician has no choice but to believe him. That’s the way the system works. If “pranksters” start to make claims — also known as lies — about who they are and who they work for, the whole system collapses. If the people at Envision Edmonton don’t understand that, then they’ve got a seriously skewed view of the world that does not match mine. When this election is over, let’s hope this is the last we hear from these single-issue zealots.

And finally, here is an exact quote from Envision Edmonton-supported Ward 5 candidate Steve Bergeron from the Ward 5 forum: “We do not need no more vacant land in the city core.”

We doesn’t?