FACE TO FACE: Are official civic slates or parties good for municipal elections?
In 2005, I was proud to run for Coquitlam city council as part of the Coquitlam First slate. We were a collection of right-leaning community leaders whose mantra was "get tough on crime, encourage development and keep taxes low."
Unfortunately, Coquitlam First was an unmitigated failure. Our mayoral candidate, Jon Kingsbury, lost his bid for re-election and only one of our council candidates, current mayor Richard Stewart, earned a seat at city hall. While there are many theories regarding our dismal showing at polls (certainly we had our share of gaffes), my experience, from door-to-door canvassing thousands of Coquitlam homes revealed the real reason we lost: Coquitlam residents weren't ready for political parties at the municipal level.
Many expressed their concerns that political parties would be terrible for the city. Some argued such a system would distance political representatives from their constituents and narrow the diversity of voices that contribute to decisions made.
What voters need to understand, however, is that many of our local politicians already have partisan ties or leanings.
Unions already privately fund and publicly endorse a slate of labour-friendly candidates. Corporations and developers also do the same for their right-leaning friends seeking municipal mandates. And - surprise, surprise - provincial political parties have also been known to assist candidates at the local level.
It's time all this comes out in the open and candidates show their true political stripes.
I also believe non-partisanship diminishes electoral participation and weakens accountability. In a no-party system such as ours, a promise of low taxes by Candidate X is meaningless. If he can't deliver, then all he has to say is "I couldn't get my council colleagues to vote for that."
The system, therefore, encourages incumbency - and complacency.
Residents of Richmond, Burnaby, Surrey and Vancouver have all accepted parties at the local level. For the most part, they have been successful in engaging voters, vetting quality candidates and presenting clear, unified platforms. Moreover, established political parties are known to recruit under-represented groups such as cultural minorities and women, thus more accurately reflecting the community.
For transparency, for accountability and for citizen engagement, it's time residents of the Tri-Cities accept municipal parties. Don't let Coquitlam First be the last.
Andy Radia is a Coquitlam resident and political columnist who writes for Yahoo! Canada News and Vancouver View Magazine. He has been politically active in the Tri-Cities, having been involved with election campaigns at all three levels of government, including running for Coquitlam city council in 2005.