Municipal conservatives gather last night to announce formation of the A Better Calgary Party.
Municipal conservatives gather last night to announce formation of the A Better Calgary Party.James Finkbeiner

HANNAFORD: A municipal party if necessary, but not necessarily a party

The case for a municipal conservative party is easy to make. Speaking specifically of Calgary but doubtless many other cities besides, the unions representing city workers already operate as a de facto left-wing party. They quietly fund candidates they approve, but just one per ward to avoid vote splitting.

It’s really smart. This way, as a blue collar industrial worker you never have a council that’s going to want to privatize anything, nor a council that would ever play hardball in wage negotiations. Your people, your way, now and forever.

Meanwhile, leave it to conservatives, principled or otherwise, to compete with each other, split the vote, then wonder the day after an election how in a province that’s run by conservatives and sends conservatives to Ottawa as Members of Parliament, you end up with a chocolate-bar of a council, full of flakes and nuts.

So, we take much encouragement from last night’s inaugural gathering of the ‘A Better Calgary’ Party. It is an idea whose time has come.

However, it is one thing to think it, and another to do it.

For a start, not everybody who says they are a conservative, is a conservative. Or certainly, not conservative enough. (Leela Aheer comes to mind.)

The job for which municipal councils were originally conceived involves policing the community, firefighting, running the buses and as we are presently acutely aware, maintaining water lines. Nuts and bolts stuff, then. It would therefore be both presumptuous and superfluous to examine candidates for their conformity with the ideas of Edmund Burke or J.F. Hayek, or their familiarity with the thoughts of Margaret Thatcher. (Although, all aldermen would be better aldermen if they understood that 'the facts of life are conservative.)

Yet, what a good idea it would be to make sure that presumptive city councillors understand that these quotidien tasks are really all the job is. It’s not much to tell your grandchildren about, granted. It’s boring like breathing, that is right up until the time you can’t breathe or you’re off down to the river with a bucket because a water main has failed.

Your water main, that would be. The one you had charge of.

What the job is not, is to try and make people something they didn’t ask to be. City councils were not conceived under the Municipal Act as agents of social change. So as conservative municipal councillors, here are some of the things you wouldn't do, that the present Calgary council does.

If Ottawa wants to ban plastic bags, they can do that. Foolish it may be, but it's in their lane, as Premier Smith likes to say. But as a city councillor, it's not in yours. So don’t do it. Fix potholes instead. There’s enough, heaven knows.

Nor is it a municipal function to promote drag queen story hour in  municipal libraries, then threaten people who don't like it with jail. It's pretty tacky and parents have every right to show up and say so. Further, we have a thing called the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and it's not a city council's job to try and get around it.

What is a city council's job is to listen to the public and if you're told by 75% of people at a hearing that they don't want their single family neighbourhood plastered with six-plexes, don't go through the motion of consultation and then go and do what you wanted to do anyway. That's not honest, it's not leadership and it's not democracy.

And by the way, people drive cars. What brilliant piece of social engineering was it to spend the money that in Calgary's case should have spent on monitoring the water line, on bike lanes and those ridiculous sidewalk extensions at corners that effectively close off a lane?

Presumably that was a progressive idea from administration. And here is one of Calgary's problems, well articulated by Western Standard columnist Bill Marriott; the administration makes more decisions than the city's councillors.

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Municipal conservatives gather last night to announce formation of the A Better Calgary Party.

And so on. Not much doctrine there at all, just making sure things work. And just the things 'in your lane.' (You really don't need a diversity office.)

After last night's inaugural meeting of the A Better Calgary Party, it's hard to know what to make of the state of municipal conservatism here. There were people who move in UCP circles keeping an eye on things, lots of disgruntled people with good reason to be so but substantively, just the promise of a Stampede barbeque and in October, an organizational meeting where policy will be discussed. How to handle the participation of conservatively inclined incumbent aldermen remains to be determined.

All good as far as it goes.

Here's a policy suggestion.

1) Take control of the administration.

2) Get the city out of things that cities should have no part of.

3) Do well, the things that cities should do.

4) Call yourselves conservatives if you do conservative things. But you have to act like a party because the other side acts like a party, even if it doesn't call itself one.

5) One conservative per ward. Keep it tight. The other side wins by organization. That might mean going along to get along sometimes, rather than splitting the vote.

And know that you're in for a fight.

Good luck.

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