Unfair advantage or trusted guidance? High-profile endorsements in a crowded municipal election

Decisions by outgoing Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and several NDP MLAs to endorse candidates for city council have others in the race calling foul.

Weighing the impact as Edmonton's mayor, MLAs endorse municipal candidates

A political scientist said endorsements in municipal races are often seen as a bad thing, but they can help voters especially in a crowded race.  (David Bajer/CBC)

Decisions by outgoing Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and several NDP MLAs to endorse candidates for city council have others in the race calling foul. 

The issue is particularly evident in Ward Métis where 12 candidates are running in the Oct. 18 municipal election.

Iveson endorsed Ashley Salvador earlier this week, while candidate Cori Longo publicized her endorsement by Janis Irwin, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood. 

Endorsements from two other NDP MLAs — Deron Bilous of Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview and Marlin Schmidt of Edmonton-Gold Bar — appear on Longo's campaign website. 

The moves are frustrating to Liz John-West, another Ward Métis candidate, who said she ran for city council because there's no affiliation with political parties.

Endorsements send a message that only people with political connections should run for municipal office and lead to worries that party lines will follow candidates into office, she said.

"Clearly, with these endorsements by the NDP, Mayor Don Iveson — as well as there's endorsement by the UCP, but it's more informal and subtle — definitely has blown off people like me having an opportunity to really have a fair chance at getting on city council," John-West said. 

Liz John-West is one of 12 candidates running in Edmonton's Ward Métis. (Liz John-West )

John-West isn't alone in her concerns. Iveson's endorsement of Salvador and several other candidates prompted mayoral candidate Kim Krushell to promise that, if elected, she would never follow suit.

"To make an endorsement while in a position of power is an attempt ― either implied or explicit ― at influencing the outcome of an election," Krushell wrote in a statement on her campaign website. 

"Sure, you could argue it's nothing but a strong recommendation from someone on his way out, who knows a thing or two about the role in question. But for me, it's the duty of a leader to stay out of the fray when it comes to 'grey areas.' After all, perception is reality."

Endorsements not only factor 

In an interview with CBC News, Salvador said she isn't a political insider and plans to act independently if elected to council. She said her advocacy work in sustainable housing put her in front of council many times.

"Clearly the ideas that I've been putting forward over the years, I think they've resonated with certain councillors and in the mayor as well," Salvador said. 

Ward Métis candidate Cori Longo publicized her endorsement by NDP MLA Janis Irwin on social media. (Twitter )

Longo said that endorsements can have a place in a campaign.

"Endorsements help voters navigate the decision of who to support, particularly in such a crowded field," she wrote in a statement to CBC News.

"This ward cannot take the risk of electing a conservative councillor that won't stand up for us. If elected, the needs of the people I represent will be my top priority, as well as taking immediate action on the issues in my platform." 

Matt Dykstra, a spokesperson for the Alberta NDP caucus, said the MLAs involved were offering their opinions independently — "as is their personal choice and right to do so" — but noted the Alberta NDP caucus is not involved in the municipal election campaign.

"Our caucus will continue to work with all elected representatives, at all levels of government," Dykstra wrote in a statement

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson endorsed Ward Métis candidate Ashley Salvador earlier this week. (Twitter )

Signposts for voters

Although today's municipal candidates in Alberta aren't formally affiliated with political parties, that wasn't always the case. 

Jack Lucas, an associate professor of political science at the University of Calgary, said candidates in Edmonton and Calgary were associated with parties in the middle decades of the 20th century. 

He said the practice fell out of favour by the early 1980s when land development and rapid growth became issues that transcended partisan lines. 

"Those are the kinds of disagreements that didn't really lend themselves to party politics quite as well. Also, there just came to be a view that party politics didn't belong in municipal politics," he said.

Lucas said endorsements in municipal races are often seen as a bad thing, but they can help voters especially in a crowded race. 

"These endorsements can sometimes help cut through the noise and communicate to voters some information about who they might want to support."

That's a view shared by NDP MLA David Shepherd, who has publicly endorsed two candidates — Ahmed "Knowmadic" Ali in Ward tastawiyiniwak and Joshua Wolchansky in Ward O-day'min. 

The MLA for Edmonton-City Centre said he knows both men personally. 

"In my role as an MLA, I think it's not a problematic thing for me to simply offer my opinion," he said.

"Albertans have the opportunity to take that or leave that as they wish, to do their own research and make their own decision." 


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