It Could Be Worse

The good, the bad and the boring: a 2016 election essay

City | by Paul Dechene

Feeling beaten down by the cavalcade of degradation and farce that’s passing for an American election? Do you want to be a good citizen of a modern democracy and stay abreast of the issues that affect your every day but grow tired of needing to shower away the filth after every political panel show and nightly newscast?

Take heart, Regina. You can retreat into our municipal election. The Queen City votes for council, mayor and school board on October 26 and, so far, the campaign has been as dull and wholesome as slacks without pleats. No rough beast bloviating toward government here.

And we can guarantee that if a candidate grabs for any part of you, they’ll only be after your attention.

And they’ll probably fail to get it.

HOW BORING IS THE ELECTION? YOU’VE NO IDEA BECAUSE YOU AREN’T PAYING ATTENTION

“Has the election started yet?” asks David Robert Loblaw facetiously. “I don’t think it has. Saskatoon’s did a couple weeks ago. But ours hasn’t started in any way as far as I can tell.”

Loblaw, the proprietor of Cathedral’s Bernard Callebaut and an almost-but-not-quite mayoral candidate in the 2012 election, says he’s “terribly, terribly disappointed” with Regina’s election to date. Not only has it made for dull political watching but it’s also providing scarce fodder for his series of  “Silly Parts” Youtube videos. His plan was to chronicle all the foibles and flubs of the 2016 municipal election cycle. Instead, things are so quiet, he’s struggling to find lampoonable content.

“This is really hard. I think I blew my a-list material in the first three [videos]. I didn’t do one last week because I couldn’t find anything.”

ROSIE O’DONNELL GOES WITHOUT MENTION

If you talk about the presidential debates, inevitably someone will chirp, “Why can’t they talk about the issues?” And yet, devoid of policy though they may be, the last two presidential forums in the U.S. will go down as the most-watched political events in the history of homo sapiens.

Meanwhile, here at home, Regina’s first mayoral candidates’ forum was wall-to-wall policy discussion on everything from affordable housing to infrastructure to Wascana Park development potential. And yet the neighbourhood centre in which it was held was barely half full. Where was all that untapped lust for wonkish policy discussion?

Maybe the poor turnout can be blamed on election fatigue. We have already had two urgent trips to the polls in the last 12 months. But still, Saskatoon doesn’t seem to be having any trouble generating interest in their municipal election. Maybe some other factor is depressing interest?

WHO ARE THESE JOKERS?

While Saskatoon has in Charlie Clark and Kelley Moore two legitimate progressive/progressive-side-of-centre candidates running neck-and-neck against long-time incumbent mayor Don Atchison, Regina simply doesn’t have anything even resembling a race for the top seat.

Current mayor Michael Fougere, with one term leading council under his belt and 15 years as councillor before that, is about as professional and knowledgeable a politician as you can get in a prairie city of 200,000. Also working in his favour: voters seem by-and-large okay with the current state of the city. There are pockets of discontent, mainly focussed in the centre of the city, among people concerned about issues like the city’s lack of affordable housing and developments like the Regina Bypass or the Conexus office building proposed for Wascana Park. Beyond that, though, voters are far from outraged with this council.

To dent that level of voter contentment, you’re going to need a firecracker of a candidate to run against the status quo. And none of the candidates for mayor are creating Saskatoon-levels of buzz.

Can Jim Elliott, the soft-spoken advocate for the environment and human rights, miraculously attract the level of support he’ll need to prevail that he was unable to find during his two previous attempts to win the mayor’s seat? Seems unlikely.

Will name recognition help Tony Fiacco overcome his evident lack of council knowledge to propel him into the top spot? Doubtful. Especially since it’s possible the Fiacco name could be as much bane as boon, depending on how particular voters feel about his younger brother Pat’s legacy as mayor.

And as for the other two candidates, Evangeline Godron has admitted her chances of winning are minimal; and, Wayne Ast… well, he barely seems to be running a campaign.

In other words, the most watched race in the municipal election looks like a foregone conclusion. That can’t be great for voter interest. Or turnout.

WARDS TO WATCH

None of which is to say that this election is completely void of interest. While the top of the card isn’t a big draw, there are other races worth paying attention to. Wards 3 and 6 will at least guarantee us new faces at council as those seats are empty right now.

The closest to an incumbent in those races is in Ward 6 where former councillor Wade Murray’s son, Joel Murray, is running. As he’s up against eight other candidates, vote-splitting is likely to be murder on those with lesser-known surnames and without the expertise of a long-time councillor/dad providing advice.

It’s too bad too, seeing as Ward 6 boats the most culturally diverse slate of candidates in the city. If Joel Murray prevails, we’ll have blown another chance to get some non-white dude representation on council.

Arguably more interesting, though, are the big races in Ward 2 and 7 where there are incumbents running, Bob Hawkins in the former and Sharron Bryce in the latter. No token resistance against an entrenched incumbent here. Multiple candidates have emerged in each: five are running against Hawkins in Ward 2 and six are running against Bryce in 7. Are those councillors exuding pheromones of vulnerability? Certainly, from the people I’ve spoken to in each, it sounds like local discontent with shabby infrastructure has turned inward against those wards’ councillors. But whether that unrest will focus enough to overcome vote splitting, is impossible to say.

THE INVISIBLE CAMPAIGN

By this point in the city’s 2012 election, when there were nine mayoral candidates and no incumbent, there had already been multiple mayoral forums. Candidate forums at the ward level were scheduled all over the city and pollsters were taking the time to sound out public opinion.

This time around, there are a few events here and there but for the most part, things are silent. It’s a stealth election. It all comes down to door-knocking and Facebook pages. And it’s so goddamn dull it’s driving me nuts.

People like to complain about how federal and provincial election debates have become pointless shouting exercises that no longer educate on the issues. And some also say that polls distort campaigns by turning them into horse races. And yet, here we are, with very little of both, and it’s like nothing is happening.

I guess a void sucks just as hard as chaos.

Next time, Regina, we’re going to have to politick harder.