How to choose a mayor

Don White News Nanaimo
Mayors have different leadership styles -- and they might not fit with the councillors we elect
In principle, appraising mayoralty candidates in an election is no different than appraising councillors. You run candidates past the check points for attributes they’ll need to meet upcoming challenges and then select those who rate the best. In the coming term, there will be two kinds of challenges shared by both the Mayor and Nanaimo City Council, which I’ll call usual and special. And a third challenge faced by the Mayor in particular: that of leadership.

Usual challenges comprise the normal housekeeping and financial tasks. Housekeeping covers road resurfacing; sewer installation and public works in general; development permits and zoning variances; and so on. Finances includes taxation, fees, budgeting, and expenditures. These are the tasks of normal city business. Every city has them.

Special challenges are those associated with cleaning up, paying for, and rebuilding after the last four years. Pending lawsuits, investigations of what happened, our present status, possible charges for any criminality uncovered or betrayal of the public trust, and litigation to recover wrongful costs will be significant orders of business for the incoming council. Developing a new vision for Nanaimo and culture for City Hall and then putting us on its track will be essential components of rebuilding.

It’s believed that novices do better under someone who is more directive

The challenge of leadership falls on the shoulders of the mayor. Whomever we elect to that position will need abilities to create, direct, and support a functioning council team. He will have to weld together a disparate group of individuals into an effective whole. He will need a leadership style that works to that end. Failure to lead effectively may have been Bill McKay’s biggest shortcoming and his major contribution to the chaos that ensued.

Various leadership styles are defined in different ways. If you’re interested, you can read about one categorization here. I’m going to describe them as ranging from autocratic to consensual. It’s believed that novices do better under someone who is more directive; experienced individuals need more autonomy. The best style is held to be “situational”, in which leaders utilize different styles depending on the situation and member(s) they are leading. If true, we need to evaluate mayoralty prospects both for the same attributes as councillors and for their ability to lead the council candidates most likely to be elected by the voters.

I’ve written elsewhere about desired attributes of councillors, and those same general characteristics are also useful here. Honesty and integrity, management skills and experience, education, fiscal competence, intelligence, and critical thinking skills are all important. Published profiles and platforms of mayoralty candidates provide at least an impression of these traits. For those who haven’t had the time to check the online sources, I’ll provide capsule summaries.

According to an article in the Nanaimo News Bulletin, September 9, (the only information found) Ray Farmere is a network administrator at VIU, teaches ESL, delivers newspapers, and has no political experience. Not credentials making him a serious contender for the top job of running the city. Framere’s main impact will almost certainly be only of taking a few votes away from the other, more qualified candidates, Don Hubbard and Leonard Krog.

Hubbard attended Malaspina College, VTS, VIU, BCIT and obtained an ICD designation from the Institute of Corporate Directors through SFU in 2012. He spent most of his career with Lafarge Canada Inc., retiring as GM in 2009. He has had extensive experience on various Boards of Directors, most recently as Chairman of the Board for Island Health. His priorities include: restoring stability and good governance to Nanaimo City Hall; reinstating the Nanaimo Economic Development Committee and Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association; reconnecting with the Snuneymuxw First Nation; engaging with Island Health; and reducing housing costs. His platform is mute on environmental priorities and transportation.

Krog has a BA in History from the University of Victoria and a law degree from the UBC Law School. He has represented Nanaimo as a MLA since 2005. His platform includes: restoring good governance, fiscal responsibility; promoting economic development; restoring an Economic Development Office; maintenance and growth of infrastructure; addressing poverty and homelessness; preserving parkland; improving public transport; and working with the Snuneymuxw First Nation, the Nanaimo Port Authority; and other levels of government.

The information available online suggests Hubbard has more hands-on board experience and appears to focus on specific tasks. Krog’s platform is upbeat, but mostly contains broad strokes. He provides few actionable specifics. Krog seems the more environmentally concerned, while Hubbard’s platform begs questions about where he stands on sustainable growth versus unconstrained development. Hubbard believes the City needs to work with Island Health to solve the opioid crisis; Krog is strangely quiet regarding health care.

The published profiles and platforms raise as many questions as they answer. Hubbard has more experience with private companies and appointments to boards of directors. But that experience includes the hugely problematic computerized information system at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital – for which he has taken responsibility. Did that nightmare result from his management style? His failure to listen to those under him? I wonder how open he is to our new world of Internet and computer connectivity, particularly in social and political realms. My impression is that he may be “old school.” Hubbard says Namaimo needs a business approach, not politics. Not so. Governance is political.

The published profiles and platforms raise as many questions as they answer

I also have questions about Krog. Why was he excluded from the cabinet in the present BC government? Only because of his lack of support for Carol James or for something more relevant to us? Being elected six times tell us something about his popularity, but little about his administrative or management style. His track record of relevant, personal accomplishments is not extensive. I’m left searching for evidence as to how task-directed and action-oriented he’d be.

In terms of leadership style, Hubbard seems the more autocratic, Krog the more collaborative. Which would be better for our council isn’t clear. Being autocratic seems more problematic; being collaborative seems safer. But lack of clear direction coming from the person supposedly steering the ship can mean not as much gets done. Searching for consensus can take a lot of time and risk the dangers of group-think. Krog may feel safer, but will he supply the direction that is needed to make the council optimally effective? In terms of consensus building, collaboration, and fostering a supportive council culture, Hubbard again seems old school.

So in the next two weeks, I’ll continue to evaluate Hubbard and Krog while I decide my final list of candidates for councillor. (BTW: I’m now having to consider names I had previously eliminated from my shortlist in order to fill all eight positions.) I’ll try to anticipate if the councillors I want (or who are most likely to be elected) would flourish under the leadership style I’ve attributed to Hubbard or to Krog. You might want to do the same. If you already have a short list of choices, look at them all in terms of the kind of leadership they need. Estimate if they would be best supported by one or the other mayoralty candidate. Then we can compare results in a couple of weeks with time left for a final appraisal before election day. It turns out this exercise is no piece of cake.

About the author

Don White

Don White

Don moved to Nanaimo from the BC Lower Mainland almost five years ago, but has visited the Island regularly for more than thirty years. He considers local government to be a crucial factor in determining not only our quality of life, but also our efforts to protect and responsibly develop this beautiful but vulnerable setting we live in. This view became his motivation for continuing to inform and engage Nanaimo voters.


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  • Don… thank you for all the good work you are putting into this … and thank you for reconsidering some candidates for you councillor short list. I look forward to your future postings…

  • Thank you for taking on this role, it is tough for so many candidates to mesh with their best ‘Leader’ when they might end up with the other.
    I do understand your thinking, however how each Mayoral candidate will respond to the councilors they get might be the larger issue. I am running for SD68 as an experienced School Trustee of 13 years from another Province and I know so many wonderful folks in this City because I have seen them in action on Boards where I have served my Island community. While a Trustee in Thornhill, Ontario and a business owner, manufacturing furniture I served on a Curriculum Committee that was developing progressive options for magnet schools.
    Our delight with the success of the students attracted to the first of these school created a scenario where eventually 5 secondary schools were created. Students were doing what they loved and were committed to doing their best. Everyone mattered.
    Changes are needed in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, we are dreadfully underfunded and Trustees need to tackle this issue. I look forward to a healthy team of Trustees who will work respectfully together and actually care about the delivery of education, not their personal political success.

  • A very thoughtful discussion of the choices, as usual. Nice work. The big knock against Krog, as you point out, is lack of appropriate leadership experience. The big knock against Hubbard is that he has never tried on democracy for size and wants to start at the top. Both are seriously lacking in relevant municipal government experience. Whoever wins will need supporting help from at least a few councillors with that experience. And given the temporary status of the CEO, constructive experience at the council table will be all the more valuable — provided it is reasonably fresh and not associated with what are now largely discredited operating styles of the kind that generated too much (mainly avoidable) community conflict in past years.

  • Your insightful articles are always polite, gentlemanly, and I appreciate that. Myself I would have put some tougher language onto the leadership style of Don Hubbard at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. I am going by reports I have read on Google about the oversight taken on that by the Health Minister Adrian Dix who demanded that his “top down toxic” method be changed because it was destructive to the functioning of the hospital. There was a publication of the Registered Nurses of B. C. that was devoted entirely to the toxic work environment at NRGH under the chair of Don Hubbard. The multi million dollar American computer system that was forced on the hospital staff despite numerous pleas has been a nightmare for years. As one hospital nurse muttered when I was a patient there, “Nobody in the U. S. would buy it.”

  • Excellent analysis Don. i look forward to more on this very important subject.

    Question: Why do all the candidates to have spoken so far, focus on homeless in Nanaimo and the need to deal /support it? Dealing with homelessness, poverty, mental health are clear responsibilities of the Federal Government and the Province and not municipalities. We should not be spending City tax dollars dealing with these issues. I have always paid and continue to pay taxes to all three..

  • Thank you, Don, for your thoughtful and well researched insights. I appreciate the time you have taken to try and inform us, and to Dominic Jones as well for creating this website! I think I may have missed one of your articles though? The last one I received in my in-box, previous to this one, had you narrowing down your choices for council to 12 (if you include the 2 incumbents that you had previously excluded.) Those you were considering were: Sheryl Armstrong, Don Bonner, Tyler Brown, Ben Geselbracht, Erin Hemmens, Zeni Maartman, Alexis Peterson, Noah Routley, Jim Turley, and Peter Urquhart. But in the article above you say “BTW: I’m now having to consider names I had previously eliminated from my shortlist in order to fill all eight positions.” I seem to have missed the names of those you must have eliminated since that article “Cutting the Field of Candidates Down to Twelve” was published on September 24th?