Ben Burd

All candidates’ meetings are they really worth it?

To all election wonks, All Candidates’ Meetings (ACM) are the purest of democracy tools. But are they really? Perhaps in a Federal and Provincial election they might work simply because of the small number of candidates sharing the same platform.

In a municipal setting we think that most meetings are unworkable and as such do not allow the public to see a complete picture of the candidates and their points of view. For a meeting to be successful they must be accessible to all and allow a fair exchange of opinion. In this election, in Cobourg we have two ACMs scheduled and both fail the test of openness and accessibility. One, organised by the local Chamber of Commerce (which has always failed the democracy test), has made accessibility worse by restricting attendance to members first and then the remainder of the 125 seats to members of the public. The other ACM is being held by aother local organisation but again fails the openness test by the very timing of the meeting. By scheduling the meeting for 0830 hrs in the morning it disqualifies anybody who works at that time or anyone else who has morning chores to take care of.

Which brings us back to the position that ACMs as currently and historically practised are not open and fair to the voters. In fact some of the candidates have declared that ACMs must be favourable to them or they will not attend. How is that fair to the voters?

One ACM, in Cobourg, has already been cancelled because some of the candidates did not approve of the structure or the organisers of the proposed ACM. How was that fair to the voters? In Hamilton Township only three of the six candidates attended an ACM held last week and a meeting in Cramahe was cancelled because some candidates, noticeably the Mayor, had “scheduling conflicts”.

In order to allow local democracy to flourish we would like to suggest that ACMs should be mandated by the bylaw that governs local elections and supervised by the Town Clerk who supervises local elections. At least two ACMs should be mandated for each election period: one during the day and one in the evening, that would allow access to the candidates by all people who may miss on meeting by not being available. These meetings should allow more time than the past meetings have allowed – one minute opening statement and questions from the floor. The very idea of having vetted questions is a danger to local free speech and subject to charges of selective questioning.

And that’s the way we would run ACMs

An end to illegal campaign signs

This sign that was considered to be illegal under the existing election sign bylaw is no more, and it appears that the Town is now in the “monitoring mode”.

This news was not relayed to me, as the person who made the complaint, but was revealed to a candidate who quoted the post and asked what was going on. The Manager of Bylaws contacted the candidate and gave the reason for the delay in compliance: “

“This particular contravention was a complaint received and the Town’s dealt directly with the individual immediately. The reason the action to remove the election sign was late was due to its height and location. In order to remove the Election Sign the Town would have to occur costs. Thus we worked with the Candidate to have those costs incurred on their own cost and this resulted in a delay with the hiring of a contractor to remove the sign by the contractor.

The sign is fully removed and there has been compliance as of today. I appreciate you emailing myself with your concerns and not relying on the post of individuals that have third party information.”

It is strange that the MoB did not respond to my complaint by telling me that the complaint resolution was being delayed, but finally dealt with. And congratulating the candidate for contacting him directly but admonishing him for using a local story to confirm that the infraction had happened.

So despite the fact that this Town’s administration has prided itself on responsiveness and clarity the complainant is still unaware of the situation. But that is what happens when you have a bylaw enforcement system based on complaints – all one has to do is to complain and there is no obligation, other than common courtesy, to respond. I have noticed that the four signs (only allowed three) on a fence on University Ave have been replaced by one bigger sign so enforcement is around. Now if all the candidates would place their signs on the lawns behind the sidewalk rather than the boulevards all will be well!

Signs for the times

Signs are very subjective things. Some people like them, some don’t and the rest couldn’t care less. We at the BR, after much editorial discussion, have come down on the side that says signs should be regulated as they can be construed as visual pollution. Just as a loud radio can upset, big signs do the same for us.

Take for example, this sign on Division St. Every establishment is allowed to have signs that advertise their business. In this case the bylaws allow facia signs to identify the business at the location and a spot on the larger Plaza sign. But as we know exemptions to sign bylaws have to be applied for. In most cases the exemptions are granted in the name of ‘helping business’. But when is too much too much? This sign was granted and when an email was directed to the Director of Planning he replied to me – “The Lighthouse Dental business signage does appear to be relatively large and bright (and maybe a bit different from what we are used to, having a tooth bolted to the side of the building), however I do not feel it is disproportionate to the size of the unit or the building frontage, or consider it over-bearing towards the streetscape, but rather is quite tastefully and professionally done in my opinion.”

It is this size because the the bylaw does not specify the size of a facia sign. For the full correspondence read it here, the Council did approve the much larger sign, but it is still ugly and large!

That brings up the campaign 2018, and the plethora of signs that will be assaulting our sense for the next 44 days – election signs. The bylaw that covers this is here and is comprehensive: laying down the law on locations, numbers allowed on each property and size.

This sign is an ‘outlaw’ as was the Piccini sign, posted on exactly the same spot – 8ft high during the last Provincial election. This is not a slight against the candidate but an example of an illegally placed sign. Election signs are only allowed to be 2 metres high, measured from the top to ground. The point of this is to highlight the lax way the Town administers the bylaw.

An official complaint was made about the “Piccini OPC” sign during the last Provincial election as that sign was in exactly the same location and same height as the one in the picture. The Manager of Bylaws did not respond to the complaint and it stayed. When this candidate’s sign went up on the first day of campaigning A complaint was registered with the Manager of Bylaws and he sent this reply <snip>The Town of By-law Enforcement department is aware of the election signs and will be conducting measurements and contacting the Candidate to determine compliance.</snip>

This was dated on the 17th of August and the sign is still in non-compliance. So I say to all the candidates “go to it put your signs anywhere you want, because the Town is not enforcing its own bylaw!”

A Test – how many of these signs are illegally located? Remember none are allowed on public property!

A big apology and late additions

The last post contained a link to the questions the BR asked of all candidates – that was not true, I missed candidate Randy Curtis from the mass mailing list. Consequently his response was not on the page. Sorry Randy! Also the BR received a late response from another candidate and it is now posted. To see the responses click here

A promised – the Candidates’ responses to a simple question

It was a simple question – “Why do you want be on council?”

This question will be asked of all the candidates many times, almost at every door! But getting an answer and a one sentence one at that was tough.

All of the eleven candidates were asked, by an email – TWICE, seven responded and a big shoutout to those folks. We do not know why the other four candidates did not respond, but we can guess. Arrogance of being a candidate and wanting to drive their own bus, being too busy, (for many unstated reasons) and of course maybe not wanting to respond, after all some of these folks were picky about whose all candidates’ meetings they would appear at. But to those non-responders I would say no publicity is bad publicity, and we promise to spell your names right!

But let us say, we at the BR are evaluating our original thoughts about some of the candidates, all of whom promised in their opening statements to be responsive to voters, perhaps they just meant the voters they like and who they choose to respond to!

Well enough of the pointed remarks let’s get on to the responses. To see who responded and what they had to say click here.

The Campaigns so far

With a full month of campaigning for the nominated candidates in the Cobourg Municipal election what has been seen so far from this observation seat?

Not much to date!  Signs from three candidates, a few slick websites and most of the candidates have FaceBook pages. So we can assume that most of the necessary organisational work has been done underground by most of the candidates during the last month. But obviously one candidate was ahead of the game.

Going by activity Adam Bureau appears to be off to a quick start, he had a flashing first day – posing with a couple of supporters as they placed signs on lawns and inside downtown stores. Johnny Percolides has a sign in a downtown store but absent elsewhere and Miriam Mutton has a few scattered on front lawns. A double sign was spotted on a strategic corner – Ontario/Elgin. But impact was muted – the sign could be bigger – spend the money Randy – it will pay off. Congratulations to those who have made a start the others have ground to make up.

So what’s next for the voters and candidates? Hopefully now that leaflets have arrived, websites up and facebook pages ready the candidates actually do the work – hit the road. It will be interesting to see  if parallel campaigns emerge. Social media is only as good as the activity generated. Posts have to be interesting and shared. That means a network of cyber-friends has to be created. That campaign will be measured in the number of “shares”. Here’s a hint for all the candidates if you want to be followed but not friends with everybody turn on the “Follow” button in your settings. Click here to find out how to do it.

The BurdReport has a campaign page set up – look for it in the top menubar – “CobourgElection2018”. We have asked all the Candidates two simple questions: “Why do you want to be on Council?” and “If elected what original idea do you have that you would like to have fellow Councillors adopt?” The answers, if received will be published in the next post. Some candidates have responded but the majority have not as yet but the deadline is tomorrow.

Of course as well as trying to get the name out front there will be opportunities for the public to see them, in at least two venues announced so far, to perform at All Candidates’ Meetings (ACM). One ACM is a closed, register for a seat affair maximum 125 people, so should be called for what it is a “restricted performance” or as one local media person calls it “Speed Campaigning”. Put on by the local Chamber of Commerce for its members but some seats will be left over for people who register online. Do it here. The other is being put on by the Northumberland Affordable Housing Committee, on September 27th at the Salvation Army Hall on Ballantine St. At least these meetings will help define the campaign issues, none of which has really caught the public’s interest yet.

Onward and upward!

The candidates have appeared!

We are going to have an election in Cobourg. Two people want to be Deputy Mayor and nine people vying for three councillor spots . A smaller list than the historical past, but a list for you to choose from. In the absence of a Mayor’s race turnout maybe lower and interest will definitely be off. So back to basics for the candidates – getting the name out there and meeting voters.

Up until the last day of nomination there was only one candidate for DM – Suzanne Seguin, then a registered candidate for Council switched and filed for DM too. Randy Curtis was the fellow. So will it be a race or a walkover? I think it is a race – two basic unknowns for the job. Suzanne has been on Council for less than half a term and Randy has never been on Council but has followed the issues very closely and one of the declared candidates to watch Council in action on Mondays. Suzanne has been in Town for a few years but Randy has the hometown advantage, with deep family roots. So it looks like ‘campaigning 101’ for both of them.

In the race for the five councillor spots it appears to us at the BR that there is only one person who looks like a shoo-in – Brian Darling, who topped the polls last time will do it again. Aaron Burchat, another incumbent councillor has to overcome the problem that he has of public recognition. Only a councillor for two years he has failed to make his mark due to his anonymity whilst being on Council. Miriam Mutton definitely has name recognition, and a history of good public service but will the controversy of her boulevard garden surface again in the negative? Some comments have already been seen on facebook to this effect.

Some of the others have public recognition – Adam Bureau for one, he is a familiar sight to all who travel King St regularly, as he streetwatches and talks to passers-by outside his store. Nicole Beatty achieved some notice as the Chair of Cobourg 150, Emily Chorley has impressed by speaking before Council in a well organised and sensible way about a few issues. Johnny Percolides has made his opinion known on “Cobourg News” about the the marina expansion and Travis Hoover has made a name for himself by being Lou Rinaldi’s assistant and public face, as well as working on local Legion affairs. Karl Vom Dorf fits the bill of ‘mystery candidate’ to me.

Good luck to all of them and if they want a tip from an old campaigner – the one who bangs on the most doors and plants the most signs will advance. I know door-knocking is derided by some in this day of social media, but the voters in this Town may not be on all of the friends lists and be willing to share posts. But I guarantee that five minutes on a doorstep will make an impression and when the voter casts the ballot in order to fill five boxes the doorknocker will be remembered!

Where are the candidates?

Ok we know we are going to have an election in Cobourg. Six people wanting a space on a five member Council. Brian Darling finally stopped dithering and made up his mind to have another four years. Aaron Burchat was a given to be on the ballot,and so was Randy Curtis and Johnny Percolides. These last two are unknowns as they have made no or few public statements. And as to why they want to be  on Council has yet to be made public. We all know where Miriam Mutton stands as she has an extensive public history.

Having watched and participated in many elections over the past forty years in Cobourg, I can tell you the issues hardly ever change. Every election cycle we have the same major complaints – “Council doesn’t listen!” and “Everything is decided behind closed doors with secret meetings.” This year is no different.

The Harbour is a quadrennial issue. Years ago it was the coal piles and public ownership. Then it became what kind of development was wanted, now  it is what do we do with what we have and how to accommodate all of the interest groups. It never ends but the response by candidates is the same – “I will be transparent, I will listen, I will make decisions in the best interests of you”. But the public criticism still persists.

But having seen Councils in action I can honestly say very few Councillors or Mayors have impressed me with action and vision. We have been stuck with Mayors who just go along – press the flesh and then implement Staff decisions. As to the Councillors we have been stuck with ‘go-alongs’ who defer to the Mayor’s needs. Very few have struck me as being independent, and if they did they were soon isolated or co-opted. Miriam Mutton was an example of this. A very diligent councillor who appeared to irritate both colleagues and Staff with her rigourous qustions of policy and direction. Obviously she came to the conclusion that the only way to get her ideas across was to be Mayor, she failed and took an electorally imposed sabbatical. She is now back because  she either has ideas to be  implemented or she just missed the thrill of being a decisionmaker.

But back to the question, “where are the candidates?” The centrepiece of the election – the Mayor’s race is a shoo-in for the only candidate so far. But why doesn’t anybody have the burning ambition to be Mayor? Doesn’t anybody have any ideas to lead the Town? Sad. Historically the number of people wanting to be a councillor is in the double digits, why not this year?

The big question, with only four and half business days before nominations close is why we haven’t seen a slate from the Cobourg Taxpayers Association (CTA)? This voluble and persistent ginger group is absent so far. Perhaps it is a strategic decision to be late filers so that opponents cannot get on the ballot to knock them off.

So to all the “Progressives” in the Town put your name on the ballot now to stop regressive “taxfighters” getting a place on the board.

Just bear with us for a few moments

A personal note from  the Publisher of the BurdReport:

You may think that I’m being an alarmist but the events of the last few days have been very worrying and disturbing. I refer to the activities of the United States and its  institutions. Specifically the way the enabling Congress has manipulated the rules of procedure to Mr Trump’s advantage and consolidate the power of the Presidency.

With the “manipulated” resignation of Supreme Court Justice Kennedy the President has shifted the power to make decisions to the Conservative side. This Court does not need any more shifting it has done enough damage with its recent decisions about Union Rights, and the Immigration ban.

As you know I have been in Europe for a few days, yesterday was our first full day in Berlin and the first exhibit we visited was the “Topography of Terror”. This exhibit is situated beside a piece of the Berlin Wall and is  a series of panels containing photographs, and quotes from the year 1933. This was the year that Hitler came to power and the panels tell, in a chronology, the way he did.

Realising that any mention of Hitler, on the Internet, invokes “Godwin’s Law” and automatically loses the argument but in this case the comparisons, in my opinion, between the events of 1933 and what is going on in the USA are so stark it has to be mentioned. I was so moved by the images and quotes that i had to share it. If the reader thinks this post is over the top so be it!

Read the text in the pics, think about the way politics is moving in the States and reflect. I do not expect the readers to agree with the BR, but at least the point of view must be considered.