As St. Albertans checked their mailboxes this week, many wondered if some municipal election candidates are running together as a slate. Candidates were grouped in a similar fashion in the mail and some included a postcard about the branch library, similar to the one that found its way into mailboxes early in the campaign.
No candidates have admitted to being part of a slate in this election. But many residents have indicated through social media that they have a different view. In politics, perception and reality can have equal weight with voters.
St. Albert is no stranger to slates, as we have seen in past elections. They aren’t always full and they aren’t always formal, but they exist.
Inspector George Cuff noted in the St. Albert municipal inspection report that candidates had a slate in the last election and that helped create a disharmonious environment on council. For many of the interpersonal conflicts that emerged on city council, the seeds were sown back in 2010 during the acrimonious debates surrounding Habitat for Humanity project on surplus school land in Akinsdale. They continued on numerous other fronts including the downtown plan, the siting of the French district high school in Erin Ridge and the campaigns of 2010 and 2013.
The very notion of “us” against “them” has become more prevalent in politics at all levels of government, so it shouldn’t be a surprise when it happens at the municipal level. Compromise can be difficult with this type of mentality. However, we expect both “us” and “them” to do what’s best for the city and work together.
That doesn’t mean residents are wanting unanimous votes on council. If anything, the past voting habits of the populace indicate that they prefer to have a council with differing opinions represented. Not all candidates from any slate are likely to get elected; a candidate’s platform is just one of the factors that one might consider when they go to the polls. Ultimately each candidate will end up winning or losing on their own merits, as determined by voters.
Some may see a slate as a convenience for voters determining how they will mark their ballots, but it can work both ways. A slate can also give guidance about who not to vote for. Others may purposefully seek out the candidates who don’t appear to be affiliated with anyone. Slates are divisive by nature and can reduce the quality of debate as candidates and supporters stick to their talking points.
Of course, freedom of association is enshrined in the Charter. Candidates and residents are free to support or join up with whoever they wish. But we’ve seen what the “us against them” menality can do to a council. We don’t want that again.
Slate or no slate, candidates need to be prepared to work with people who don’t share their opinion. There should be no “us” versus “them” – politicians need to also represent the people who didn’t vote for them. Using the tactics of the past can indicate to voters a continuation of past council dysfunction. Be mindful that some voters may prefer a clean slate.