Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Big Changes at St. John’s City Hall

Big Changes at St. John’s City Hall

By: Ryan Young

Yesterday was municipal election day in Newfoundland & Labrador. While perceived by many to be a dull affair, this year’s elections were anything but routine. I truly believe that our municipal elections are the only real example of democracy that exists in Canada today. At both the provincial and federal levels the game is ruled by party partisanship and access to donations, but in the municipal world, the politics are about as pure as you can get. Sure, there are many self-serving people that run for council, but at the end of the day the voters have all the say and democracy is served, for better or for worse.

The St. John’s race was particularly interesting for this bayman, who was participating in his first “townie” election after a very turbulent couple of years municipal politics. A very diverse set of candidates put themselves forward and nobody could predict the way things would go. Danny Breen beat out former mayor Andy Wells and newcomer Renee Sharpe for the Mayor’s chair with a fair majority from the 56% overall turnout. Breen, the former Ward 1 councillor, was expected to win, but at the end of the night he was one of the few “old guard” councillors that earned a return ticket to the chambers at city hall.

While Breen has been criticized at times for having close ties to the provincial PC party, and supporting Muskrat Falls, his experience and business connections made him the safe choice for mayor when compared to his opponents who each represented perceived extremes on the political spectrum. Many people I spoke with during the campaign felt that Andy Wells would emerge victorious, but in the end, the people of St. John’s decided that it was time for Andy to fade back into the shadows and handed the crown to Breen. Renee Sharpe finished third in the race, but I doubt we have seen the last of her. Sharpe’s campaign resonated with many voters who were fed up with the status quo, and she proved herself to be a smart and formidable candidate who should have a bright future ahead of her in politics at some level. The outcome may have been predictable, but the campaign was anything but. Some great ideas were put on the table that I hope the new council will embrace, moving forward.

With the rest of council, the people of St. John’s decided the city needed a new direction. That was evident in the results on Tuesday night. Former Ward 4 councillor, Sheilagh O’Leary won the race for Deputy Mayor, and only Ward 5 returned an incumbent councillor with Wally Collins emerging as the victor. Deanne Stapleton, Hope Jamieson, Jamie Korab, and Ian Froude were elected to council for the first time, in wards 1, 2, 3, & 4, respectively, representing a major shift in the local political landscape in the capital city.

The closest race was for the Councillors-At-Large. With 12 candidates vying for 4 seats, it was a close race that saw 3 incumbent councillors go down in defeat. The top vote getter was newcomer Maggie Burton, followed by Dave Lane, Sandy Hickman, & Debbie Hanlon, respectively. The loss of so many incumbent councillors really highlights the number of people in the city who believe that it is time for a change at city hall. The pressure now falls on those who were elected to live up to those expectations and shift the political compass of the city in a new direction.

5 women and 5 men were elected to council, (not including the mayor) with 5 new faces and the majority of elected candidates under the age of 35. Many of the new councillors have talked about making St. John’s a more progressive place to live, and it looks like the city could be in for some big changes in the way things are done. The people expressed their obvious displeasure with the actions of the old council in the best way they could, and they proved that democracy can work if enough people want change.

There were many great races across the province and I would like to congratulate everybody who participated in this year’s elections, either as a candidate, a volunteer, or a voter. Democracy can only work if people participate, and the only way to engage people is to offer them an opportunity for change and a belief that change can happen if they are willing to step outside of the box and consider a new way of thinking (and voting).

Many people think that democracy in this province is broken, and on many levels, that view is hard to argue with. But when it comes to the municipal elections, the effort put forth across the entire province yesterday just goes to show what can be accomplished when regular people become informed and engaged in local politics. It was a great election year, and I can only hope we will see the same kind of spirit and engagement when the next provincial elections come around in 2019 (or sooner).

No comments:

Post a Comment