Lessons from the Civic Election – Will They Resonate?


political storm cloudsTHUNDER BAY – For political leaders, one of the ways to keep an ear to the ground and thereby stay grounded with voters, is in hearing from voters. In many ways, today through the Internet it is easier for people to send a message to politicians, or at least to their office.

However it is also harder for people to know if their message was actually received by the MP, or MPP or by a staff person in their offices. It is different with civic politicians, in Thunder Bay, except for the Mayor, none of the Council members have offices in City Hall. And none of the City Councillors have a staff.

That means at the civic level, your emails and phone calls are being answered directly, or not answered, by the person you sent them too.

Campaign 2010 offered several lessons for politicians and would-be politicians.

Looking at the results of the civic election in Thunder Bay, from the distance of a few weeks now, it appears that overall voters were sending a message to our city councillors. In a number of the wards, Northwood, MacIntyre, and in Red River, the incumbent Councillors won, but with a very low percentage of victory.

Mark Bentz in Northwood was acclaimed in 2006. In 2010, it is entirely likely that it was only because he had two strong challengers that he was able to win re-election. The same held true in Red River. Two strong challengers against incumbent Brian McKinnon also allowed him to win.

In MacIntyre, there were, again several challengers, and incumbent Trevor Giertuga won with only 35.9% of the vote.

There is one other factor, perhaps in the election results. In terms of communications with the public, the three Councillors were also among the quietest on Council during the last term when it comes to directly communicating with constituents.

In today’s Thunder Bay, people are increasingly in communications with each other on issues. Through Facebook, and through the Internet people are coming to expect information from elected officials.

Silence used to be “golden”, but in politics to remain quiet is to allow opponents to take the issues over. For City Councillors, the new term should bring new realizations that our city is changing, and that residents are going to expect greater communications from our representatives.

The message does not stop at the civic level. At the federal level, the silence from Richard Harvey and Yves Fricot in Thunder Bay Superior North and Maureen Comuzzi-Stedman in Thunder Bay Rainy River are demonstrations that the candidates still have yet to understand the fundamental changes in communications that has, and is, happening.

Ken Boshcoff, of the four challengers likely has the least to do. Boshcoff’s twenty-year political career, and his solid record of community involvement provide him with a fairly strong base of support in Thunder Bay. Topping the At-Large race in the civic election may have been a message to Boshcoff that voters want him at City Hall, but the former Liberal MP still appears to have his sights set on Ottawa.

For Comuzzi-Stedman, the Conservative candidate, seeking to win the Thunder Bay Rainy River seat; it is going to take a long campaign of introducing both herself and Conservative ideals to a riding that has not voted Conservative in generations. The Conservative candidate does not appear all that interested in doing that, at least not yet. Maybe there is a major strategy at play here, but it is hard to tell from all the silence.

Changing history means changing tactics.

The lessons offered by Thunder Bay’s civic election should be echoing throughout the provincial and federal camps. For Bruce Hyer and John Rafferty, the NDP incumbents that silence from their challengers is golden. The longer their opponents wait to start letting voters get to know them, the easier it will be for both incumbent MPs to win re-election.

On City Council it will be very interesting to see how well all the candidate-elects and returning Councillors learned from Campaign 2010.

James Murray

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