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Writer’s Block: On the benefits of choice in a local election

The Free Press columnist Bill Phillips on the onset of election season

The race is on.

The Dog Days of Summer aren’t really the best to talk politics, but with this year’s municipal election set for October 15, the Silly Season will soon be in full swing.

This year Fernieites are very lucky in that they have two good choices for mayor … so far. Incumbent Ange Qualizza is looking for a second term while political newcomer Nic Milligan is looking to oust her. And who knows, there may be more who throw their hat in the ring for the top job.

Fernie voters will be well served by having a choice to make this fall. I’ve seen too many civic elections where politicians are elected by acclamation and/or where candidates are … to put this delicately … of the tinfoil hat brigade.

The beauty of our system is that the tinfoil hat folks can run. However, another beauty of it is when voters don’t have to hold their nose and mark their X but rather agonize over who they will have to not vote for because every candidate is worth voting for.

So far we have that in the mayor’s race. Let’s hope that carries through to the council race as well.

Incumbents often have a slight advantage in mayoral elections, although I’ve seen a few sitting mayors get “retired by public demand,” as one-term Liberal MP Paul St. Pierre used to quip about his political legacy.

Qualizza, as the incumbent, benefits from being in the news for the past four years … good or bad. Name recognition does count.

Milligan, on the other hand, is also well-known through his former position at Teck and his community involvement. However, Fernie is a small town so it’s hard to live here for any length of time, which both have, without people knowing who you are.

So then it comes down to issues. As a voter, who do you think can steer the community through the issues that are fast coming down the pike. This is where an incumbent can take some heat because if you’ve been on council for the last term or two, it’s a fair question as to why some of these issues haven’t been dealt with.

The biggest issue that probably won’t be an issue is upgrading the city’s sewer system. All the candidates will say it needs to be addressed, but who do you think can actually get things done?

A defining issue may be the Galloway Lands debate. The developer has withdrawn its application, perhaps until after the election with hopes of a more favourable council next year.

Qualizza has made it clear she opposes the development. I’m not sure where Milligan stands on the issue but I’m sure he’ll make his position known (if he hasn’t already and I’ve missed it).

Galloway Lands could be an issue for prospective councillors as well, so get ready for some healthy debate as the summer fades.

And whatever you think of the issues and/or the candidates, make sure you vote October 15.

-Bill Phillips is a 30-year veteran of journalism. He grew up in Fernie, and began his career at The Free Press in the 1980s.