Editors Note: Local politics is a difficult game. Participants have to balance jobs and business interests with political activity. As we have found in the broader world, a ‘vigilante mob’ mentality can exist when people disagree on politics and businesses and careers can be ruined for simple basic political discussion. To that end people have spoken to us ‘off the record’ about local political issues.
The recent municipal elections were, for some local political observers and participants, a shift in local politics. Off the record, one described it as “a fundamental paradigm shift in local politics” while another commented “it’s like suddenly we have a political slate” in local politics.
Indeed, the under-currents were there during the recent election. At an all-candidates meeting in Chemainus Dave Haywood, running for Council, raised the issue of One Cowichan as a de-facto political party during his comments to the crowd. In rebuttal, Rosalie Sawrie, also running for Council and former One Cowichan director, debated that claim in her comments to the crowd.
Certainly, the rise of neighborhood associations has seen a significant increase in councillors running on specific local issues. During the last election for North Cowichan a number of associations were active and held all-candidate meetings. Included were the Maple Bay, Quamichan, Chemainus, and Crofton Residents or Neighbourhood Associations. Each had an all-candidates meeting that included specific agendas and or questions based on what the issues were for that particular area.
About the claim that some are making that there is a fundamental shift in local politics, this may be only partly true.
Those of us old enough will recall when each municipality had wards. Wards were essentially neighbourhoods and each ward elected one Councillor. Sometime in the 1990’s the Provincial government re-wrote the acts and laws governing municipal politics and the standard of at-large councillors was generally adopted. One hold-out is White Rock, which within the City of Surrey elects its own councillor. To the extent that neighbourhood associations turn the at-large councillor system into a focus towards neighbourhood specific issues, it’s perhaps not that much of a change and more of a return to an older approach.
During all candidate meetings for the North Cowichan election there was definite evidence of the same binary split we see in provincial, national and global politics. The fundamental right-left split that seems to dominate any larger political arena was present locally in perhaps more stark terms than previous elections.
Observers point out that previous to the current and immediately past council, one would be hard pressed to ‘label’ people with any specific political affiliation, but they claim that dynamic has changed.
Certainly, one can easily point to the comments made by various candidates and sort them into right-left buckets. Words such as ‘tax restraint, fiscal responsibility, common sense, etc.’ were the theme of about half the group while ‘affordable housing, climate change, environmental protection, etc.’ dominated the comments of roughly the other half.
A cursory review of the previous three elections does indeed show a trend and shift in local politics. An un-scientific poll of local political observers suggest more candidates that are explicitly left-of-center are running and that they have become dominant on Council.
For example, in 2011 observers suggest there were three or four left-leaning candidates out of 17 total, and one was elected. In 2014, there were 7 or 8 out of a field of 20 and 3 were elected, and finally in the past election there were 8 or 9 out of a field of 17 and 5 were elected.
It is certainly true that left-leaning candidates have become more dominant locally. As well, the vote totals for relatively unknown new-comers easily outstripped those of locally well known and previous councillors. This begs a potential question about what might be driving vote totals for new-comer left-leaning candidates.
Enter the claim of “slate politics” which does indeed seem to have some basis, with the rise of a group such as One Cowichan.
We explore this issue in futue posts.