Comment Rescue–Rideau-Vanier Race

Yesterday, I wrote about Rideau-Vanier candidate Catherine Fortin LeFaivre. In the comments, a supporter of Marc Aubin gave her assessment. In the interest of discourse, I’d like to highlight it. Here’s what reader Martha Scott wrote:

I did not know either candidate (Aubin or Fortin Lefaivre) last March, 2014. I sat down with each of them and a friend and we actually “interviewed” them. As women, we would have been delighted to support a woman.
We decided on Marc. The reason was his experience and his commitment.

He is a community activist whose work life has been as a transportation planner. The fact that he has been actively engaged – chairing his Community Assoc. and the King Ed Ave Task force as well as appearing for residents before the OMB, shows a depth of commitment no other candidate can offer.

In 2010 we elected an inexperienced candidate hoping he could learn on the job. He did not, and that combined with his Conflict of Interest with regards to 60% of the more than 2000 proposed new units coming up left us looking for better representation and minimal learning curve.

In the 8 months since meeting the two candidates I have never regretted my decision to support Marc. He definitely brings the commitment and sincerity as well as the experience Rideau Vanier needs.

Regardless who wins, you can’t doubt the passion in this race.

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Catherine Fortin LeFaivre and the Rideau-Vanier Race

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.

Rideau-Vanier Review

I have a confession. I’m getting a little worn out by the municipal election. As of yesterday, I had watched 18 of the 24 televised debates. Tonight, I watched the Rideau-Vanier debate, and I really don’t know how much more I can do. Regardless, I watched it, so I’m going to write about it.

This is a three-horse race. It’s between incumbent Mathieu Fleury and challengers Marc Aubin and Catherine Fortin LeFaivre. Instead o f an in-depth review of the entire debate, I’m just going to focus on those three.

Marc Aubin

How on earth did Aubin get a question about traffic safety right off the bat!? That’s a big fat beach ball lofted across the plate for Aubin. As you might imagine, he handled it quite well. King Edward and Rideau are far too dangerous for residents and Aubin has been working to get things changed for a long time. He was able to really nail Fleury on the lack of progress on that file (and that’s not all on Fleury, but his response wasn’t good and he has to wear some of the lack of progress). This was some of Aubin’s best spots in the debate, and it’s probably not bad to have them right away to establish a good impression (and because things kind of devolved near the end).

Aubin is strong on safety and development, two very key issues. He wasn’t as active in some of the other discussions (that’s partially because of Fleury, ore on that later). This isn’t as bad as it might seem. He participated in the debates and had fine answers on transit and social services, but he really came alive when talking about streets, development and representation.

Aubin went on hard on the issue of development and intensification. His positions are strong (we need intensification, but we need the right intensification). It was during this debate that Aubin and Fortin LeFaivre tag-teamed Fleury. Fortin-LeFaivre noted that there was the question of accepting developer donations. She said she doesn’t take them, and Aubin said the same. Then Aubin went after Fleury’s conflict of interest, noting that Fleury couldn’t represent the ward on about 60% of the development issues.

Fleury has a conflict of interest with Claridge, and even though Claridge only had a handful of applications, they accounted for 1100 of 1800 new units being developed. That’s a big difference, and Aubin is correct that this is the correct metric to use. One giant tower could damage the character of a neighbourhood far more easily than a handful of single family homes.

All-in-all, Aubin didn’t “win” the debate, but he didn’t hurt himself, either. I see Aubin as the front-runner right now, so that’s maybe an okay performance to have.

Fleury

You can tell that Fleury is the incumbent. He has all the talking points about recent city work and special projects. He also name-checked the most neighbourhoods in the area. Regardless, he didn’t do anything to win, either. If he’s lucky, he was able to stem the bleeding a bit.

Fleury talked. He talked a lot. He talked so damned much.

Despite all of his jibber-jabber, Fleury managed to say very little that was actually substantive. He talked around the issues; he gave us loads of details, but it mostly just went in circles. At one point, he engaged in a little Q&A with another candidate who has zero chance of winning (and only a slightly better chance of saying something useful).

I’m inclined to believe this was intentional. He was able to use David-George Oldham as his foil, making himself look good, and he was able to burn the clock. Fleury very much had the presence of someone who was just trying to hold on–survive and advance, survive and advance. It’s a cynical ploy, but it might be his best shot. He was hurt on the question of conflict of interest. He couldn’t open himself up much more.

At this point, I want to point out that this conflict of interest does not mean that he’s corrupt. It just means that he has to recuse himself on certain issues. Unfortunately, Barrhaven’s Jan Harder would take his place on these issues. It’s not a good choice. She’s no friend of downtown. If Rideau-Vanier was going to have anyone else represent them, they really would have needed someone like Diane Holmes or David Chernushenko, if you wanted real representation.*

Fleury would also use his debating skills to bully his way through the debate. It was really quite distasteful. In this debate, a number of candidates actually asked each other questions; it was refreshing. When Fortin LeFaivre went after Fleury on social services (specifically childcare), Fleury cut in to talk about some of the things the city was doing (but totally failing to address the issues Fortin LeFaivre introduced). Fortin LeFaivre tried to cut in to, Fleury just steamrolled through. OK, that’s not great, but it’s just sort of the debate.

He then went off on some tangent about Quebec daycare, asking Fortin LeFaivre why Quebec has $7/day daycare…and then he wouldn’t even let her answer.

When he and Aubin got into it about development and Claridge, Fleury tried to cut in to ask a question, Aubin just plowed ahead. The two just talked over each other for a minute or so. Again, it was just the way the debate was going (and pretty similar to the way he had treated others during the debate), yet he still felt compelled to appeal to Mark Sutcliffe to…I don’t know…stop Aubin from pointing out a major flaw in Fleury’s campaign?

None of this was becoming of a councillor. He tried to use his City Hall trivia to let all the oxygen out of the debate. He asked questions, but gave no opportunity to answer. And when someone did something similar (though not as bad) to him, he complained. It was like one of those after-school specials where the bully gets punched in the mouth and shrinks.

Catherine Fortin LeFaivre

Fortin LeFaivre had difficulty getting her footing in this debate. Much of that is due to the rampant chatter of Fleury (did I mention how much he talked). After a bit, she became more forceful, barging her way into the discussions (and not in a bad way, in a necessary way). She started to score more points later in the debate. She was strong on development, linking it to the safety issue that came up early in the debate, and definitely the strongest on social issues.

The childcare issue is significant. We, as a city, have funds to help families (either by subsidizing daycare or by providing the actual services directly). This isn’t to suggest it’s an easy fix, but there are things that we could do that we currently aren’t. Fortin LeFaivre noted this. She pointed out that the service delivery has changed, and it’s not resident-friendly.

Fleury countered by talking about what the city is doing, implying that Fortin LeFaivre wanted to undo what has already been achieved (and then, as noted, did his best to stop her from rebutting). He wilfully ignored the actual issues and just talked. It was, again, quite cynical. Residents deserve better.

Conclusion

This debate is probably not going to decide very much. If you had your favourite going in, you’re probably not changing your mind from this debate. Fleury did the best job of avoiding conflict. Aubin and Fortin LeFaivre had very similar performances, each having their own, slightly different, strengths.

The one takeaway I have is that Fleury, though maybe a very nice person, isn’t the most likable politician. His performance was kind of gross. If you were undecided, he wasn’t going to win you over. He displayed a lot of the negative trappings of the typical politician. People see that, and they see through it.

*Yes, yes, there are protocols to this. It doesn’t matter. Turning urban representation to a suburban councillor is sub-optimal.