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Another Ward 1/6 Debate

UPDATE: Glen Bender (presumably; I have not verified this) posted to the comments with some clarifications about his platform and some criticisms of Richard Maass. I suggest you read the comments to get his side of the story.

I learned a hard lesson on Sunday: I am full of lies. I sincerely hope nobody took my advice and went to any of the debates I listed earlier in this journal, because I lied about the address of the Ward 1/Ward 6 debate on Sunday. Instead of going to the proper building (35 Weber St. West) I went to the address I listed: 358 Weber Street West. For one thing, that address is nowhere near any downtown (it's near Union), and for another there is no building at 358 Weber; there's just an empty lot where the building would be. In other words, I suck.

I paid for it, too. By the time I went out to Union, discovered my mistake, went home to look up the right address, and cycled to the actual location, I was 45 minutes late for the debate. (I made things worse by attempting to enter through the wrong door, which thankfully was locked.) So the already untrustworthy impressions I'm blabbing here are limited further by the incomplete picture I got of the debate.

In addition to being a loser with no life, the main reason I went to this debate was to see how the incumbents fared against their competition. Sure enough, both Christina Wylie (from Ward 1) and John Smola (from Ward 6) were there, as were most of their opponents. For Ward 1, Raj Gill and Scott Piatkowski came, but Jankowski was again absent. For Ward 6, I think all candidates came out: Jack Byrne, Albert Norris, Julian Ichim, Richard Maass, and Glen Bender. The observant reader will recall that Byrne had skipped the last debate despite having a chair reserved for him; he said he had thrown out his back during the second day of campaigning. Maybe that gives him an excuse.

From Ward 1, I think all three contenders are actually looking to get elected, and that any one of the three would do a good job. One theme in this election is that the incumbents have been in power too long, and both Piatkowski and Gill bring this charge against Wylie (who has been in office for 22 years). I don't know what to think about this issue. I do have sympathy for the idea that long terms of office lead to corruption, and that political office is meant to be a tour of duty as opposed to a a career. But incumbents have an edge in elections for a good reason: they know their jobs, and unlike somebody new doesn't have to be trained for months in the basics of their new job. Certainly, Wylie has been in office for a long time, but it is not obvious that she is unfit to be elected another term -- her answers were mostly competent, and she had some vision of the next steps to take as a councillor (namely: working out Centre Block proposals). She also had some insight into the way things work, and what improvements need to be made -- for example, with respect to scrapyards and development, she brought up the issue of protecting regional wells. She also proposed increasing transparency by televising committee (and not just council) meetings, since more discussion/argument happens in committee. She had a lot fewer ideas than Gill or Piatkowski, but I don't get the sense that it will be a disaster when she gets re- elected by default.

I shamefacedly admit that I thought Piatkowski stood out again in this debate. He again trotted out the policies from his position papers, but even when faced with unusual questions he had thoughtful things to say. When asked about regulating scrapyards out of existence, he said that there are existing bylaws that could be used (which to his credit Smola also noted). When asked about supporting the symphony he claimed that the Perimeter Institute came to K-W partially because of its arts culture, including the symphony. I know I am biased (for one thing, I am not listing the responses of the other candidates for this question) but I consistently get the impression that Piatkowski is able to come up with good ideas, and that he has done his homework for this election more than the other mayoral and ward council candidates I have seen thus far.

Ward 1 continues to look dismal. Julian was Julian, which again is fine but won't get him elected. Albert Norris doesn't appear to be running seriously. He has one sheet of campaign promises, but did not have any copies for anybody else to take home. Many of his answers made no sense to me at all.

Jack Byrne is a new face to me. A fellow debate-attendee thought he was a good candidate (because he's lefty and has worked in mediation) but I thought he was pretty weak. He spoke mostly in generalities, and by the end of the debate he admitted that he was not as articulate as the other candidates. He was ignorant about how city council worked; one of his claims was that the weekly agenda for council meeting should be made available (they already are). He also spouted one of the real clunkers of the afternoon: when asked about council transparency, he said that "The perception [of non-transparency] is there, and so is the reality I suppose." Because, you know, perception determines reality. He also said that he has never done any reach out to mobilize communities, which was an odd confession. He did have a proposal to ban all drive-thru restaurants to reduce idling, which is utterly unworkable but pretty interesting. However, I later saw that he is not the only candidate during this election who has this idea. That is not bad (I think stealing other people's good ideas is a great way to govern) but it doesn't speak that well for his ability to generate innovative ideas himself.

That left Glen Bender, Richard Maass and the incumbent John Smola. It looks like The Record has some vendetta against Smola: they were the ones who broke the story about him never winning by more than a few hundred votes, and the article about this debate spent a good chunk of space criticising Smola for supporting initiatives (such as increasing council size) that he voted against in council. Given the attacks on him, I am surprised he gave such a weak performance. Even as an incumbent, he did not stand out against his opponents the way that Carl Zehr did during the mayoral debate. His answers to questions were competent but I don't think I once heard a new idea from him. Like Wylie, he referred to the ways things in the City worked, and cited some of the activities that council has carried out. That's fine, but he did not explain why council would work better if he was elected than if he wasn't.

Bender gave a better performance in this debate. He is still quiet (and sometimes hard to hear) but he seemed to have a little more enthusiasm this round. He did get worked up about a couple of issues -- the scrapyard thing hit home because he shares a neighbourhood with a scrapyard -- but his responses were often reactionary. For example, he did not consider the needs of the scrapyards at all when he said that they should be regulated, and that they shouldn't be opening in the city. Maass countered this by saying he talked to one scrapyard owner. The owner noted that the scrapyard had been there first, and that he would be willing to move the yard if somebody would arrange a land swap with him.

I don't think I have been giving Bender enough credit, because his ideas are mostly a subset of Maass's, who commands more attention. Bender does deserve credit for bringing up some good ideas: that the region seems to be spending more money on providing services than when those services were run by the cities, and that getting citizens to participate in municipal decisions is really hard. Finding ways to address those problems should be a priority for whomever does get elected to council -- the City has been working on participation (for example, through the Library mediation process and Who Are You, Kitchener?) but it is still a big problem.

Richard Maass attracts attention because he is loud, articulate and passionate. Those are fine qualities, but they should not be the deciding factors in electing somebody to office. I am still thinking of giving him my vote, though, which scares me a lot. Out of all the challengers, he repeatedly pointed at his own experience in working with stakeholders -- as part of Promote the Vote, some people's finance committee, talking with scrapyard dealers, and so on. He also has some aspects of his platform that can be carried out -- the accountability measures for golf passes and Rangers tickets could be implemented. His experience suggests that he has been very active in the community, and that he works on some of the same issues that I do.

On the other hand, he's a lobbyist for lawn care companies, and he keeps all mention of pesticide bylaws off his platform. That's worrying, because he has a lot to say about the topic. His conservative leanings bug me a bit: he talks a lot about running the city "like a business", which is fine except that cities are not businesses, and neither are social agencies. Lots of arrogant businesspeople enter the public/nonprofit sphere thinking that all you need to do is run things like a business to solve all your problems. I don't think I agree. Certainly, public officials need to be accountable and transparent, and they should not squander money. But the Mike Harris years did too much damage for me to think that pretending that taxpayers are shareholders and the sole purpose of government is to minimize taxes is a good idea. I think I am projecting those attributes onto Maass -- he clearly wants to spend some money improving traffic timings and such -- but I am worried that I would vote for Maass for the same reason people voted Mike Harris in twice: he made promises and kept them, even when the promises were lousy. (Incidentally, he's using another marketing pun on his name; his latest policy document is entitled "Maass Appeal". It's kind of an unfair advantage; there aren't many puns you can make on "Piatkowski", and the ones you come up with poor Glen Bender probably wouldn't help him get elected.)

In any case, I am pretty close to making a decision about my ward councillor and about the mayor. After attending the regional chair debate last night (which I might bore you with later), there are only a few holes left. Thanks to a certain somebody I have information about school board candidates now, but I have not waded through the profiles. Then there's the big gaping hole of regional council. I hope to make it to South Kitchener tomorrow evening to go to that all- candidates meeting, assuming that I'm not lying again and the debate is not in Guelph or something. Getting on the Voter's List might be a good idea, too, so that I can actually cast a ballot next Tuesday Monday.

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