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Party politics in Ottawa?

Wed Feb 1, 2006 Miss Vicky 

Yesterday's Citizen had a rather speculative article about the possible incursion of party politics into our municipal system. The piece suggests that Conservatives are seeking a candidate to run for Mayor, since prominent Liberal Bob Chiarelli is running, and Alex Munter, who has been affiliated with the NDP, is likely to announce. It seems to me a fairly simplistic and limited way of looking at our city's electoral sysytem, and a misrepresentation of what kind of work goes on to put together a municipal campaign.

In my view, municipal politics in Ottawa offers a unique opportunty to work across and beyond party lines on issues that really matter to people. Councillors and mayors are elected, presumably, because of who they are and what they can offer their community. An effective municipal campaign (especially a campaign for mayor) needs to mobilize people from all political stripes. Candidates who share values and perspectives can align with each other, sure, but does this make a political party - or even a slate? Does a particular candidate's present or past association with a political party at the federal or provincial level mean they will only be looking to that party for support during a campaign? Hardly.

This issue strikes an intensely-personal chord with me, since the party issue figured in some of my soul-searching about whether to run for Council. Most people who know me know that I have done a lot of work with the NDP in the past, including some fairly high profile roles. When you've been on national television and radio representing an organization, there's no point in trying to deny, conceal or erase that fact. I've done lots of other stuff in the community, to be sure, but as a municipal candidate I do risk being placed in that convenient political box that people in this town like to use (would it be as much of an issue in a city other than the nation's capital, I wonder?). I call it a risk because a successful campaign requires a broad-based network of supporters and volunteers. Some of them may be involved in party politics, others may spend more of their time working on particular issues or in particular neighbourhoods.

And that's one of the really exciting things about municipal politics - forging new alliances and partnerships, working with different kinds of people and groups, building coalitions and expanding networks. It's about finding common ground and exploring shared values and goals for our community. And there is a lot there to work on - revitalizing our mainstreets, protecting green spaces, strengthening our neighbourhoods. Where I may differ from my opponent has little to do with party affiliation and more to do with how we view our community and the role of councillor. So far my campaign has allowed me to meet and work with people who carry different party membership cards (indeed, I've had some challenging, frank and useful discussions with some of them about partisan activity and municipal politics), and I'm kind of excited about the diverse team that we are bringing together.

From what I understand about mayoral politics, it is wrong to assume that the addition of, say, Walter Robinson, to the race means the various campaigns would divide along party lines. Any mayoral candidate worth her or his salt would be working all the connections they can, building a team from those affiliated with different parties and with no party whatsoever.

In fact, the ability to build coalitions and find common ground among differing perspectives is an important quality in any municipal politician. Much has been made of our "divided" council and the difficulty it seems to have making decisions and finding compromise. Partisan politics has nothing to do with the paralysis that seems to have struck our council, nor will it help relieve it. What I hope voters will look for in mayoral and council candidates is a commitment to problem-solving, to collaboration, and to making decisions with the health of our city at heart.

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