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.

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.

Outdoor smoking ban the nanny state run amok.

Way back in June, if you can remember that far back, the city began the process of banning smoking in parks. I thought it was stupid then, and now that we’re even closer to the ban, I think it’s even stupider. Here’s what I had to say back then, with a few updates. And yes, it’s a cheap way to crank out a blog, but hey, are you paying for this?

The city moved a step closer to banning smoking in playgrounds and parks Monday, as a new bylaw is moving its way through the system.

Proponents of the bylaw — which is already in place in cities like Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg, and others — says its a matter of public health. Coun. Amarjeet Sohi, the main booster of the bylaw, was quotds in The Journal thusly: “We do not allow smoking in pubs and bars, but we allow smoking in playgrounds, which are used by kids.”

Well, Amarjeet, there is somewhat of a distinction between bars and pubs, and the great outdoors. That being one is inside, and the other is in … the great outdoors.

I’m no scientist, but when smoke is dispelled into a closed environment, it has nowhere to go, and hangs around, just waiting to go into somebody else’s lungs. But when smoke is dispelled outside, it dissipates into the air, never to be breathed in again.

Now don’t get me wrong — I am as virulent an anti-smoker as you will find. I know this sounds terrible, but when I see someone smoking, my opinion of them drops several notches. It shows a weakness in character that I find very unappealing. When I see a parent smoking in a closed car with a kid in the backseat, I’m tempted to force them off the road, bust open a window and rescue the poor, hacking children.

So yes, indoor smoking bans have been wonderful, a great public health step forward that did not, as its detractors said it would, hurt the food and bar industries. If anything, it probably helped.

But banning smoking outdoors is too much. Coun. Kerry Diotte says there has been no public outcry about the so-called issue, and I agree. But Coun. Linda Sloan said yesterday that she supports the bylaw, because if someone is standing next to her five-yer-old child and smoking, she can say “it’s the law”, to force them to stop.

I have another idea, Linda. Move.

If a hapless addicted smoker wants to take his child to a playground while he sits on a bench having a ciggie, no harm is done. It is not remotely the same as smoking indoors. An outdoor smoking ban is Big Brother at its finest, and pretty much unenforceable to boot. I wholeheartedly applaud the anti-smoking brigade for making indoor air safer and cleaner for everyone. But this just goes too far. Leave the smokers alone to hack and cough in peace.

The mosquito invasion: did saving $200G cost us our summer?

I’m sitting on my backyard deck as I write this, listening to a generic Top 40 hit radio station. I’m not listening voluntarily, mind you. A house next to mine is having a new roof installed, and the roofers have chosen to blast execrable radio station Hot 107 from the roof for everyone to hear. Thank you, roofers.

It’s a little bit amazing that I can do anything outside right now, whether it’s writing a blog or involuntarily listening to prattle from Ryan Seacrest (why does an Edmonton radio station play Ryan Seacrest?).  This seems to be the time of day when the shocking, ravenous hoards of mosquitoes are resting, waiting to spring from their daytime hiding places to attack innocent Edmontonians.

This year’s mosquito infestation is being called the worst in 10 years, but frankly, I think that’s being conservative.  It’s the worst I can remember, ever. There was one year worse than this, but I was living in Red Deer at the time. Red Deer city council got all wrapped up in the new wave of environmentalism, and opted not to do any spraying. The result was a ruined summer, where it was almost impossible to go outside, even for a few minutes. Needless to say, council came to its senses the next year, and nuked the buggers into history.

So this year’s invasion is one of the worst, but not THE worst in my memory. Still, it’s bad. Terrible, in fact, and it makes me angry. We suffered through one of the worst winters in years, and a damp and cool spring. Now that summer is here, and we’re into a lovely spell of 25C weather, it’s almost impossible to enjoy. Does God hate Edmonton?

The city’s mosquito control people have been pretty good at predicting the invasion, less successful at preventing it. Why has this happened? According to the city, it’s the result of a perfect storm of a very wet June, followed by a very warm July. And, after years of drought, zillions of mosquito eggs that have lain dormant for years have sprung to live.

If it’s any comfort, we are not alone. Mosquito numbers in Western Canada have spiked pretty much everywhere, for the same reasons. But I have to ask if city council has to bear some of the blame.

Remember during budget deliberations, when the city opted to slice $194,000 from the mosquito-spraying budget? The reasoning was that it had been years since the city had a serious problem with mosquitoes, and the department had come in under budget for 10 years.  Only Kerry Diotte — who is rapidly becoming my favourite councilor thanks to his single-minded dedication to watching over every penny the city spends — raised any objections.

“It’s kind of like rolling the dice to say it was good this year so we’re going to assume it will be good next year,” he said. “That’s fairly short sighted.”

Was Diotte right? It seems like it on the bite-ridden surface, yes. Take away $194,000 from the mosquito-fighting budget, mosquito population explodes. Ergo, cutting the budget resulted in more mosquitoes. But we don’t know that for sure. It may be that no amount of money, no amount of spraying, could have prevented this infestation.

But it’s a good question that I hope someone on council will ask. I think we’re far too willing to just shrug our shoulders and say “oh, well, these things happen”. If this is just nature doing her thing, that’s OK. You can’t fool Mother Nature. But if the mosquito swarms are the result, at least in part, of cutting the budget, we should know this so it doesn’t happen again. Somebody on council should ask the mosquito control people if the missing $200,000 would have made a difference.

Hey, I’m all for prudent use of taxpayer money. But I will happily give my OK to the city to spend $194,000 to make our city more livable during our too-brief summer.

Dear Kerry: I’ll be watching you…

Open letter to city councillor Kerry Diotte

Hello, Mr. Diotte.  Or should I call you councillor? Or is it your majesty?

Whatever. I hope you’re enjoying your new role as decision maker, as opposed to your old role as decision questioner when you were with the Sun. I see they’ve put you right to work.

I’ve always found it funny that the very first thing a new council does is tackle the budget, which is the single biggest issue council has to deal with. Talk about being thrown into the deep end of the political pool.

But you’re an old hand at budgets, which is why I’m writing to you. I remember your old columns in the Sun when you used to go over the budget, line by tedious line, and find examples of wasteful spending. Or at least, what you thought were examples of wasteful spending.

Well, pal (you don’t mind if I call you pal, do you?), now it’s your time to shine! Instead of just complaining about the budget, you can now do something about it. And I’m here to help. I have a few questions regarding how the city spends its — or, more accurately, our — money that you might want to ask.

For starters, how about this Racism Free Edmonton initiative? You know, the one with all the ‘white privilege’ stuff that has people so upset? Frankly, I don’t care about the white privilege remark; I’m white, and I’m not offended. What offends me is that the city of Edmonton is spending time and money on a website that it thinks will combat racism. Seriously? Racism has been around since caveman days, and the city thinks a website will eliminate racism? My question, Kerry, is how much money is the city spending on this well intentioned by naive project? Or, for that matter, how about the bottomless number of other city initiatives that involve expensive ad campaigns and websites. Is this where city tax dollars should be spent? Just wondering is all.

And how about road construction? Maybe you can find out why the city spent untold millions of dollars on adding an extra lane to a few blocks of 170th Street, from WEM to the Whitemud? I’ve driven down that road thousands of times, and I can see no need for an extra lane. Maybe, as a councillor, you can question the value and reasoning of the city’s myriad of road projects BEFORE they go ahead. Ask some questions.

And you might want to poke around into overtime for road construction crews. Paying somebody $40 an hour to lean on a sign that says ‘Slow” (describing their work progress, perhaps) doesn’t seem like a good way to use tax dollars.

Kerry, you were quoted in the Journal today as saying that you are going to go through the budget with a fine-toothed comb (judging from your hairline, you don’t use it for grooming) and maybe bring the budget down to zero. I honestly wish you luck. The proposed tax hike of 5% is, realistically, not much, but I’m baffled as to why city taxes go up, without fail, every year, while federal and provincial taxes do not. Why, I wonder, doesn’t city council just tell the administration to bring in a budget at zero increase, or somebody will lose their job? Just a thought.

So good luck, Kerry. Hone that axe and get at ‘er. I’ll be watching. Just don’t touch anything I like.

Maurice Tougas, taxpayer