Vibrant, hard-fought council races make up for lacklustre mayoral campaign

In my first column for CBC Edmonton, I asked whether this year’s municipal election campaign would be a Seinfeld election, an election campaign about nothing. In some ways it was, in other ways it was not.

'It is not up to the incumbent to stir the pot and rile up Edmontonians,' columnist says

Don Iveson, deep in thought, watches as fellow candidate Carla Frost addresses the audience during the first mayoral forum Oct. 3. (CBC)

In my first column for CBC Edmonton, I asked whether this year's municipal election campaign would be a Seinfeld election, an election campaign about nothing.

In some ways it was, in other ways it was not. As expected, the mayoral campaign has been a dull and lacklustre affair. The only fireworks happened when candidate Carla Frost threatened to "knock out" candidate Bob Ligertwood at the first mayoral forum.

While this exchange led to much merriment on social media, it was reflective of a dismal mayoral contest. Unlike 2013, when there was a lively battle for the city's top job between three city councillors — Don Iveson, Karen Leibovici and Kerry Diotte — this year's race has been dreary and uninspiring.
During the first mayoral forum, 11 candidates had only a few minutes each to make their pitches to the downtown audience. (CBC)

Don Koziak, the only candidate opposing incumbent Iveson with any name recognition and campaign experience, made only one promise in the entire campaign. He pledged to revisit the city's smoking bylaw and to look at the idea of allowing bars and restaurants to permit smoking in certain areas, if the rooms are properly ventilated.

Koziak out of touch with public

This proposal showed that Koziak was out of touch with mainstream public opinion. He also forgot that an election campaign is supposed to be about proposing ideas that will better the community. It is not a time to propose ideas that might help your business. (Koziak is general manager of the Chateau Louis Hotel.)

Despite the fact that the mayoral campaign was abysmal, it was not for a lack of issues to discuss. Polls have shown many Edmontonians are concerned with property taxes and city spending.

A Leger poll released on Oct. 4 showed that the most important issue to Edmontonians was property taxes, with 34 per cent saying the next mayor and council should focus on "reducing the tax burden on Edmontonians" and 21 per cent saying they should focus on "reducing the cost of municipal government to taxpayers." Two of the top six issues in the Leger poll involved property taxes; the others were poverty and homelessness, road conditions, improving city infrastructure and speeding up LRT construction.
Ward 9 candidate Sandy Pon addresses students at Nellie Carlson School during an event Thursday called Student Vote. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Despite the inherent contradictions in these findings, it is difficult to address social ills like poverty and homelessness, improve roads and other city infrastructure, and speed up LRT construction, without increasing taxes.

The fact is, there was an opening for a candidate to make a fiscally conservative argument in this year's mayoral race but that did not happen. With his business background and conservative credentials, Koziak should have been able to advocate a fiscally conservative position, but his campaign went up in smoke with his controversial smoking proposal.

Shewchuk's message heard by few

The only mayoral candidate who really advocated the "enough is enough with the annual property tax increases" message was Steve Shewchuk. Unfortunately for him, the message was hardly heard except at a handful of mayoral forums.

Other issues of importance were barely addressed. Accountability for the mismanagement of city infrastructure projects, such as bridges and the Metro LRT line, infill in mature neighbourhoods, and the new bike lanes downtown and on 102nd Avenue in Oliver hardly got mentioned. Instead, issues like infill and bike lanes were raised in some councillor races.

Iveson ran a focused and disciplined front-runner campaign. He made several campaign promises:

  • A new economic development plan for the city;
  • Energy transition and climate change;
  • More affordable infill and LRT expansion;
  • Strengthening integrity at city hall;
  • Creating a more family-friendly city.

He took part in a number of public events, had a lot of photo ops, and did a little bit of door-knocking.

You can't blame Iveson for running a low-key campaign. It is not up to the incumbent to stir the pot and rile up Edmontonians. That is the job of the people challenging him for the job. Iveson's 12 challengers failed abysmally.

The Oct. 4 Leger poll had Iveson's support at 52 per cent among likely voters, Koziak at 12 per cent, Shewchuk, Mike Butler and Fahad Mughal all at two per cent, and a few others at one per cent support. Twenty-five per cent of likely voters were undecided.

Apathy biggest issue facing Iveson

The biggest issue facing the Iveson campaign is apathy and complacency. With many of his supporters thinking that his re-election is a sure thing, his campaign will have to work hard to make sure supporters get out and vote.

I expect Iveson to win a landslide on Monday, with Koziak finishing a distant second. As I noted in my second column, this year's mayoral race has really been a replay of the 2007 municipal election, campaign when Koziak finished a distant second behind then-mayor Stephen Mandel.

The other side effect of a lacklustre mayoral race is low voter turnout. In 2007, when Mandel beat Koziak by a little more than 60,000 votes, voter turnout was only 27.24 per cent. In the 2013 municipal election, voter turnout was 34.5 per cent. History shows in Edmonton that whenever there is a less-than-vibrant mayoral race, fewer people vote.

I expect the same thing on Oct. 16. This will not affect the results of the mayoral campaign but it may impact some councillor races. I said in my first column that low voter turnout helps the incumbents because they are more organized and have greater name recognition. With this in mind, let's take one last look at the councillor races.

In my column looking at councillor races in wards 1 through 6, I predicted that two councillors, Andrew Knack and Bev Esslinger, would be re-elected and that we could have competitive races in wards 3 and 6, and vibrant races in the two open wards, 4 and 5.

I still believe Knack and Esslinger will be easily re-elected but am less sure that the incumbents are in trouble in Wards 3 and 6.

Name recognition will play big role

Dave Loken faces strong challenges from Jon Dziadyk and John Oplanich but they may end up splitting the anti-Loken vote. In an election with low voter turnout, Loken's name recognition may be the difference in a tight race.

Similarly in Ward 6, Scott McKeen has faced strong challenges from Tish Prouse and Bill Knight, but like in Ward 3, they may end up splitting the anti-McKeen vote. With his name recognition and strong support downtown and in Oliver, McKeen should pull through.

Wards 4 and 5 are ones to watch. Neither has an incumbent and both have had vigorous campaigns. Ward 4 will be a close race between Rocco Caterina and Aaron Paquette, who have the most campaign experience and the highest name recognition. In Ward 5, my assessment is that it's a three-way race between Sarah Hamilton, Dawn Newton and Miranda Jimmy. It will all come down to who has the best organization on election day.

In wards 7 to 12, we have an open ward, two councillors facing stiff challenges, and three councillors I expect to be re-elected.

I still expect Michael Walters, Mike Nickel and Moe Banga to be easily re-elected. Wards 7, 8 and 9 will be ones to watch on election night.

Remember to vote on Monday

In Ward 7, Tony Caterina is facing a strong challenge from Kris Andreychuk. The question is whether Mimi Williams will split the progressive vote, allowing Caterina to come up the middle and win.

In Ward 8, Ben Henderson is facing a challenge from James Kosowan, but once again the anti-incumbent  vote could be split if Kirsten Goa does well. This factor, and higher name recognition, may help Henderson win a tight race.

Ward 9 is open, with several credible candidates. My assessment is that it's between Tim Cartmell and Rob Agostinis. With the backing of former councillor Bryan Anderson and former MLA Dave Hancock, I expect Cartmell to win.

My final thought on this campaign is to remind readers how fortunate we are to live in a free and democratic society. Elections matter. For the sake of our city and our democracy, please get out and vote on Monday, Oct. 16.

Next week I will provide my analysis of the election results.

About the Author

John Brennan


John Brennan is a political scientist who has served as a strategic adviser/executive assistant to two Edmonton mayors, Don Iveson and Jan Reimer, and as a senior special assistant/deputy chief of staff to a federal cabinet minister. A participant and observer of politics in Edmonton for more than 30 years, Brennan will provide insight about the Edmonton municipal election throughout the campaign.