Monday, October 19, 2009

Questions That Candidates Should Be Ready To Answer

We're more than half-way through the campaigning process, and you've probably noticed much less of the usual associated bumph, particularly compared to last time. Fewer ads, way fewer signs - one might almost assume that nobody's running. Although, to be fair, in the wards that have councillor contests, there are lawn signs. Perhaps the more sign-happy candidates from last time have become born-again environmentalists. Or perhaps there are fewer people willing to post publicly that they support a candidate who proved to be not quite what they had hoped he would be.

Having four councillors (including me) already acclaimed does take some of the suspense out of the situation, but I would remind everyone that even if you cannot vote for a councillor, you still should make the effort to vote for the mayor, and for the school board.

And I've even thought of some questions that you should ask candidates for council, or those who are wanting to use that big office on the second floor of city hall. Should you happen to run into a candidate, either at your door, or in the grocery store, feel free to ask them questions as if they were candidates in a job interview, because that's exactly what they are. They're applying for the job, and you are one of the bosses. Never run into a candidate? Go to the city web-site ( and check out the elections section for contact information for most candidates. If the information is sketchy for a candidate who is also an incumbent, go to the section on City Council, and click on the contact information there for phone numbers and email addresses.

You may have favourite issues that you have no trouble coming up with questions about. I have a few that should be required for every candidate.

For example, ask your candidate if he or she is comfortable with the current level of debt that the city carries. (The current council has used up all of the reserves that previous councils had created, and gone into much more debt to finance various initiatives. In fact, we had to get permission from the province to go into debt at levels higher than our projected annual tax revenues of approximately $35 million. We've done that, and then some, even though the past two years have featured unprecedented hand-outs from both the federal and provincial governments - hand-outs that probably won't be in the picture for this next council.) What sort of ideas do they have for cost-cutting, or are they of the mind-set that, when you max out your credit cards, you just apply for another.

Ask your candidate where they think a second bridge should be located, and why. The province, the city, and the RMs of Buckland and Prince Albert commissioned a highway study related to the twinning of Highway 11 and the potential location of a second bridge. This report was completed last November, but hasn't been presented to council yet, for no explained reason. A second bridge is key to the continued development of the city and the region, but unless we can work in partnership with other levels of government, it won't happen.

Open and accountable is a catchphrase that this council has talked about a great deal, but hasn't really put into practice. Ask your candidate what he or she would do to make this a reality. For instance, would they support a bylaw requiring candidates to disclose their financial supporters in an election campaign, such as Saskatoon has. If they're an incumbent, and they say that they would, ask them why they didn't when I made such a motion last year. Not a single incumbent in the race did. How do they feel about financial reports for institutions such as the Rawlinson Centre not being given to council before the budget is passed, even though the budgeting procedure requires it. How do they feel about limiting the questions that a councillor can ask administration, by requiring that a majority of council approve each inquiry?

How do they feel about the number of committees that are currently on the books - 67, according to some research that the Chamber of Commerce did last year, although interestingly only 16 were advertised in the paper as looking for members. Are all of these committees needed? Exactly what is the purpose of those committees that never meet? Should a person have to be a resident of the city in order to serve on a committee which is going to make recommendations to council that could affect tax decisions? What about committees which never publish an agenda for their meetings, or minutes afterward? There is apparently a meeting early tomorrow morning for the soccer centre committee, but there is no agenda, and I've yet to receive a complete set of committee minutes for all meetings of this committee, even though both are supposed to be available to the public.

There are some long-standing hot issues - does the candidate have any ideas about improving the downtown? About the high crime rate? (The summer Stats Can report that noted that our violent crime rate had dropped was mentioned in the local paper; what wasn't mentioned was that Prince Albert ranks seventh for crimes in cities over 10,000, across Canada. Saskatoon ranks 26th; Regina ranks 19th. I haven't heard anyone from the Police Commission talk about how they plan to improve this dismal rating.) What are their thoughts on beautification? Was the money spent on Neat and Clean, at the expense of other infrastructure projects, worth it, or could we have accomplished more by looking at more innovative ways of doing things by partnering with organizations such as the Horticultural Society for flower beds, or the penitentiary work program for painting light standards?

If you're in a ward that faces a councillor contest, does the candidate live in the ward? If not, ask why they don't run where they live. I'm a firm believer in the ward system for a lot of reasons, but an area loses a lot by not having a council representative that truly understands the issues of the area because he lives there.

You wouldn't hire someone without asking a few questions - you should feel free to phone or email your candidates with as many questions as you wish.

And when you have enough information to make a decision, don't forget to vote!

"Democracy is a process by which the people are free to choose the man who will get the blame." - Laurence J. Peter

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