Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2014/ Big Money Politics

Big Money Politics

So it looks very likely that Jay Aissa will win the Regional Chair race in Waterloo Region. I have already written why I believe this will be bad for Waterloo Region, but there is one aspect of Aissa's campaign I want to highlight: the influence of big money partisan campaigns in municipal politics, and the lessons Jay Aissa's campaign is teaching other potential candidates for office.

I believe Aissa is likely to win because he has lots and lots of money -- enough money to hire experienced campaign managers like John Mykytyshyn. Again, I hope I am wrong about this, but I am not optimistic.

Aissa's tactics remind me a lot of dirty provincial and federal political campaigns:

I am not saying that these tactics have been absent from muncicipal politics before Aissa's campaign. But he -- as a well-funded protest candidate campaigning as a serious candidate -- is taking things to the next level.

But the factor that strikes me most when thinking about Jay Aissa's campaign is the money. There are campaign spending limits put on candidates, but my understanding is that candidates (and their spouses) can spend unlimited funds on their campaigns. That means rich candidates can campaign much more effectively than poor candidates can. And clearly, Aissa is spending a huge amount of money to overthrow Ken Seiling. He's hired a (no-doubt expensive) campaign manager in John Mykytyshyn. He's paying for multiple rounds of robocalls. He is taking expensive ads in newspapers and other media.

None of that is the real problem. The real problem is that all of these tactics -- the partisan attacks, the robocalls, the one-sided campaign sloganeering -- is working. We are all falling for it. That is terrible news. Provincial and federal politics is already dirty enough. At least municipal politics has enjoyed a modicum of civility. But when local politicians realize that money works and sloganeering works and campaign managers work, then they will turn to those tactics as well. Then we will lose the nuance and public congeniality that municipal politicians demonstrate now, and we will all be worse off. But in some sense, it is our fault. By rewarding Jay Aissa with the Regional Chair position, we are getting the politicians we are used to, and in so doing we are getting the kinds of politics -- and the kinds of politicians -- we deserve.

POSTSCRIPT: It's unfair to accuse Aissa's camp of dirty politics without pointing out that his detractors have been getting dirty and partisan as well. There are some unfunny "parody" Jay Aissa Twitter accounts, one of which makes fun of Aissa's accent. I do not think Jay Aissa will make a good Regional Chair, but I am proud that first generation immigrants are running for office, and I wholeheartedly condemn the xenophobic tone of such criticisms.

In a more ambiguous case, Scott Stager Piatkowski is on Twitter with evidence that Aissa's lawyers sent him a cease and desist letter. Piatkowski claims that this cease-and-desist is due to criticisms of Aissa's political campaign, but the letter documents criticisms made of Aissa's fencing company. I feel pretty uncomfortable with every aspect of this situation. I am finding it difficult to argue that one's business is not fair grounds for criticism during a politicial campaign (since Aissa has no compunctions about criticising other people's businesses -- namely how the Region is run). I also think there is a line someplace between one's personal and political life, and I feel that this line may have been crossed.

POST-POSTSCRIPT: I no longer think the threatened lawsuit against Piatkowski is ambiguous. Rather, it is ridiculous. It is not based upon any official statement made by the "No to Jay Aissa", but rather a couple of comments in a Facebook thread: . The lawsuit (apparently threatened by Aissa's daughter) reveals more about customer service than libel.