After writing about the Rideau-Vanier debate (and offering a prediction), I was contacted by a member of Catherine Fortin LeFaivre’s campaign team offering a chance to speak to the candidate directly. Time permitting, I’ll chat with pretty much any candidate who asks (though Fortin LeFaivre is only the second to ask); it’s a very good way to get a better handle on both the candidate and the issues facing the ward. So with that, here are my takeaways from the discussion.
First a side note, I met Fortin LeFaivre at Fleur Tea House on Somerset Street East, just near Russell. I used to live just down the street about ten years ago, and it was nice being back in the neighbourhood. Fleur Tea House is only about two years old, so it was also nice to check out a new business. The coffee was very good and the atmosphere was both interesting and comfortable. This might be a place I need to visit again in the future.
Now onto business…
Fortin LeFaivre is often considered the third candidate in this race, trailing incumbent Mathieu Fleury and challenger Marc Aubin, but she’s not willing to be relegated to also-ran status. Fortin LeFaivre grew up in the ward, having gone to De La Salle High School before heading to U.S. for university. Due to her travels, she hasn’t spent as many years in the area as the other challenger, Aubin, but it’s clear when she talks that this area is her home.
Interestingly, though Fortin LeFaivre’s academic background is in business, she’s not one of those candidates that espouses running the city like a business. She believes that background will help her (experience with budgets and operations, for example), but it is clear her calling is far beyond just being a money manager at City Hall.
This is a good thing. Rideau-Vanier doesn’t need one of these Larry O’Brien or Mike Maguire-esque candidates. This is an area that needs representation, social services and smart development.
Fortin LeFaivre’s more recent experience is in advocacy and lobbying. She believes this is one of the strengths she offers the community. Competitor Marc Aubin has been active in community associations since he was a teenager, and it is this experience that Aubin often promotes. Fortin LeFaivre’s history does not include the same level of community involvement as Aubin, but she believes her education and work experience balances that out. Listening to her, you’d have no reason to doubt it.
Fortin LeFaivre hasn’t always been out in front during this campaign. Even though she registered to challenge Fleury before Marc Aubin did, Aubin’s campaign was stronger and more visible earlier on. Make no mistake about it, Aubin has offered the community a vision, and he has rarely strayed from delivering that vision (other than when he would go on the attack against Fluery).
I like Aubin’s vision. He has put forth dozens of objectives he would like to accomplish. Even if he wins, there’s no chance he would get them all implemented–that’s just the nature of politics–but taken together, they tell you what Aubin wants to see for the city and the ward.
Fortin LeFaivre challenged me on that vision. Despite his wonderful graphics and slick messaging (and I’m saying “slick” in a positive way), there isn’t always as much substance behind it. Fortin LeFaivre notes that Aubin has all these objectives listed, but he doesn’t offer supporting information. You don’t know how he’s going to get there from here. She also argued that if you have so many objectives, you may have no priorities.
Over the past month or so, Fortin LeFaivre’s campaign has grown and has started to direct much of the debate. It is Fortin LeFaivre who first brought up the idea of a new library in the ByWard Market. She pushed the idea of a Safe Injection Site. She was the first to announce that she would disclose her donor list. These stances and issues have since been addressed and mirrored by her competitors.
Most importantly, it is Fortin LeFaivre who has pushed the topic of social services into the debate. As I noted in my review, Aubin’s strengths are urban development and traffic. He’s most comfortable talking about these issues, and he has made them focal points of his campaign. This is fine, as these are two significant issues. However, he had not made social services a priority.
I have heard a criticism of Aubin that his focus is on Lowertown, Sandy Hill and the ByWard Market, paying less attention to Vanier, and I can understand this. Fortin LeFaivre argued that this issues that are most important to Aubin are not the ones most important to Vanier. She believes that social services and community safety are the big issues for that area of the ward. It’s hard for me to disagree with her.
With Fortin LeFaivre pushing these issues, we are starting to hear both Fleury and Aubin address concerns. The city has problems with childcare. We’re sitting a pot of money that we just don’t know how to spend. We’ve changed the service delivery methods, but haven’t properly communicated those changes with the residents using the services. It’s a problem, and it’s an issue that too few people (in any ward) are talking about.
Fortin LeFaivre also talks a lot about the issues around representation and cooperation. She hasn’t made as big a deal of Fleury’s conflict-of-interest as Aubin has, but she, like Aubin, notes that there is much discontent in the ward with Fleury’s (lack of) representation. She wants more transparency and engagement (granted, these are nice platitudes that many candidates talk about). She has pledged to keep door-knocking throughout her term in office. This would counter the impression given of Fleury’s term.
For all the engagement and debate they have had in Rideau-Vanier, there has also been a lot of nastiness, and Fleury and Fortin LeFaivre have received the most of it. There have been personal attacks and sexist comments. Social media has been filled with supporters of the various candidates attacking each other and the candidates. The debates have seen planted questions and astro-turfing. It’s quite sad, and its a testament to the candidates that they’re willing to put up with it.
Amidst all this, Fortin LeFaivre posits herself as the best able to bring disparate groups, including the Mayor and council, together to meet the needs of residents. She, essentially, has two arguments to support this stance. First, her advocacy background demanded that she broker agreement between different groups. Second, she hasn’t spent the last four years alienating either the community or the mayor. For all the positive qualities of Aubin and Fleury, I think it’s easy to see that they have created more adversaries among community and civic leaders than Fortin LeFaivre.
These are three community leaders. If Fortin LeFaivre wins, I can see her working with both of her main opponents. I don’t know how much collaboration there would be between Fleury and Aubin should one of them win.
Fortin LeFaivre shared an anecdote that helps demonstrate the type of councillor she would be. She canvassed apartment buildings in the south end of Sandy Hill, just a few blocks from her own home. A woman living there–a single mother of four–was being harassed. Fortin LeFaivre found the different city agencies that should be available to help this woman, but each phone number they were given provided no relief. This woman is still living with harassment.
The frustration for Fortin LeFaivre was evident. She lived just a few blocks away from this woman, but, stonewalled by the city,she just couldn’t get her the help she needed. Fortin LeFaivre wants to keep trying to help this woman after the election, regardless of who wins.
I don’t doubt she will.