Concerns raised over ‘slate politics’
Jeremy Deutsch / Tri-Cities Now
October 7, 2014 04:47 PM
For years in the Tri-Cities, it’s been a bit of a dirty word in municipal politics: Slates.
And as the Nov. 15 civic vote draws near, there is plenty of grumbling about the possibility of slate politics making an entrance into this year’s election.
A couple of incumbent Port Moody councillors are claiming an “unofficial” slate is forming in the city, something they say they’re not too happy to see.
“The last thing the people in Port Moody want is slate politics,” said Coun. Gerry Nuttall.
“I believe they [voters] want to have individual-minded councillors that can think for themselves and make decisions based on what’s good for the community, not what’s good for special interest groups.”
Nuttall said he understands the need for slates in larger communities, but suggested they aren’t necessary in Port Moody.
Mayor Mike Clay said he also has concerns about slates, arguing the purpose is to insert federal and provincial parties into local politics.
“I think it’s really disruptive in local politics. I don’t think it belongs there at all,” he said, suggesting people want to know a particular issue that comes up at council is being dealt with in a bipartisan manner.
“It’s not about the politics, it’s about what’s right for the community. That’s what the majority of people in Port Moody would tell you.”
Both Nuttall and Clay are pointing the finger at local NDP MP Fin Donnelly for helping to organize what they claim is a slate.
However, it’s a claim he denied to the Tri-Cities NOW.
Instead, Donnelly said he’s helping anyone who seeks information from him, noting he’s spoken with individuals ranging from school trustee candidates to councillors in all three Tri-Cities communities.
“I can endorse some. Obviously it’s important who I endorse,” he said, noting in Port Moody he’s endorsed mayoral candidate Gaetan Royer and council candidates and incumbents Zoe Royer and Rick Glumac.
He also said he’s staying out of the school trustee race.
Donnelly said he may donate to some campaigns, calling it “a personal decision.”
While he said he doesn’t think political parties at the federal and provincial level are getting involved in municipal politics, he suggested all cities face the issue of slates at a certain point in their evolution.
While both Royer’s and Glumac’s names have come up as part of the so-called slate, they both also denied their involvement.
Mayoral candidate Royer said he’s not a part of a slate and doesn’t think they’re good or bad.
He said for as long as he’s worked in municipal management, there have always been people aligning with each other on certain issues.
He said no matter his endorsements, if elected, in every vote he’ll be voting with his conscience.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the fact that different groups are endorsing different candidates,” Royer said. “That’s the way municipal politics works.”
Glumac also indicated he’s not part of a slate but noted he has been endorsed by a number of groups, including the local labour council.
He said his support comes from a cross-section in the community and he doesn’t want to be labelled as being on one side or the other.
“As a councillor you have to represent all the residents in the community, whether or not you’re on a slate. That to me is irrelevant — it’s who you are as an individual and how you behave and what your record is,” he said.
Meanwhile, across the border in Coquitlam, the talk of slates is being downplayed.
A group of five candidates, including current councillors Bonita Zarrillo, Chris Wilson and Neal Nicholson, along with non-incumbent candidates Shobha Nair and Jack Trumley, have come together to create Protect Coquitlam.
The group has a campaign website featuring all five members.
However, Wilson said he doesn’t consider the group to be a slate.
“We’re a group of community leaders who want to work together to protect what we have in Coquitlam,” he said.
Wilson said the group shares an office and campaign manager, but they all have their own priorities and backgrounds.
“The one thing that makes us want to work together as a team is we have very similar beliefs on what our city needs,” he said, noting the group has support from Donnelly and local NDP MLA Selina Robinson.
Wilson argued that on doorsteps, most people appreciate that a team has come together that makes it easy for voters to know where candidates stand on the issues.
But Coquitlam’s mayor says he isn’t impressed with what he sees as slates creeping into city politics.
Richard Stewart said he doesn’t like slates and argued they don’t serve the community well, preferring a council of independents.
“I lament that our Tri-Cities is heading in that direction,” he said.
Stewart suggested independent councillors will listen to the community better than those on slates and will try to work out their differences on issues.
In 2005, Stewart was a member of the Coquitlam First team, which fielded seven candidates for that city’s council, many of whom had ties to the B.C. Liberal Party.
While the mayor said he’s not part of a slate, he did acknowledge he’s had discussions with other independents, adding he’s looking for people he can work with.
And Stewart, who was once an MLA, doesn’t think local governments should be “farm teams” for federal and provincial parties.
Those opposed to the slate idea also argued that it leaves independent councillors without a voice around the table.
As far as one SFU political scientist sees it, in larger municipalities, slates are almost essential and perform a useful democratic function.
Patrick Smith said without slates or parties, it’s very difficult for voters to figure out the different candidates.
“So party labels or slates help them organize their thoughts,” he told the Tri-Cities NOW.
He also said while there has been a long-accepted tradition in the country that local governments are non-partisan, that is not really true.
And Smith isn’t surprised to see the issue pop up, especially in Port Moody, where the community is growing.
He figures conversations around slates, or what he called pre-parties, come up in communities beyond the 20,000-range in population.
“It’s almost right at the appropriate phase where you’re going to see more of them,” Smith said.