March 23rd, 2018

Election candidates have differing opinions on council sitting during a campaign

By Gillian Slade on September 22, 2017. 

Whether incumbent candidates have an unfair advantage over new candidates as they continue in their role on council during the election has all candidates divided in opinion.

Not having a council and mayor during the election campaign is not feasible, said Phil Turnbull, a candidate for council.

“I don’t think there’s any choice. If you have a disaster going on, let’s say you have a flood, then they have to sit,” said Turnbull, who feels it’s a good thing council is sitting to correct mistakes made over transit.

Regularly scheduled council meetings during the election campaign is unheard of at the federal or provincial level. Those governments even limit announcements during election periods to avoid the appearance of partisanship.

The practice at the municipal level is different. City clerk Angela Cruickshank is on record as saying election campaigns and city business are completely separate.

Mayoral hopeful Scott Raible sees it differently.

“I believe that the city should bar council from sitting during an election campaign, as in Calgary and Edmonton, because the temptation, as it appeared to be the case Monday, would be to make decisions that would be in council’s best interest to be re-elected, and attempt to cast them in a favorable light,” said Raible, who believes it’s difficult for the public to trust the motivations of council during an election.

Immanuel Moritz, council candidate, is also against council operating during the election.

“It is no different than provincial or federal politics; once the writ is dropped parliament or legislature is dissolved,” said Moritz.”Election dates are set, so all required decision items should have been taken care of in the prior meetings. Optics are, of course, that council is using their position to get votes.”

It is important though for the city to have elected oversight at all times, including during an election, said council candidate Hugh English.

“Citizens have the right to expect that any decisions undertaken by council during an election are as a result of being time sensitive and not to advance a political agenda,” said English.

From the incumbents’ point of view they were elected until the term is over.

“My feeling is that we were elected and entrusted by the electorate to serve on their behalf for the duration of our term,” said Coun. Julie Friesen. “It would not be responsible, in my view, to create a large gap in time by not meeting to deal with decisions of Council.”

Coun. Robert Dumanowski says the public has a reasonable expectation that government is continuing.

“We represent the people right until the last day, and in that sense we have a responsibility to continue that role,” said Dumanowski. “I don’t personally see there being an advantage to us doing that because for the most part a lot of the conversations and decisions that are being made are not being done in an open public forum.”

Government must go on but with planning, the city could afford to drop a couple of meetings during the election, said council candidate Myles Mullholland.

“I feel that by its nature it can favour the incumbents via increased coverage for the meetings due to the election. However it can act as a double-edged sword depending on the issues, the recent transit vote being a prime example,” said Mullholland.

Michael Klassen, council candidate, calls the practice “highly inappropriate” and says it appears to be “a politically motivated tactic that will only hurt the people of Medicine Hat with rash and opportunistic decisions.”

Council candidate Ryan Regnier feels it can impact negatively and positively. When it comes to the transit system it has “clearly left a foul taste in the mouth of many citizens of Medicine Hat.”

Raible says all pertinent business must be dealt with before the official election begins.

“I also believe that using city resources to announce one’s intention to run for office, like Mayor Clugston did in January with his State of City address, and which was then posted on the city website, is also inappropriate and should not be allowed as it is using taxpayer resources to promote the incumbent,” said Raible.

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