It sometimes feels like a lifetime ago, but two times a year I am reminded about my time as a political staffer. Each fall and spring our provincial politicians head to Halifax to pass legislation and debate the important issues that impact our lives.
For me it is similar to the inner-student inside all of us who yearns every September to head to the stationary aisle. There is a radar inside of me that still naturally tunes into the activities at Province House.
I continue to be surprised by the attention given to municipal politics in the Third. As we saw during the recent sitting, the management of CBRM is very much determined by the decisions made in Halifax.
I admit, however, to being somewhat influenced by this interest; it’s all around me. That is likely why during the fall sitting our mayor got my attention.
Our Mayor is a Partisan
Many mayors – and councillors – are partisan; you don’t have to be elected to the federal or provincial legislatures to be actively involved in a political party. Parties recruit municipal politicians all the time to benefit from their experience. But our mayor is overtly – and might I suggest sometimes inappropriately – partisan.
Partisan politicians know that you can be partisan and successful while dealing with governments of opposing political stripes. To be fair, former mayor Cecil Clarke worked this terrain well. As a former Tory cabinet minister there was no denying his political alliances did not rest with Stephen McNeil’s Liberals. Yet, he was able to have an appropriate relationship with the provincial political leadership in Halifax.
Our current mayor seems to lack the partisan skills of Clarke.
Let’s unpack the current dust-up over Bill 340.
Early in her remarks during a news conference to formally oppose Bill 340, she noted her disappointment with an MLA from CBRM. It was clear from her comments that the MLA was a Tory. Why is this remark so high up in her notes? Her purpose is to represent CBRM’s interests, not take needless political jabs to help her provincial Liberal Party score points.
At the same news conference, in response to a question about provincial support for the municipality’s position, she said, “It was really nice for the first time in a long time to feel like we do have genuine support and it was coming from, you know, the Liberals obviously and the, um, the New Democrat Party. (emphasis added) Why is this Liberal support obvious? The Liberals didn’t negotiate a better deal for CBRM when they had the almost decade-long opportunity? They didn’t negotiate and pass a Charter for CBRM.
I was at that ‘presser,’ and remember how the comments made the hairs on the back of my neck rise. That’s what used to happen back in the day while watching media scrums gone wrong. My political spidy senses are still intact.
It’s the lacking political acumen of our mayor.
There is a time and a place for politicians to expose and flex their partisan muscles. Our mayor is still working on both.
Almost two weeks ago our mayor, some council members, and senior leaders at City Hall made their way to Province House to represent the municipality’s views on the bill and offer amendments.)
This is a typical path forward for a municipality wanting to amend a bill before the House. (It should never have come to such an eleventh-hour emergency trip, however.)
But as someone who once spent a lot of time with politicians, I do have a problem with how our mayor spent the previous week.
Public Displays and Personal? Apology?
Publicly whipping the housing minister and the Conservative government for a letter sent to municipal CAOs that excluded CBRM’s, for general disagreement about Bill 340, and for comments made by the housing minister about CBRM finances is a heavy week in municipal politics. Descriptors such as “disgusting, malicious, and rude” were used regularly by the mayor during the week.
But it is the next sentence that immediately forced my glance to the ground as I wished with all my might that our mayor would stop whining and complaining in her shaky voice about the hurt feelings of her soft and delicate CAO.
“This is not political, it's personal and it's unprofessional and I believe the minister should apologize for those types of tactics.”
This is the conclusion our mayor came to about the housing minister’s letter to CAOs. She made the comments to CTV a week before her trip to Halifax.
With all due respect to the mayor, the minister’s actions are political – and so are the mayor’s demands for an apology. Mayors are politicians and they play politics. Unfortunately, it seems that ours gets politics when promoting Liberals but not when negotiating good deals from Conservatives.
And apologize. Really?
Is the housing minister asking for an apology from our mayor for the public whipping? No. He doesn’t have to because he knows how to play the partisan political game. Plus, he didn’t spend the week name-calling.
Off to the Big City
After the week of emotional remarks and name-calling our mayor went to Halifax to represent us and to ask the Law Amendments Committee to amend Bill 340.
Given the Conversative majority government, the task of the mayor was to convince the Tory members of the committee to consider her perspective. Ultimately the mayor went to Halifax to convince the minister and the premier to give us a better deal. But before the mayor was back in the Third the government passed Bill 340.
The trip to Halifax produced nothing for the mayor to bring home to voters. Not even that apology.
Government Relations not Public Relations
This tale of lacking political acumen has me thinking about the most-recent hire in the Mayor’s Office. During the Bill 340 dust-up, the mayor hired a communications advisor. When I asked her why she hired a former radio personality to help her with communications, she responded, “Because we are drowning right now in so much work, I need support in my office.”
I agree with the mayor, but given her political skills, I think she should have hired a government relations professional. Name calling, asks for needless apologies, and emotional outbursts don’t get the job done.
The Bigger Picture
Our mayor seems to get the unsophisticated, pedestrian, hobbyist-type partisan politics of everyday party members, but isn’t up to the gamesmanship needed to take home a good deal from the political enemy that she at least in part created.
Residents need mayors who bring home deals.
We also need mayors who play the game at least as well as their enemies, however they are made.
When we don’t have them, we end up where we are right now.