Election Slates - In Our Opinon

The Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association Stand on Candidate Endorsement

The Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association (MRA) works hard to be informed about the activities of the Council of the Township of Muskoka Lakes.  To that end, at least two representatives attend every meeting of Council, Committee of the Whole, Planning Committee, and the Committee of Adjustment.  There are at least one set of these meetings per month, and often additional special or public meetings as well.  In the past 4 years, there have been over 200 of these meetings that have taken place, and the MRA has been there for virtually all of them. 

The MRA reports to our membership monthly through our Township Watch Report, and also posts it to our web site for anyone else to read.  The MRA does not endorse any candidate during an election period, but does its best to inform voters through Township Watch, Muskoka Matters, reports cards, and All Candidates Meetings about current and potential councillors.  We leave it to the individual voter to assess our comments and those of others, and then make up their own mind as to whom to support.

We recognize that most voters (particularly seasonal voters) want lower taxes and more services, but do not want to be involved in local politics, and look for some help in making a voting decision.  However, in our opinion, that does not extend to being told who to vote for.

In addition to our belief that our members are capable of making an informed choice, we see some dangers in recommending particular candidates.

The Challenges of Candidate Endorsement

Candidate endorsement in the Township of Muskoka Lakes this year comes from two types of groups:

  • The “Single Issue” organization or advocacy group that promotes or opposes something with little focus or concern of other issues – the Save the Bala Falls (STBF) organization fits best under this characterization
  • A “Balanced” organization that has a large membership base, and is interested in many activities and issues in the Township – The Muskoka Lakes Association (MLA) fits in this category

This year, both types of organizations have put forth a slate of candidates, but questions must be asked about either type of endorsement.

Single Interest Group Endorsement

In considering the endorsement of a single issue interest group, you might consider the following:

  • Is this the only issue for the next four years?
  • Does this organization think beyond their single issue?
  • Is this an issue that is held across the Township, or is it a local issue only?
  • Are there aspects of NIMBY-ism (Not In My BackYard) surrounding the issue?
  • If a candidate is elected on the single issue, how will he or she vote on other issues?
  • Does the candidate have any other interests outside the single issue?
  • Will the candidate listen to adult debate, or is his or her mind made up?
  • Does he feel that he must represent those who voted for him no matter what the facts turn out to be? 

We all have issues that we feel strongly about, but the world is not a simple place at this time, and sometimes compromises have to be made for the good of all.

Balanced Organization Endorsement

What about following the recommendations or endorsements of a more balanced organization that promotes itself as representing all voters across all issues?  On the surface, this sounds like a more informed option, but also presents some challenges, including:

  • Does a successful (supported) candidate owe anything to the endorsing organization?
  • Is there a perception in the electorate as a whole that this is the “organization’s council”?
  • Is there reluctance to criticize any of the actions of that chosen council?
  • Can fair and balanced reporting of that council occur?
  • If that council proves not to be everything that was anticipated at the time of the endorsement, is there an obligation of the organization to “accept some of the blame” and are they capable of doing so?

For these reasons and others, the MRA feels that it is wise not to endorse specific candidates or an entire slate of candidates.  Obviously, individual members and directors of the MRA come to their own decisions on who to elect, but as an organization, that is where we feel we must stop.

Comment on Current Candidate Slates

Turning now to the current election (2014) and looking at two slates of candidates that have been published since late September, the MRA has concerns with both, based on many of the issues above.

Save the Bala Falls Slate

The first slate, issued Sept 29, comes from the Save the Bala Falls (STBF) group.  They have recommended a slate of candidates based solely on “if you wish to save the Bala Falls”, vote for ….  The slate proposed identified candidates that supported their (STBF) position, and in two cases recommended that voters select only one of the candidates for township councillor, despite being able to vote for 2.

The STBF slate includes the following:

  • Mayor – Alice Murphy
  • District Councillors – Ruth Nishikawa and Phil Harding
  • Township Councillors – Sandy Currie, Donelda Kruckel, Gunta Towsley, and Jeff Mole

STBF say they have based their recommendations on attending All Candidates Meetings, and have classified all candidates into two categories:

  1. Those that "will ask the tough questions and are prepared to take tough measures ..." and
  2. Those that "will give the proponent anything in the hopes of getting something back ...;

By this yardstick, the 7 individuals identified fall into category 1, and the remaining 10 are the sheep.

Another interesting aspect to this slate is that there seems to have been no vetting of the candidates prior to the endorsement, and in fact, the STBF “did not first check to see if the candidates minded.. “.  There appear to be no all candidate questions or interviews prior to their choice.

Muskoka Lakes Association Slate

The second slate comes from the Muskoka Lakes Association (MLA).  The MLA has been in existence for over 100 years, and is a well-respected association in the Township.  The MLA also sends a (paid) staff worker to “nearly all” Council meetings. 

The MLA has long presented a slate of candidates for office, and is doing so again this year.  Their process is much more rigorous than the STBF, and involves a committee of 4 who send questions to all the candidates, and then meet individually with each candidate to assess their fitness for office. Though some in the MLA deny that their recommendations are an endorsement, that is not the general perception of many, and in fact, one of their selected candidates sent out an email within 12 hours of the MLA list being published stating “MLA OFFERS TOP TOWNSHIP ENDORSEMENT” and “I would like to thank the MLA for their support for the last term and for their continued support for this fall's election with a continued top candidate endorsement”. 

Let’s look at several aspects of the MLA endorsement of candidates.

In 2010, the MLA proposed their slate of candidates, and every one of them was elected. Since 2010, the Ratepayers have regularly expressed their thoughts and concerns about what many are referring to as the “MLA Council”. We believe that our concerns were also expressed by many others in the community, and were not solely the feelings of the MRA.  Many articles have been written in the papers and many letters penned to express similar feelings.  What has the MLA said publicly in the past 4 years – well nothing in any way cautionary or negative that we can find.  In August 2013, the Muskokan published an article under the MLA banner, entitled “Mayor Murphy Speaks Out”. It professed to be an interview with Murphy conducted by Mike Langdon (then president of the MLA), Anne McCauley (chair Political committee), and Rick Spence (strong opponent of the Hanna’s Landing project next to his cottage and party to the OMB hearings opposing Hanna’s Landing alongside of Mayor Murphy and the MLA).

The interview asked a number of questions ranging from strategic vision, to accomplishments, thoughts on Bala Falls, and public service.  While some of the questions (particularly around Bala Falls) were pointed, the Mayor did a fine job of deflecting some of the questions, and no follow-up questions were asked.  A conclusion of many was that this was a “puff piece” and more of an advertorial for the mayor (who they had backed).

With all the controversy that has surrounded this council and the mayor in particular, it is hard to find any public criticism or comment by the MLA. Again, this is a danger of endorsing candidates and then feeling that you cannot criticize any of their subsequent actions.

The MLA slate has just come out late on October 1st. It is both expected and also surprising.

First the expected - for 4 years, the MLA has not expressed any concern with the previous council, and has endorsed the same folk as last time with one exception (Gault McTaggart). If there had been no controversy about some of the past council and Mayor’s actions, this would be a natural outcome, but since this has been far from the case, one conclusion is that the MLA find it very hard to admit past mistakes – we are all wrong at some times.

The surprising aspect is that the MLA slate so closely reflects the Save the Bala Falls slate.  The STBF slate was not a complete slate, but rather reflected their single issue – stopping / saving Bala Falls.  The STBF slate included:

  • Mayor – Alice Murphy
  • District Councillors – Ruth Nishikawa and Phil Harding
  • Township Councillors – Sandy Currie, Donelda Kruckel, Gunta Towsley, and Jeff Mole

The MLA slate endorsed ALL these candidates with the exception of Sandy Currie, a Director of the MLA (they did not rate him due to a “conflict with his position” in the MLA). 

There are some very troubling aspects to this portion of the slate, including:

  • Does the MLA also believe that it is possible to stop the small hydro project at Bala Falls?
  • Are the 2 associations working together?
  • Does the MLA really believe that these are the best candidates for these offices, based on past performance (where appropriate)
  • Why is Sandy Currie still an active Director of the MLA when he has declared his candidacy? Note that Dianne Davidson is also running for office and was a Director of the Ratepayers, but immediately stepped down from that office when she became a candidate

The remaining MLA slate includes the following township councillors:

  • Matt French (Ward A)
  • Linda Barrrick-Spearn (Ward B)
  • Jean-Ann Baranik (Ward C)
In closing, it should be pointed out that the "single issue" organization has a much easier job to do in producing a slate.  Basically, you pick an issue or question, get a simple "yes" or "no" answer from the candidates, and recommend those that support the answer you want.  The "balanced" organization has to craft fair criteria to assess candidates, balance many issues, take into account past and promised performance, and make choices about what are the most important factors. This is definitely a difficult task to undertake, and extremely difficult to do fairly. The Ratepayers have chosen not to tread this road, but to rely on the informed choice of individuals voters.



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