Column: NDP Conspiracy Idea Baseless

My column in today’s The StarPhoenix

In the column, Political moves on Saskatoon council (SP, Jan. 27) John Gormley suggested an NDP takeover of Saskatoon city council.

In addition to the "Gang of Five," he saw additional threats in Sean Shaw, Pat Atkinson and Frank Quennell as contenders in an organized attempt by the NDP to take over the city. In the coming "Leftaggeddon" there could be as many as seven left-of-centre councillors and a New Democratic mayor haunting Gormley’s dreams, with the apparent intention of tormenting the Saskatchewan Party from their stronghold in council.

As fun as it is to imagine a vast left-wing conspiracy, it’s not why Saskatoon’s city council is the way it is.

After last fall’s provincial election campaign, I am not confident that Saskatchewan’s NDP is able to organize a slo-pitch team, let alone a takeover of city council. Even if there was a nefarious effort to elect leftwing councillors in some wards, some did run against a well-financed and organized effort from the right. There are NDP supporters who run and campaign in civic elections, but the battle goes both ways, with Saskatchewan Party supporters getting involved, as well.

It’s been a part of civic politics in Saskatoon for many years. Even then most civic campaigns are still won and lost by a small team of people working hard for a friend or candidate in whom they believe.

With limited budgets and no city-wide campaigns for councillors, it often comes down to who gets out door knocking the earliest and stays out the latest.

While Gormley is likely to disagree, the left-right comparison doesn’t work in civic politics as it does at other levels of government. There isn’t a lot of room for political ideology when councillors are discussing and voting on a karate studio in Westview, or the lack of access to dog parks.

During the couple of town hall meetings I sat in on this fall, there weren’t a lot of wedge issues brought up. Even on bigger topics, such as what to do with the Traffic Bridge, or voting on the south bridge, the "Gang of Four" was replaced many times by the Gang of 11 as council voted together.

Watching council you notice that differences exist, but not as much on a rightleft divide but on questions of how one builds a city and what kind of city one wants.

Will it be a neighbourhood-centric city such as New York, or an endless sprawling suburb such as Mississauga in Ontario? Do we want a car-driven infrastructure like Los Angeles, or a public transit-driven one like San Francisco?

Do we lay out rigorous architectural standards like Chicago or even Winnipeg, or toothless standards that lead to bland architecture, as we now have in Saskatoon?

The kind of council we have reflects the kind of city we have. Parts of Saskatoon have done far better than others during the economic boom, and will have much different perspectives on what the next steps should be and what priorities we should have. The average income in the city in 2006 was $65,487, with 5.9 per cent of households living below $15,000 a year.

In Saskatoon’s five core neighbourhoods, the average income is $35,003, with a staggering 13.3 per cent of families living on less than $15,000 a year. Eleven per cent of Saskatoon needs day-care help, but the number is double in the core. Only six per cent of Saskatoon adults have less than a Grade 9 education, but when you look at the core, that number more than doubles to 13 per cent.

How many areas of Saskatoon have their own economic development corporation? None. We have city councillors that see the world differently from each other because we have a very divided city, and see the challenges and opportunities in different ways.

A council that reflects our city’s perspectives is what we want. We need market friendly councillors as well as those who can advocate for other aspects of city life. Saskatoon has suffered through councils that were both too business-driven and anti-business.

A diverse council is good for the city. We benefit from both the right and left because, as a city, that is who we are. As long as councillors keep doing that, I am pretty happy.

Grandstanding over an international trade deal when the city doesn’t even have a local procurement policy? Let’s leave those stunts up to other levels of government and go back to micromanaging the transit department. It’s at least something both sides can agree upon.

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