Is this year's Edmonton municipal election campaign shaping up to be a Seinfeld election?
Fans of the American situation comedy show will recall that it was often described as being "a show about nothing." There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks that without a competitive race for mayor, this year's municipal election campaign will be dull and uninspiring.
Well, it doesn't have to be that way.
For starters, no one is conceding the mayoralty race to the incumbent, Don Iveson. A number of other candidates have already announced their intentions to run for mayor in the last two months, and more could surface today, which is nomination day.
Whether one of them can break from the pack to provide a serious challenge has yet to be determined. In the last 11 months several polls have been published in the public domain.
Iveson tough to beat
Mainstreet/Postmedia polls have shown Iveson's approval/favourable rating ranging from 52 per cent to 61 per cent, with his disapproval/unfavourable rating ranging from 30 per cent to 33 per cent. It should be noted that approval/favourable ratings do not necessarily translate into voting intention.
Even with a formidable challenger, Iveson would be tough to beat in this election. As it stands right now, without a high profile challenger, he will likely romp to victory on Oct. 16.
Nine of the 12 city councillors are running for re-election in October. Three wards will have a new city councillor (Wards 4, 5 and 9). I expect vigorous races in these open wards.
Voter turnout low?
Without a strong mayoralty campaign, voter turnout will probably be lower than it was in 2013 (34.5 per cent), which means that incumbents and the best-organized candidates in the open wards will have the best chance to win.
For those of us who care about our city, this seems like a disappointing prospect. However, the incumbent mayor and councillors still have to earn your vote and they all have a lot to be accountable for in this current term.
Many Edmontonians are concerned about some of the snafus and policy decisions that have bedevilled our current city council:
- the signalling system for the Metro LRT Line is still not fully operational two years after the line went into service
- the new Walterdale Bridge has only partially opened to traffic more than two years after it was supposed to be completed
- the delay in the construction of the 102nd Avenue bridge over Groat Road inconvenienced many commuters and hurt businesses in the High Street area
- city council's infill policy that allows the splitting of 50-foot lots to accommodate skinny homes in mature neighbourhoods has infuriated many Edmontonians
- the new bike lanes downtown, in old Strathcona and on 102nd Avenue in Oliver, please some residents but have angered some motorists.
Consecutive tax hikes tough on seniors
On top of all these contentious issues, Edmontonians have seen their property taxes increase every year in the last four years and we can expect that to continue for the next four years. This is an issue that is particularly grating for seniors who are living on a fixed income.
If these issues bother Edmontonians, the incumbents need to be held accountable, and the candidates opposing them and the candidates running in the open wards need to say where they stand on these issues.
Anything can happen
What am I going to be looking for in the next four weeks? First off, can one of the challengers to Iveson break from the pack and make it a race?
Keep in mind that the electorate is very volatile in most western democracies. No one saw Rachel Notley and the NDP winning the provincial election in May 2015; and no one predicted that Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party would win a majority government in October 2015.
Anything can happen. Can Iveson inspire the same amount of enthusiasm amongst his supporters as he did in 2013? If a lot of his supporters are indifferent or apathetic, this will impact voter turnout and the margin of victory.
The councillors who are stepping down (Bryan Anderson, Ed Gibbons and Michael Oshry) tended to be pro-development, fiscal conservatives. That leaves Coun. Mike Nickel and Coun. Tony Caterina as the only incumbent centre-right candidates running for re-election.
The candidates who run in the open wards will determine if this next city council tilts further centre-left, or if there is still some ideological balance on the next city council.
The last opinion poll in the public domain that asked Edmontonians what issues concerned them was a Mainstreet/Postmedia poll released on Oct. 17, 2016.
That poll showed that Edmontonians' primary concerns were taxation, city spending, transit, the management of city projects, and policing and safety. It will be interesting to see how the incumbents and the challengers address these issues.
Value for taxes a sleeper issue
The sleeper issue in that poll was whether Edmontonians thought they were getting good value for the property taxes they paid. Only 31 per cent of Edmontonians thought they were getting good value, with 41 per cent saying they were not getting good value, and 28 per cent of respondents saying they were unsure. This does not bode well for the incumbents.
We are extremely fortunate to live in a free and democratic country. If we care about our city we need to challenge the incumbents who are running for re-election, the candidates who are running against them, and the candidates who are running in the open wards.
In the next four weeks there will be candidates knocking on your door. There will be city-organized forums. There will be policy announcements made through mainstream media and social media.
This election campaign is not about nothing. It's about the future of our city. In the next four weeks let's see how this campaign unfolds so we can wisely choose who should lead our city for the next four years.