We like to think of city council candidates as being independent, regardless of which party they are a member of or how they define themselves. This independence allows them to represent the ward vs. representing the party and theoretically allows them to transcend party boundaries in working with other levels of government.
However, now we see a situation in St. Norbert where the sitting MLA, Dave Gaudreau, is not only overtly campaigning for one council candidate, but also overtly campaigning against another candidate. Separately, this would be questionable behavior, but combined it brings the ethics and credibility of the MLA and the future working relationships into question.
Some will suggest that I am unfairly besmirching Sachit Mehra, the candidate that the Mr. Gaudreau is campaigning for. But this isn’t about him; it’s about the Mr. Gaudreau. You need to look no further than the social media presence of both Mr. Mehra and Mr. Gaudreau. Alone, Mr. Mehra’s twitter and Facebook presence are what you would expect of a council candidate – lots of pictures campaigning and glad-handing. But look a little further and you’ll see that a vast majority of Mr. Mehra’s twitter and Facebook posts have been favourited and shared by Mr. Gaudreau ( in some cases it’s only Mr. Gaudreau that is that is sharing and favouriting). Those alone aren’t an issue, but then take a look at Mr. Gaudreau’s social media presence. It’s rife with pictures of Mr. Gaudreau and Mr. Mehra at various events, campaigning, glad handing, and dropping literature, and pounding in lawn signs. In fact the literature for Mr. Mehra that ended up in my mailbox the other night was put there by Mr. Gaudreau. When I questioned Mr. Gaudreau about the appropriateness of overtly campaigning on behalf of a council candidate, Mr. Gaudreau indicated he was free to do whatever he wanted in his free time.
None would believe that an MLA is a 9-5 job, and Mr. Gaudreau proves that by the extensive amount of time he spends attending community events in his riding ( this is a good thing), a substantial number of which occur in the evening. However I was at a community event two weeks ago that Mr. Gaudreau was not at (according to his twitter, he was campaigning with Mr. Mehra that evening). I don’t know if Mr. Gaudreau was invited to the event that evening, or if he would have attended regardless, but the question that can now be asked is “Was Mr. Gaudreau campaigning for Mr. Mehra when he could have been at a community event?”
These could be considered pretty thin conclusions, but so what? In the end, it doesn’t matter how much influence Mr. Gaudreau has over Mr. Mehra (if any), it’s about perception. And Mr. Gaudreau has been overt enough in his support for Mr. Mehra to allow the perception that if Mr. Mehra was elected, in a dispute between the province and the city, Mr. Mehra may put his relationship with the MLA over the interests of the Ward. Would it happen? Who knows? Who cares? It’s not about anything other than perception. Sam Katz always wondered why people thought he had an inappropriate business relationship with Phil Sheegal when they showed up together on flights and at Jets games. But when you cultivate that perception it allows for people to come to certain conclusions. And when the MLA is campaigning as overtly for a council candidate as Mr. Gaudreau is, it allows people to draw certain conclusions.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, Mr. Gaudreau has come out swinging at another council candidate as a result of the city’s decision to deny a zoning variance for RHG Bonnycastle school. Janice Lukes was Councillor Justin Swandel’s executive assistant. Mr. Gaudreau takes Ms. Lukes to task for not openly supporting the variance (which would be in opposition to her employer’s position opposing the variance). The hypocrisy that Mr. Gaudreau shows is bad enough (I have yet to hear him publicly speak out against any of his government’s policies), But his attacks on Ms. Lukes on his Facebook page as shown below show a complete lack of class and professionalism. What happens if Ms. Lukes gets elected? How do you think that relationship is going to work? The ward is done a disservice if the acrimonious relationship affects the interests of the ward members. In fact, it is not such a leap to suggest that the variance decision can be traced to the poor relationship between Mr. Gaudreau and Mr. Swandel(Mr. Gaudreau’s social media easily leads one to that conclusion) . Had these two been able to work well together, the issues with RHG Bonnycastle would have already been resolved. Mr. Gaudreau likes to say he will work with anyone, but this clearly shows that he cannot and also suggests that if Ms. Lukes is elected, there will be a poor working relationship between her and Mr. Gaudreau going forward.
So, Mr. Gaudreau has taken the two front runners in a council ward and provided the perception that one will not be able to properly represent the ward in conflicts between the city and the province; and also provided the basis for a conclusion that if the other front runner were to be elected more issues like RHG Bonnycastle will occur as a result of the MLA publically poisoning the relationship between Ms. Lukes and himself.
This is a clear example of why MLAs or MPs for that matter should not get involved in council elections. As a voter, where I was prepared to judge candidates on their policies and vision for the ward, I now have to give significant weight to what the relationship will be with the MLA if they are elected.
As an MLA, you MUST take into account your public facade when deciding who and how to support. As a private citizen with relatively little influence, I’m not going to cause too much of a stir campaigning for anyone. But when a public persona who will have business dealings with a councilor whether it is an MLA or a land developer, even if it is not quid por quo, that perception is out there.
If an MLA or MP wants to support a specific candidate, they can mark an X on a ballot on election day. Otherwise it does a disservice to the candidates and the ward as well as raising ethical questions about the MLA by overtly campaigning for (or against) specific council candidates.
As an update, Mr. Gaudreau is now posting against Mayoral candidate Brian Bowman. I think we’d all be well served if Mr. Gaudreau took a vacation from social media and focused on his job as an MLA as opposed to focusing on the civic campaign.