Normally, one must go to Russia to find this kind of candidate suppression. This week, Calgary City Hall earned its nickname: the Cowtown Kremlin.
As reported by the Western Standard’s Dave Naylor, council will debate a motion that could require sitting councillors to seek permission from other councillors in order to attend or host events in each other’s wards, something that any candidate running for mayor would obviously need to do. This was rightly highlighted as a deliberate attempt to hinder Councillor Farkas’ ongoing mayoral campaign to replace Mayor Naheed Nenshi. Mayor Nenshi by contrast, would not face any similar restrictions should he run for re-election.
Councillor Farkas’ himself raised this issue at committee on Tuesday.
“This policy unfairly targets sitting Councillors running for mayor. It also unfairly targets civil debate, as well as the rights of private individuals to associate with others… Running for mayor necessitates a city-wide campaign where each of these events could be outside your ward. Keeping each Councillor apprised of a busy, everchanging campaign schedule is unreasonable and it’s ultimately unnecessary to prevent citizens from being confused about who represents them.”
The council committee voted 6-4 against the motion, but it will still go before the full city council on December 14.
Similar rules were passed in 2016 for the 2017 election. In an interview with the Western Standard, Councillor Farkas argued against the 2017 policy. “Council clearly overstepped their bounds in 2017, It’s good that they’ll likely not repeat the same mistake for this election.”
It’s worth noting that the 2017 rules were temporary guidelines specific to the period of ward redistricting, as explained in council on September 26, 2016 by then Ethics Advisor Professor Alice Woolley.
“This speaks to a councillor in a community that they do not currently represent, but that they will be seaking to represent in the next election and it says that particular activity is treated as campaigning. And the reason for that is because of the particular dangers and concerns that exist as a result of ward boundary changes.”
Professor Woolley clarified repeatedly, “This is not a policy, this is not a rule, this is simply a guideline for what I would consider good practice” calling it a “playbook for civil relations at a time of difficulty” and emphasizing: “At this point in time while the ward boundaries are in flux, I don’t think this rule would be appropriate in the same way after that time.”
Flash back to the present and current Ethics Advisor Professor Emily Laidlaw told Councillor Farkas that yes, a councillor could deny permission to attend a private function in an outside ward, but that she can’t see why that would happen if a person’s been invited.
Call me a jaded political junky, but I can imagine plenty of private events – hosted by federal or provincial Conservatives – within constituencies that overlap with wards of left-wing city councillors. Councillor Farkas is a former President of the Calgary-Elbow Wildrose Constituency Association and was a leader in the early days of merging the Alberta PC and Wildrose parties into the current governing United Conservatives. Should Councillor Evan Wooley have the power to block Farkas from attending a private event hosted by conservatives in Calgary-Elbow, or Jeff Davison block him from events in Western Calgary?
Trying to turn a temporary ethics guideline designed for ward redistricting into a rule to censor Farkas’ mayoral campaign is plainly undemocratic. Reviving it as a simple guideline opens the door for future meritless ethics complaints. Neither should be acceptable in a democracy.
Alex McColl is the National Defence Columnist with the Western Standard and a Canadian military analyst