If any aspect has become obvious during the past couple of years, it’s that voters have no reliable higher authority willing and able to protect their interests. None. Not a one. If anything goes wrong, you and I are out here on our own.
During the four year history of Nanaimo’s current council, the Province of BC refused on more than one occasion to intercede with our dysfunctional and destructive City Hall. Nanaimo voters were left alone to endure the chaos, bills, and the dismantling of City services and staff that will now take us a decade or more to clean up and replace.
As for Ottawa, don’t even go there. The federal government, with its centrist views and proclivity to break election promises without missing a single, self-serving political beat (think promised electoral reform and commitment to be a global leader in climate action) will never intercede on our behalf at the local level – even if it were constitutionally possible, which I’m pretty sure it isn’t.
Of course, there are good reasons for higher levels of government not intervening with lower elected bodies. Any such step would raise valid questions about inappropriate interference. Look what’s happening with Ontario Premier Doug Ford halving the size of Toronto’s City Council. On principle, one level shouldn’t interfere with another without very good reasons. Unfortunately, that hands-off approach also exposes voters and citizens to the most horrendous of civic abuses when local governments go wrong. As any Nanaimoite can testify.
When it comes to those who govern, it’s safe to say that no one has your back — except yourself. You are your first and only defence, and you defend by electing those who will intercede on your behalf. After witnessing the past four years in Nanaimo, that has become Factor #1 in my appraising prospective candidates. To me, the crucial first question is: Will a particular candidate persistently and uncompromisingly look after the interests of the voters?
Applying this to the October 20 municipal election, I started by considering the incumbents using three variations of this question. Was a candidate responsible for creating or perpetuating the travesty of governance Nanaimo citizens endured for the past four years? Were they there, but did little to protect the voters? Did they actively oppose the cadre led by Bestwick?
The incumbents running are: Gordon Fuller, Jerry Hong, Sheryl Armstrong, Ian Thorpe, and Wendy Pratt. I include Pratt because she put in half a term of the current council. I exclude previous council members because they weren’t at the table for any part of the past four years.
Candidates for obvious elimination are Gordon Fuller and Jerry Hong. Both played central roles in creating and perpetuating the dysfunction of the current council. Both supported the hiring of Tracy Samra as CAO; both provided her with retroactive salary increases and bonuses (despite a contract agreement she had signed); both delaying her suspension; and much more than I want to detail here.
In full disclosure, I voted for Fuller in 2014, and promptly learned the perils of making frivolous, ignorant decisions at the polls. For four years, when I wasn’t cringing, I saw that he had Tracy Samra’s back far more than he had mine. The promise offered by electing Jerry Hong was reduced to little more than his most characteristic statement observed in numerous council meetings, “I just don’t get it.” In that I agree with him completely.
Nothing speaks more persuasively for the unsuitability of both these incumbent candidates than their belief they should run again for Council. Nothing shows their lack of insight into what’s needed in a councillor more than their decision to stand for a second term. Fool me twice: shame on me. No more time should be wasted considering either of these individuals.
I put Ian Thorpe and Wendy Pratt in the category of those who did little to oppose the Bestwick-led majority. And both Thorpe and Pratt endorsed calling for the elected Mayor’s resignation, an action I regard as setting the stage for the ensuing reign of terror. From my viewpoint, Thorpe disappeared whenever conflict loomed and emerged only when when it was politically safe to do so. Ducking and covering may have saved his butt, but it also exposed mine.
On the surface, Wendy Pratt seems a bit more complicated. Being a target of Jim Kipp’s misogynistic rants and being manipulated by Samra into resigning seem unfair and suggest she deserves a second chance. However, being a target or unjustly forced to resign demonstrate neither Pratt’s good intentions nor her effectiveness in protecting voter interests. Ironically, her most notable contribution to the protection of Nanaimo voters was her resignation, which opened the door for Sheryl Armstrong’s arrival in a by-election.
As for Armstrong, I’ll state unequivocally that without her on the current Nanaimo Council, the four years of dysfunctional, destructive administration would never have resolved the way it did. Nor as quickly as it did. Without Armstrong’s active, dogged efforts (think undercover, behind the scenes) we might still have Tracy Samra as our CAO, not to mention Victor Mema.
I believe that electing Sheryl Armstrong to another term is not only in my and other voters’ interests, it is deserved, minimal compensation for the significant personal costs that she incurred by defending Nanaimo voters. But paying a debt owed is secondary. The paramount reason I want Armstrong on the next Nanaimo Council is to represent me at the table. She’s the one incumbent who has demonstrated she has my back at City Hall.
In the next column, I’ll take a look at the non-incumbents.