Orange Wave Over City Hall

At a party fundraiser in St. John’s on May 12th federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair rattled a few cages when he endorsed St. John’s councillor-at-large Sheilagh O’Leary for mayor.

Mulcair’s endorsement has ignited debate over the roll of parties in municipal politics and has raised the ire of Premier Kathy Dunderdale and Mayor Dennis O’Keefe, who accuse him as meddling where he doesn’t belong. O’Keefe, speaking on CBC’s On Point, even went so far as to say that this was confirmation of an NDP plot to oust him in the next election. Provincial NDP leader Lorraine Michael has denied this.

Real or imagined conspiracies to seize control of the capital aside, these discussions raise the broader question of how, or if, we want our elected municipal peeps to be involved with higher level politics in a partisan way.

“I personally like that [council] is non-partisan,” says O’Leary. While she recognizes that all people have their own politics, “especially if they’re a politician,” she says that “should have no bearing on the business we do at city hall.”

The question is, then, can municipal politicians put their personal politics aside to serve their constituents? O’Leary says that she is personally a supporter of the NDP, and is quick to point out that O’Keefe actively campaigned for PC candidate Sean Skinner in the last provincial election. But have either of these allegiances affected O’Leary or O’Keefe’s work on council? Not as far as I can tell.

The true impact of Mulcair’s endorsement is yet to be seen, but it has kick-started speculation about the next municipal election, which is still more than 16 months away (September, 2013). O’Keefe has said he will run for Mayor again. O’Leary is “definitely considering it” but she says she hasn’t decided yet. Either way, O’Leary recognizes that the next election will be a crucial time for the city. “Just like turning the dirt, it’s time for us to invigorate and get some progressive voices on council, because you know what? We got some big, big things coming our way.”

Mulcair’s endorsement may have been the first for the upcoming municipal election, but with the stakes in federal and provincial politics so high, and politicians looking to make gains wherever they can, it may not be the last. O’Leary isn’t overly concerned by this though. “It’s the people in the community who know what they want and need.”

So, until Thomas Mulcair moves to Airport Heights, he doesn’t get to cast a ballot in the St. John’s election. But for those of us who do, we can choose what type of person we want to represent us—regardless the colour of our favourite crayon.