Sorting out mayor contenders

Congratulations to all five Red Deer mayoral candidates in this municipal election for demonstrating the personal commitment, sacrifice and courage needed to throw their hats in the proverbial big ring.

Congratulations to all five Red Deer mayoral candidates in this municipal election for demonstrating the personal commitment, sacrifice and courage needed to throw their hats in the proverbial big ring.

I particularly applaud the three new hopefuls to the civic governance table: William Horn, Chad Mason and Dennis Trepanier, who all comported themselves with dignified endeavour and legitimately competitive campaigns leading to Monday’s vote.

While we owe a debt of gratitude to each of these individuals, I respectfully submit that the race for Red Deer’s chief elected office is realistically a two-person affair between Cindy Jefferies and Tara Veer.

The other three, while earnest and genuine, lack sufficient political experience and hands-on municipal understanding to lead out in the complex climate of challenges and issues facing our growing city — notwithstanding their excellent backgrounds and well-run campaigns.

Recently, someone shared with me something that precisely echoed my own musings relative to Jefferies and Veer: both are intelligent, competent, articulate, accomplished, politically savvy women with solid roots and connections in our community. Each understands the inner workings of municipal government and either would be without question an exemplary ambassador of our fair city.

So how do we as voters distinguish between them on election day?

Great question. Challenging answer.

Comparing election brochures, websites and public speeches, they seem fairly indistinguishable, each professing commitment to virtually the same fundamental civic aspirations we all share. They’re both eminently qualified and deserving of the mayor’s chair in their own right.

Where you find divergence between the two is in their public record. Over the past nine years as councillors, Jefferies and Veer have spearheaded, spoken about and voted on numerous civic issues that collectively give us a sense of their core values and vision for the future — on everything from environmental, social, artistic and cultural issues to infrastructure, policing, community redevelopment and bike lanes.

Veer’s record reveals her to be decidedly right-leaning philosophically, an advocate of debt-reduction and fiscal/social conservatism, with a strong commitment to local grassroots governance and community consultation.

Jefferies’s record reveals her to be decidedly more left-leaning philosophically, fiscally and socially liberal-minded, with a stronger reliance on globally-influenced decision making. She also advocates a business case approach for municipal debt financing.

Neither approach is inherently right or wrong — but they are manifestly different.

Whom to choose on election day depends on your personal weltanschauung or world view. Most candidates can look good on paper or in a forum during an election cycle, promising the same high-minded principles and policies that warmly resonate with the core values we all share and seek after in a civic leader.

In examining the record, however, we form some picture of the different leadership and governance styles these two might bring to the mayor’s chair going forward.

The hottest-button issue dominating the local landscape this past year has been the bike lanes debate. While on its own a comparatively minor issue in the broad spectrum of municipal responsibilities, bike lanes have galvanized this community in a manner we’ve not seen in the two decades I’ve lived here.

The people have elevated this issue beyond mere bikes and lanes, into one of elected accountability and civic responsiveness to the public will. It’s become a lightning rod for the voice of the people being heard and respected.

On this issue, Veer has gone on record both speaking and voting against the ambitious pilot project at every stage, citing the need for greater communication and public consultation along the way.

By comparison, Jefferies has supported the project throughout its various stages, having stated for the record that bikes lanes are often met with strong opposition at first, but over time people in various communities have come to accept and embrace them.

While this is certainly no issue on which to base an entire vote, it does give us some indication of their different leadership styles, and what we might expect from each of them down the road.

The best predictor of future behaviour in public service has typically been one’s existing record as a public servant. Reflecting on the public record informs our decision, but at the end of the day, we must also trust our instincts in this, our democratic right and responsibility to choose.

Vesna Higham is a local lawyer, former Red Deer city councillor and a freelance columnist.