An ArmchairMayor.ca editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
WHEN VOTERS elect a mayor, how much of what he or she says can they expect to come about? How valid, in other words, are their promises?
The number “zero” came to the fore last week in two different ways — one by design, one not — as the Kamloops mayoral election got underway. The two presumptive front runners, Bill McQuarrie and Ken Christian, each declared priorities.
For McQuarrie, it was a zero percent property tax increase in 2018. According to McQuarrie, City council needs to take a breath and think seriously about money. He says a zero-percent increase doesn’t have to mean a reduction in services, but rather some tough choices about where taxes are spent, regardless of inflation and other pressures that perennially have resulted in tax hikes in the two to 2.5 percent range.
McQuarrie’s comments were quickly greeted with a reminder from some quarters that mayors don’t make the final decision on City budgets — council as a whole does that.
This is very true. Candidates can only present their own positions on issues; they can’t guarantee them. What they do is to posit ideas, with a promise that they’ll work towards making them happen if elected.
So let’s just add a footnote to every election plank the candidates announce — a mayor can promise to lead council and the city in a certain direction, but he or she has to get others onside to do it.
Christian followed up McQuarrie’s opening salvo with a declaration that his priorities are the construction of the new Royal Inland Hospital patient care tower and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
These are major projects. It happens, though, that the mayor of Kamloops has pretty much zero say about them.
The local share of the patient care tower was approved by the Thompson Regional Hospital District — of which the mayor of Kamloops is a board member and has one vote out of more than two dozen — months ago. Health care, though, is by and large a provincial matter.
As for Trans Mountain, likewise the City and its mayor aren’t players in the eventual outcome. The decision is for the politicians in Ottawa and Victoria to make and — barring a successful challenge by the NDP government — it, too, is a done deal.
So, we have a promise from one candidate that can only come about if he has the leadership qualities to get at least four other council members on side, and a pair of priorities from another candidate that aren’t within City Hall’s jurisdiction.
Thus far, voters have no means of comparison between the two on issues specific to the City. Hopefully, that will change as the campaign matures. Otherwise, it could end up being a zero-sum game.