How much does the tone of an election impact the tone of the next council?
Judith Garber, political science professor at the University of Alberta said that the tone of an election can greatly impact the tone of the next council.
Garber said that candidates, supporters and third party groups can help to divide councillors and they may not come together to cooperate once they are on council together.
“Hopefully whoever gets elected mayor – and this is not a criticism of Nolan Crouse – has the ability and the foresight and the will to model good behaviour,” Garber said.
Outgoing St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse said that he believes one-on-one meetings are important in the first few days after the election. He said the new group needs to get together in the first few days to bond and come together.
“People care about each other and if you care about each other you put aside some of those differences,” Crouse said.
The plebiscite included with this municipal election could further complicate the projections for the next four years of council relations, Gerber said.
“Nobody is bound by the plebiscite. It’s totally advisory. If somehow the outcome of the plebiscite is not consistent with the composition of the new city council then there will be a whole other set of problems,” Gerber said.
Even before the next council is selected, Garber said that an election filled with personal attacks and negative campaigning can impact voter turnout. Garber said that it could possibly depress voter turnout because many people will not want to vote for candidates involved in negative campaigning.
Garber said that it is also possible that the opposite will happen.
“Another possibility is it actually attracts people because there are clear sides in the election and you don’t usually get that in municipal elections because they are non-partisan,” Garber said.
Garber said that it is rare for municipal councillors to be deeply divided. She said that typically voters pay little attention to municipal politicians unless there are big issues during an election. According to Garber typically municipal politicians are the most liked of the three levels of government and voters rarely turf incumbents.
Crouse said that the next council might have fewer problems because of the new council code of conduct. He said that other municipalities with a code of conduct have been able to successfully dish out consequences to curb negative actions.
Earlier this year the city received the report from a municipal inspection from Municipal Affairs that was conducted by George Cuff. The final report found that council was so divided that it made “speaking with one voice” difficult.
“The degree of disharmony is palpable and while it is not always apparent at a public council meeting, some portions of council, committee and in camera meetings have been anything but civil,” Cuff wrote.
Crouse said that the Cuff report may help make council more harmonious but he said that the recommendations were “soft.”
“Council may not do any of them,” Crouse said. “It didn’t hang anything over anyone’s head and it didn’t hold anyone accountable.”
A new mayor and six councillors will be selected on Oct. 16.