Saturday, September 23, 2006

St. Charles bows out of PC nomination race

Progressive Conservative nomination candidate David St. Charles will not be seeking to represent the riding after a bitter dispute over the date of the selection meeting in November.
In a letter to Mary Anne Irwin, president of the Northumberland-Quinte West provincial riding association, St. Charles accuses the executive of lacking transparency and openness in the nomination process, followed by claims of insider manipulation and incompetence. He also alleges the other candidates - Jan Spragge, Cathy Galt and Carl Egginmann - already knew about the Nov. 7 date for the nomination meeting.
"It seems just a little too convenient and coincidental," he said in his letter. "My schedule is well known and transparent – November 7th is exactly the week I am scheduled to be in Banglore, India to meet with officials from the Indian Institute of Technology and several large Indian companies on behalf of the University of Ontario. The purpose is to bring research and development partnerships and jobs to our community."
He even lashed out at the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party for its lack of organization, professionalism and openness, citing his candidate interview as a mockery of good governance. The interview lasted 17 minutes with no follow-up or feedback, he said in the letter.
"There is more rigour in the selection process to participate in a television game show – at least they ask a 'skill testing' question!" he said.
Dirty political tactics, particularly in nomination meetings, is almost a tradition. Rarely does the public get to see how bitter and bloody the candidate selection process works. The exception was the battle between former Liberal deputy prime minister Sheila Copps and Tony Valerie when two ridings in the Hamilton area were combined. Copps, a staunch Chretien supporter was challenged by Valerie, who was a backer of former Prime Minister Paul Martin.  The content was an example of the inside war raging between the two camps, played out in the nomination process.
Still, talking to many riding association members, the nomination process is where grassroots party members get to slug it out and stretch their own political muscles. Often, when elections take place, riding associations often are given marching orders from campaign head offices far away. It can be said the nomination process is uniquely local on many levels. (That does not discount interference from outside. But mainly, it is a local matter, particularly in Conservative circles because they don't like to parachute candidates into a riding).
On the surface, it would appear Jan Spragge is the anointed one. This campaign is supported by some very powerful Tory insiders from Port Hope. One source described her as the next Janet Ecker, a very successful politician from Ajax-Pickering area, who became finance minister. She is a polished, professional who has an air that has been described as gracious and personable, by insiders.
But, if the allegations are true, it means party officials did not want her to square off against St. Charles.
One major factor must be the rainbow coalition St. Charles was trying to build. He brought in many Lliberal supporters, including high-profile people like Ryan O'Grady and Carolyn Campbell. There were other lesser known, but hard working Liberals who were actively recruiting within LIberal and NDP ranks.
It is easy to imagine how this would send the Conservatives over the moon. But rather than use it against St. Charles to rally Tory die-hards, they have used high school political tactics.
There may have been other reasons, no one may ever know. Was there a genuine fear that when Spragge and St. Charles might debate each other in some kind of joint event, Spragge would not meet the test? She is a bright, intelligent business woman, but St. Charles is an international businessman and academic with many more credentials than Spragge.
What is truly amazing is the local Conservative could have used St. Charles as a secret weapon. By opening the tent to disaffected Liberals, it was tearing away at support for Liberal incumbent Lou Rinaldi. Had anyone really thought about it, they should have let him go and watched with glee, as the Liberal riding association scrambled to contain the damage.
This is a tainted victory if Spragge wins. She had done it with a dark cloud overhead. The best move she could make would be to fight for a new nomination date and personally invite St. Charles back. He likely still has an organization. And, a public healing of the wounds would go a long way to raising the party's profile in the riding. Without it, she will look like her candidacy was handed to her on a platter and very elitist. That is not a good message to be sending to voters with an election only a year away. It may not be the way it really works, but for a majority of citizens, it is important that democracy looks, well, democratic.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Williams firing blanks; time to get out heavy artillery

Councillor Lloyd Williams pawed at his opponent, Mayor Peter Delanty, when he tried to condemn the lack of consultation regarding a proposed senior's centre amongst council members.
The mayor shot back quickly saying councillors had several opportunities to garner information and comment.
Williams, who is a well-known for his attention to detail and process, is not gaining any points for this kind of debate. While it may or may not be true that councillors were not given any opportunity for meaningful debate or lacked detailed information, this is not going to win votes.
In fact, Delanty's response makes Williams look like he was asleep and weak because he could not assert himself when given the opportunity.
Forget this kind of criticism, Lloyd! Time to parade out the big guns and get blasting. Delanty is vulnerable on a lot of issues. This ain't one of them.
Maybe, Williams could gain some support if he points out how the mayor was invisible on the issue of policing. While the Cobourg Police force was paralyzed for months over the behaviour of its officers and its chief, Delanty was nowhere to be found. Instead, he began advocating for OPP service, a proposal that has many residents very upset.
If Williams is anxious to criticize the mayor on the senior's centre, let him point out how ill conceived the plan was when it was presented. Delanty and Councillor Gil Brocanier presented a half-baked plan without detail and careful consideration. It was only after councillors got a good look at the proposal and the community outcry that they backed down. It demonstrates the reckless manner in which Delanty did his job in this case.
Come on, Williams. Get cooking. Let's see the heat get turned up.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

One leaves and one enters

Cobourg council candidate Wayne DeVeau dropped out of the race as former Hamilton Township councillor Howard McCourt jumped in this past week.
Citing family responsibilities and personal health, DeVeau announced he will not seek a seat on council. This is a familiar tune DeVeau is singing whenever a politician doesn't want to answer a lot of specific questions. No one will challenge him with an excuse like family and health. But what might be closer to the truth is DeVeau most likely had the necessary support or money to run. That will remain a mystery and, now that he is out, no one will really care.
Meanwhile, the entry of Howie McCourt represents an fascinating turn of events. With his experience on Hamilton Township council between 1985 to 1988, he has an advantage over the neophyte candidates and can be considered a real threat to the incumbents.
As for McCourt, he is also a very popular educator, serving as principal in several schools. He is a Rotarian and a highly visible member of the community. He is basing his campaign on controlled growth, wanting to keep the small town characteristic of Cobourg. This is a direct swipe at the recent addition of box stores along the northwest area of town, as well as four new subdivisions along the borders.
Between he and Stan Frost, they could create a definite challenge to sitting councillors Dean McCaughey and Bill MacDonald, both vunerable members. With Brocanier and Williams also moving up the ladder and Pam Jackson not running, the possiblity of a completely new slate of council is real.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The gloves are off in mayor's race

It took no time for Cobourg Mayor Peter Delanty to come back swinging at his rival Councillor Lloyd Williams after a crisp attack from the challenger earlier in the week.
Williams gave a strong critique of council's performance, lambasting the mayor and Councillor Gil Brocanier regarding the proposed senior's complex and policing. He also took a crack at the last of public involvement in decision-making and for a lack of transparency.
The mayor jumped on Williams for saying councillors had served far too long. Delanty reminded everyone about Williams' 35 years of service in Hamilton Township and Cobourg council. Delanty has served nine years.
Not surprisingly, Delanty defended handling of the senior's complex, saying a needs assessment is underway. Considering the two hatched the plan as a vote getting scheme that fell flat when citizens began challenging the plan, the mayor had little choice but to stand by him.
As for the other allegations, Delanty was quick to try and counter them. He says the lack of transparency, particularly around a series of visioning sessions that were held behind closed doors, were made public afterwards for council to comment on. He also said council listens, pointing to the Molly Baker Lane debate. Only after a dedicated group of citizens fought against a developers' plan to take away a historic lane way in east Cobourg, did council agree to help save it.
These are just a few of the jabs exchanged between the two contenders.  Give it a few weeks and watch for the body blows to start. Delanty is not going to sit back. He is highly competitive and experienced. He does not like to lose and despite a friendly demeanor, he is a fighter. Williams is the same. He may come across plodding, but he will trade blows any day of the week.
As an aside, the radio commentary this morning chastizing Williams for running after he mused publicly that he was getting too old to serve in council makes no sense. The commentator, David Craig, of The Breeze 107.9 FM, makes a weak argument. People can change their mind. So what! The community would be far worse off if Delanty  went unchallenged. He should be praising Williams for having the guts to take him on.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Whew! Williams challenges mayor for top spot

A sign of relief could be heard across Cobourg as Councillor Lloyd Williams announced he will take on incumbent mayor, Peter Delanty, for the top job.
It will truly be a David and Goliath battle, but Williams is one of the few people who can mount a serious, credible challenge to Delanty, who was acclaimed three years ago.
With 12-years experience on Cobourg council and 23 years on Hamilton Township council, most of them as Reeve, there is no lack of municipal political knowledge and leadership skills. While Delanty is more of a personality and well-known for his love of public relations over policy, Williams is more of a nuts and bolts guy with substantial understanding of municipal process and history. This is far too often not respected. Yet, Williams is good with people and has an excellent manner. He sometimes gives more information than needed, only because he understand the complexity of issues and refused to oversimplify or talk down to people.
Still, Delanty is in a very weak position. His handling (or mishandling) of the Cobourg Police Service and his desire to bring in the OPP is a crucial issue. Williams sat on the police services board, and while he faced a horrific time, he is one of the few politicians the police association and officers respect. This will give him huge leverage. Delanty refused to comment and commented only rarely. Many people feel he was missing in action.
The senior's complex proposal is also another weak spot for Delanty. He and Councillor Gil Brocanier figured they had a sure fire way to win lots of votes when they proposed a new multi-million dollar building on the east side of Cobourg. There was little preparation, no homework, no studies, a dicey budget and the pair stumbled along like Laurel and Hardy unable to sustain the backlash of criticism from people wanting looking for some rationale and answers. Now, the whole thing is put over as a needs study is being done. Delanty will not be able to shake off this misguided attempt to score easy political points.
The lack of openness on council and the poor behaviour of council when dealing with the public will also be a key factor. Williams is good with public submissions and listens when most on council shut out critics. Delanty is known for his backroom approach and there are a slate of candidates running on this issue alone.
Finally, there is a sense of staleness with the council. Voters are fed up with the current council with many of them serving for more than three terms. While Williams is one of those, he is running for a job that requires experience and the public expects it. He will be a new face at the helm. Meanwhile the rest of council may be under threat because Cobourg citizens are fed up.
Cobourg residents should be counting their blessings Williams has stepped up. If his courage in taking on Delanty, whom many thought was going to be acclaimed again, is any indication William may have the right stuff to bring down the giant.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Inside the St. Charles interview

The interview with David St. Charles at the Oasis Restaurant in Cobourg was complex, as it was revealing. His political views are deeply entrenched in his business philosophy: government should run like an efficient business, self-reliance, accountability, reduction of public funding to public institutions, among others.
St. Charles was dressed in business-casual clothes - dress pants, shoes, but a relaxed, button-downed shirt, impeccably groomed. While his manner is easy, his eyes are penetrating. Everything is being taken in. His voice is comfortable, but strain when asked tougher questions that seek specifics.
For now, his desire to get a campus of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology is the centre-piece of his campaign. He has many ideas around other important issues like health care, but they are not the stuff of political platforms. He suggested innovative use of technology, referring specifically to the use of wireless phones by doctors to get patient information on demand, something he saw used in Europe. While an interesting idea, it is not the broad policy of a political platform. At least, not yet.  With time and advice, he may choose to transform it into a policy initiative to enhance the use of technology in Ontario hospitals. That will be up to him and his advisors.
The private sector/public sector alliances, the central focus of his job at OUIT, is also a big part of his platform. And, while he supports more money to universities from the provincial government, he was quick to cut federal funding for academic research. He challenged the usefulness of some research areas and, as expected, wanted more research funded through private/public research. This may have merits, but there are plenty of pitfalls, as was discovered by Dr. Nancy Olivieri, at the Hospital for Sick Children, when she was her research was challenged by a drug company. Academic freedom is a very complex area and for someone to simplify it as St. Charles has done, dismissing the validity of research in non-economically beneficial areas falls short.
One of the most interesting exchanges was a challenge to his contention he "not a politician" and his low-key campaign. He was very quick to correct an assertion that he his a reluctant politician. Even-though he said several times the results of the nomination campaign were not important because he is only in the race to stimulate debate, St. Charles snapped at the suggestion he lacked any fire within him to win. He agreed the ambition that has driven him to the heights of international business success were fueling his  desire to seek the candidacy for Northumberland Conservatives.
Sitting alone in the restaurant, one could feel the presence of others in the background of the campaign.
St. Charles sought advice from many people before declaring. He spoke with business associates from around the world. Bob McCoubrey was an important local advisor in the early stages. McCoubrey is a very successful businessman, owning a chain of funeral homes, and a high-profile fundraiser, particularly for the Northumberland Hills Hospital. His blessing bring much weight in local Conservative circles.
The disaffected Liberals who have gathered behind St. Charles represent the an important aspect of this campaign. Ryan O'Grady, the former executive assistant to Liberal MP Paul Macklin, bring a certain irony and strength. O'Grady had a very quiet fallout with Macklin, from a public perspective. But within Liberal circles it was a major bloodletting. O'Grady was a key advisor and brought a lot to the table for Macklin, helping deliver two victories at the polls. Nobody likes to talk about why he left. The irony of his return to local politics, this time inside the Conservative camp, is obviously a slap in the face to Liberals.
The support of Carolyn Campbell, the former provincial Liberal candidate, is another body blow, as well as a one-finger salute to the party in Northumberland.  She lost a bitter battle for the nomination to the current MPP Lou Rinaldi. Campbell has held several government positions since she left as social services director for Northumberland County. Some of these came as a result of her Liberal connections, including as chief returning officer for several elections.
Both O'Grady and Campbell will bring considerable numbers of unhappy Liberals into the St. Charles camp. This will tear away at Rinaldi's support, as well as unhinge the riding association, since this kind of betrayal is scorned.
The interview went for two hours, much longer than expected. By the end, St. Charles was tired, but not done. There are many questions still to be answered, mainly specifics of his platform. Also, the low-key tactic will be a major factor. If he is able to transform this into a juggernaut  in time for the nomination meeting is crucial. While the other candidates attend highly public events and receive some elements of press coverage, this is mainly an internal political battle. It hinges on conversations in living rooms and kitchens across the county - quiet conversations. It is one of the last bastions of retail politics where face-to-face is more valuable than all the advertising and stump speeches one can imagine.

After 15 years, MacDonald wants another term

Veteran councillor Bill MacDonald will seek another term in office, he announced Friday, but he is one of the most vunerable, winning by less than 100 votes in the last municipal election.
MacDonald, who once had a nasty habit of falling asleep during council meetings (or was he just resting his eyes) during the early 1990s when I covered Cobourg council,  MacDonald has a grocery list of proposals he hopes to support (but strangely did not take initiative on during his tenure). This includes the hiring of a full-time physician recruitment officer, contributing to a new CT scanner for the hospital, a local police force, enhancing post-secondary educational opportunities and updating the town's web site.
Well, since the hospital is a county-wide service, MacDonald can safely support a full-time physician recruiter because Cobourg is only one contributor. The rest of the municipalities would also need to agree. And, with Port Hope in the mix, you can almost guarantee this will be a source of contention. Port Hope is opening its own medical facility and will have its own recruitment plans, as it always likes to do. So, while well intentioned, consider it a mostly empty promise.
As for supporting the local police force, this is an insult to the community. MacDonald has sat on the sidelines consistently during the last term in office while the Cobourg police force imploded. He has supported efforts to have a costing done on OPP service and never said a word of public support for the officers. This promise is pathetic as much as it is ludicrous. His record speaks volumes.
The vague promise to  enhance post-secondary education is smoke and mirrors. He might be referring to OUIT representative David St. Charles' proposal to bring a campus of the university to Cobourg. Who knows?
He is also campaigning for the hiring of an economic development director for Cobourg. But, this is a huge waste of money. The county already performs this function and town staff can easily look after any inquiries.
This is a tired campaign from a worn out politician who will take his chances of re-election on the familiarity of his name and little more.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

This Frost is hot

Businessman Stan Frost said he will take another shot at a council seat earlier this week.
This guy is a contender. The last municipal election three years ago, Frost missed getting on council by 63 votes. With his experience on the planning advisory committee, McCaughey has lots to worry about and so do the other incumbents.
This information technology and management consultant is semi-retired. He is using this to contrast with the other incumbents, many of whom are retired or former school teachers. He sees himself running as a "manager and business leader", not as a politico.
He is taking a tough stand on taxes and policing, two key issues for this fall. Municipal politicians are blaming the changes to municipal assessment for higher taxes. He is saying, "No". Frost wants more fiscal accountability.
As for the police, he wants a stronger local force with proper resources rather than looking to contract the OPP.
This is the seventh person to declare.