Fellow citizens of St. John’s, we are on the brink of big change. Real change. And you get to play a part.
This upcoming municipal election is exciting. And important. Along with some quality veteran councillors who know what they’re at, you folks have the opportunity to elect a slate of passionate, open-minded people who seem like they will actually listen to you beyond the point where you promise them your vote. There are some truly promising people running in this election, and there are wide-open spaces for them to fill: veteran councillors Shannie Duff, Gerry Colbert and Frank Galgay are bowing out, as is councillor Debbie Hanlon.
That’s four out of eleven people.
On top of that, St. John’s is in full-on crazy boom mode. With offshore oil developments nearing their peak (haha, peak!) and others on the horizon, the prospects for our economy are looking friggin’ good. Basically, there are dollar bills flying out of oil pipes, raining down on us like if we were in a video with Fat Joe. And it’s up to us to decide what to do with that cash.
This election will affect the people living in St. John’s for a long, long time. Which means a lot of positive, awesome things could happen as a result of the decisions you make this month.
We spent the past month talking to people engaged in local politics, sifting through campaign websites, and reading back through council minutes. We also sent a questionnaire to each candidate running in the election, hounded them to complete it, and sat around debating issues from toll booths on Pitts Memorial to the balancing act between vision and teamwork in council chambers.
We chose the people we think ought to sit behind the big desks at City Hall. Our endorsements are based in part on their responses to our questionnaire, in part on their history, and in part on recommendations from trusted sources.
We looked for leaders who are articulate, flexible and adaptable enough to keep up with changes in thinking and social awareness. We looked for people with new ideas.
As for our pet issues, we like the idea of increasing urban density and putting the brakes on unnecessary sprawl. We think the next council should be tech-savvy and able to reach people where they’re spending time online. We like bicycles a lot, and we’d like to see the bike initiative work out. We’d also like to see increased transparency and accessibility. Shouldn’t we be able to have a say when projects like the harbour fence are enacted?
Here are the candidates that get the official Scope nod for City of St. John’s Municipal Election on September 24th.
Sheilagh is big on public consultation, she cares about making neighbourhoods as livable as possible, and on creating a progressive municipal plan that pays attention to environmental issues. She has shown herself to change her tune when the public reaction called for it. The big example of this would be her retroactive contempt for the harbour fence project that she, along with the rest of council, voted for. This could be seen as a good thing (she listens to public outcry!) or bad thing (she didn’t do her homework!)
She’s accessible and heavily involved in the community, and we think she’ll lead a progressive and innovative city.
The mayoral race is the one to watch.
In the other corner we have Dennis O’Keefe, a two-term incumbent with a reputation for being a super nice guy. We also have mental health activist Geoff Chaulk.
O’Keefe can rightly feel confident that he has a good shot at re-election, and he’s running a quiet, front-runner style of campaign. But, while Chaulk’s candidacy has been marred by more gaffs than a flounder boat and more WTF moments than primetime on TLC, O’Leary has been out there every day with new comments on different issues.
In the 2009 election, she was elected as a councillor-at-large by
the largest number of votes in St. John’s electoral history—24,056 votes. For comparison, O’Keefe won the mayoral race in the same election with 20,944 votes.
[CORRECTION: While O'Leary won the greatest number of votes that year, it was not the greatest number of votes in St. John's electoral history. In fact, O'Keefe himself, in 2001, won his at-large seat with 26,122 votes. The Scope regrets the error.]
Realistically, it’s going to be a showdown between O’Keefe and O’Leary.
Geoff Chaulk has a long career in public service in the realm of healthcare. According to his questionnaire, Chaulk is a cat-loving, “54-year-old, chronically single man” who left for Toronto for a large part of his career. The major issues Chaulk is campaigning on include affordable housing, emergency preparedness, and a revolutionary idea to tax commuters residing in outlying towns. The commuter tax idea has earned Chaulk some scorn in the court of popular opinion, but it’s actually not the worst idea we’ve ever heard. That said, it’s been hard to take Chaulk seriously as a mayoral candidate. If he was more realistic, he would have run in a ward or at-large.
Dennis O’Keefe is a candidate of the status quo who does pay lip service to heritage and planning issues at times, but has not always backed that up with action. Case in point—when Fortis wanted to redevelop their tower on the corner of Water and Prescott, and at the same time tear down a block of several adjoining heritage buildings which are an integral part of the post-1892 streetscape, O’Keefe was on board right away. He tried to say that anyone who opposed him was against jobs and against development. It never came to a vote and Fortis decided to build their new office tower on vacant land at the bottom of Springdale, but it was an interesting indication of O’Keefe’s thinking.
“His modus operandi is from back in the 90s when it was felt that you had to practically beg developers to build something,” said one of the people we spoke with. Today, though, with our economy, we are in a position to demand good development, and reject bad. If there is a market for the development, it will probably happen, and the conditions we place on it is what we demand in exchange for a better city in the long run.
For the majority of the election cycle, Ron Ellsworth was the only candidate running for deputy mayor. Noted transgender rights activist Jennifer McCreath has been hinting at a run for council for a few weeks now, only to announce that she wasn’t running, then, just before we went to press, she officially announced she’s running for deputy mayor against Ellsworth.
Our vote here would go to Ellsworth, however. It’s good to have someone on council who will comb through the finances and question whatever he thinks doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, even though we won’t always agree with his philosophy. He shares the laissez-faire perspective on development of a few others on council, which means if it meets engineering standards and doesn’t impact nearby low density suburbs, he’ll likely be voting in favour.
That said, he’s held the office before, so he has the benefit of experience on his side. He’s the best and most logical choice for deputy mayor.
We can do business with this guy. He’s got some clout (he’s chair of the finance committee) and some experience on council. He seems like a good hand with the finances. Thumbs up from the Scope.
There are some strong contestants in the Ward 2 race and it’s going to be a tough one to call, but Andrew Harvey is our pick.
There, we said it.
It’s no secret that he and The Scope have had a relationship over the past four years. But the reason we contacted him to cover city politics for us four years ago was because we were impressed with his vision for the city, his energy, his friendly spirit, and his persistence (part of us thinks he hasn’t stopped campaigning since last election, to be honest.)
And we stayed impressed with him. He stuck with the original weird and slightly boring gig of live-tweeting city council meetings, and no other media outlet could beat his live-tweeting attendence. He also never missed a print deadline.
Harvey has been busy advocating for affordable housing for the past six years, so he’s familiar with the ins, outs and in-betweens of this complex and important issue. It makes sense to us (tweet tweet) that he’s also big on connecting with the electorate via the web.
Other Ward Two Candidates
As for the other candidates, Jonathan Galgay seems a nice guy, and his uncle (Frank Galgay) is the outgoing Ward 2 councillor, and he has experience working on public policy at the provincial and federal level, but we couldn’t get a sense of his vision from our questionnaire or from the people we asked about him. In comparison with Lono, Fitzgerald and Harvey, all of whom ran for office in the 2009 municipal election, Galgay has the least experience on the election scene. That said, and no faulting the guy, we’re suspecting most of his votes may come from a case of mistaken identity.
Fitzgerald was runner up in the 2009 election and we can’t say we love his shrug-inducing slogan “Why Not Scott?” he looks to be mounting a pretty vigorous challenge in this race.
Simon Lono would be our runner up against Harvey here. His political bona fides are good. In his own words, he’s a “longtime community/neighbourhood activist with a keen interest in youth leadership and a strong background in public policy.”
[Update: Shortly after press, Simon Lono withdrew from the race, citing health reasons.]
Sarah Colborne Penney
There are three people vying for election in Ward 3, which encompasses much of the city’s west end. We have incumbent councillor Bruce Tilley, who has had a long history with municipal politics. Going toe-to-toe with Tilley are Walter Harding, a sales and marketing guy, and Sarah Colborne Penney, a non-practising lawyer and community volunteer.
We think Sarah Colborne Penney is the best choice for Ward 3. She is heavily involved in the community, and she offered the most thorough, ward-specific responses to our questionnaire. Of all three candidates for the Ward 3 race, she knows what she’s talking about and she’s the one who most obviously cares about Ward 3.
As of press time, incumbent Councillor Tilley hadn’t sent us a response to our questionnaire. He’s got a reputation for being in favour of building all buildings everywhere, regardless of heritage regulations so long as the people in his suburban ward don’t complain. He isn’t exactly the visionary we’re looking for on the next council.
Walter Harding has been campaigning for ages now, and we award him full points for perseverance.
Ward 4 encompasses MUN, the area up along Thorburn Road and around the Avalon Mall, and Churchill Park among other places. The ward was served by Debbie Hanlon who is vacating the position. (She seems to have vacated the position a few months early, actually, since nary a peep was heard from her all summer long.)
Anyone taking up the mantle for Ward 4 will be expected to advocate for the revitalization of Churchill Square, among a raft of other ward-specific issues.
There are two people running: Bernard Davis, who works as the executive director of the Church Lads’ Brigade, and Lou Puddister, a local businessman. This is Puddister’s first run for council, and Davis ran in 2009, narrowly losing a spot as a councillor-at-large to Gerry Colbert. Both of these candidates have kept a lower profile than some of the others running in this election.
The majority of our decision was based on a close reading of each candidate’s answers to our questionnaire. We’re pretty sure that “Meh” is not how we want to feel after reading through an election platform.
Lou Puddister’s business background will come in handy when called upon to tackle issues in Churchill Square. His stance on property taxes is promising too (as in, don’t increase ‘em any more). On the whole, we’d feel better about him for Ward 4.
[Update: After The Scope went to press, candidate Tracy Holmes entered the race for Ward 4.]
Ward 5 is going to go to Wally Collins, no doubt about it.
“The Goulds tends to settle on a candidate once every generation,” said one of the people we consulted. “He’s unbeatable.”
Up until very close to press time, Collins was running unopposed, but Sherwin Flight has stepped up to challenge his reign. Flight is awesome, from what we can tell. He once created a website that tracked pedestrian accidents in St. John’s. More recently, he created a website— www.stjohns2013.ca—that’s possibly the most comprehensive source of information on the upcoming election, purely to engage voters. We used it extensively while doing our research for this feature.
We like Flight so much that it’s with great pains that we endorse Wally Collins for Ward 5. Collins rules. He’s known far and wide as a man of straight talk, and in his words he’s “running to finish some of the projects [he’s] started in Ward 5 and to assist and aid [his] constituents.”
One highlight from this last go-round of council was his disdain for council’s decision to preserve the bandstand in Bannerman Park, calling it a “piss-pot.” Plus, the man has a perfect attendance record. Vote for this guy.
At Large Candidates
There are thirteen candidates vying for four positions in the at-large race. There are some very obvious choices. There are a few nos, and a few people we’re neither stoked on nor antipathetical toward.
[Update: Paul Sears, Steve Manuel and Tom Badcock joined the race for at large after The Scope went to press.]
Art Puddister is a no. One of our consultants told us that, based on his performance last time on council, we wouldn’t find anyone less interested in working with community groups and understanding the issues around development. As we were told, “if you love suburban sprawl and couldn’t care less about heritage, if you want to see the northeast Avalon become a suburban, power-centred wasteland with fewer heritage buildings, vote for this guy.”
Tom Hann, one of the two incumbents running, also gets a no from us. He’s an apologist for the current [incredibly awful] Metrobus service. Hann tends to be pretty negative. In council he’s good at shooting down ideas, he picks fights, and he makes snide comments. Not cool.
There is also downtown business magnate Lorne Loder. He would definitely be a strong advocate for local business on council, but he has no other experience with politics that we know of, and we’re not sure what he’s all about.
We also have Deanne Stapleton, who’s run for council numerous times in the past. It’s pretty hard for us to get excited about her vision for the city.
Community activist Lionel West took unsuccessful runs at the Ward 3 seat in the last two elections. He’s very well-informed and his answers to our questionnaire were satisfactory. Same could be said for Cecil Whitten, who is a well-known disability rights advocate.
We endorse incumbent councillor-at-large Sandy Hickman. Hickman’s history on council has been pretty good. He’s generally been an example of the type of competent, progressive community leaders that we’re keen to have more of on council. His experience as a member of council would also be an asset given that there will be a lot of new faces elected to city hall this September.
We also endorse Derek Winsor for the position. The man has cred. He’s the manager of Bridges To Hope, an organization that does outreach and provides services including a food bank to citizens in need. He used to be a school board rep who resigned to protest rural school closures. Let’s tally it up shall we: Works to help out needy citizens? Familiar with bureaucratic organizations and not afraid to make a stand? Sold. Vote for this guy.
Same goes for Fred Winsor. Seriously, this guy is legit. He’s Ph.D-educated in Atlantic Canadian studies and works as the conservation chair for the Atlantic Canada chapter of the Sierra Club. Every person we consulted with during the endorsement deliberations stated unequivocally that Fred Winsor is hands-down the best candidate for councillor-at-large, period. Smart, organized, environmentally conscious and socially conscious? You know what to do.
And that leaves Dave Lane, another candidate we think is the bee’s knees. Lane is the real deal. He the founder of Happy City, a nonprofit sorta think-tank devoted to making St. John’s a better place. He’s also been on manifold other city-building committees and organizations. He knows his stuff, he has a progressive vision for the city, and we believe he has the energy and the drive to get it done.
Not convinced? Read the unedited questionnaire results (PDF) from each of the candidates below.
Sarah Colborne Penny
For voting information, ballot drop off locations or to get on the voter’s list, visit stjohns.ca
By The Scope Motley Editorial Crue
(Drew Brown, Elling Lien, Nathan Downey & Sarah Smellie)