Elections are always awkward times for me. I am not so naive as to believe that real structural change comes through the ballot box, but I also recognize that for many people (particularly the poor) even small policy changes can make life more livable. I also spent much of my naive youth following and being involved in electoral politics and I still follow it with the same sick fascination that causes me to follow professional sports I don’t even like. The end result is that I don’t think it makes a huge difference, but I always end up voting and almost always spend way too much time talking about the strategic elements of electoral politics.
Municipal elections in Nova Scotia are creeping up and I’ve mostly sat this one out in terms of putting any real energy into backing a candidate, but as per usual I will vote.
For councilor I will vote for Waye Mason in District 7. I have known Waye for years and he’s a friend. We disagree on a lot of things, particularly when it comes to political economy, but he is good on some urban planning issues, transit, anti-corruption and racism. While I don’t think he’ll be great (though not “bad” compared to other municipal politicians) around anti-poverty or labour issues he is miles and miles ahead of his main rival Sue Uteck. Uteck inherited her seat from her football hero husband and is awful, self righteous, anti-worker and divisive as a councilor and any opportunity to unseat her is an opportunity not to be wasted. (I am also in an awkward situation since the dividing line between District 7 and District 8 is literally the middle of my street – an really telling example of how politics are reflected in the political geography of Halifax. My side of the street is mostly fixed up semi-detached homes and the row of new-construction yuppie townhouses I live in, across the street crust-punk houses, a methadone clinic and subdivided houses occupied by elderly long-time residents. The blocks just to the south of me include several new condo developments. The middle of my street is the line that divides the gentrified from the soon to be gentrified.)
I will also vote for school board, though I am not sure who I will vote for. Some names have been eliminated in my mind, but there still isn’t an obvious candidate.
The mayoral race is where I am most discouraged. Mike Savage will win by a landslide – likely by a wider margin then he is currently polling at since he’s the only candidate with a viable ground game to pull the vote on election day. I know Savage from my days with the Canadian Federation of Students when he was the Liberal MP for Dartmouth and he’s a competent professional politician, but he’s someone I fundamentally disagree with on my issues. I also don’t like the message sent by the landslide victory of a candidate without any firm policy positions. As a result I am looking to park my vote elsewhere, more as an act of empty protest than as a real act of political will.
None of the other five (FIVE!) candidates emerge out of the city’s social movements: none with background in labour, feminist organizing, anti-poverty activism or community organizing.
The second place candidate at the moment Tom Martin, who is delusional enough to think he still has a shot. He reached out to the professional engagement and social media type 20-somethings early in his campaign and as a result has surrounded himself with a wealth of folks who have never run campaigns, have no connection to real social movements in the city and think that positive tweets and the empty rhetoric of liberal urbanism constitute significant change. I also could not ever imagine voting for a current of former police officer for any political office, let alone mayor. On substantive issues his positions seem confused and often laughable. My favourite suggestion by Martin is that developers need an ombudsperson to represent their interests to the city, laughably asserting that wealthy developers currently hold an inadequate amount of power in the city.
Fred Connors is running an ego driven campaign that is all about FRED (both the brand and the person, though I am unsure if you can separate the two at this point). He occasionally stumbles onto some things I agree with like forcing suburban developers to pay 100% of the infrastructure costs of new development, but he’s also a classic example of a wealthy urban dweller who is ready to dismiss everyone from bicyclists to Occupy activists. He has also, like everyone else, been short on concrete policy suggestions.
The other three candidates are the most puzzling. All were last minute additions and all have had a zero percent chance of winning, or even taking more than 10% of the vote since the day they filed their papers. Normally if someone enters a race they can’t win they are doing so for one of three reasons. Either they are getting their name out there for future political gain (doesn’t seem to be the case with any of these three), promoting themselves and their business ventures (again, outside of a stand up comedian running a “serious” campaign that doesn’t seem to be the case) or they are championing a very specific cause that they think other candidates are avoiding.
What I find so confusing is that none of the three outsiders are pursuing the last option. Mackie has talked a bit about poverty, but he has not been vocal enough nor has he developed either a clear ideological or policy position on poverty in the HRM. Eisses originally billed himself as an environmental candidate, but his positions around sustainable development are not radically different from Fred Connors or even the the vague lip-service paid by the two leading candidates. Indeed, Eisses seemed like the most viable protest candidate at first until he came out publicly in support of the bone-headed, help-the-rich “tax reform” package that would include a charge at cost of delivery instead of pegging municipal taxes to assesed value. A system which would lead to mansion owning millionaires on Young Avenue paying less in taxes than bungalow owning working class families in the semi-rural and rural parts of the city.
So where does that leave those of us who don’t want to cast a vote in the coronation of King Savage II? The two leading options for protest candidates (Connors and Eisses) have boneheaded positions on important issues (and one would marry himself if legally allowed) and none of the unwinnables are willing to take controversial stands on economic or social issues. None of pushed single issues and forced Savage or the media to take serious the lack of social housing, issues of race and racism, police brutality and corruption or the decline of affordable recreation. None of them have even earned my protest vote.
And its a sad state of affairs in municipal politics when I can’t even decide who to waste my vote on as an act of Quixotic protest.