There has been so much talk about transparency in the blogosphere recently, you’d almost think it is an issue exclusive to how you handle yourself on the Web. But it really is an issue about integrity in general.
So here is my own little rant about something that made me angry today. It deals with the current elections for Toronto City Council and specifically with the Ward I live in. Before I start: yes, I am biased. Until this morning I was only biased in favour of one of the candidates, the incumbent Karen Stintz. Based on what I have seen and read, I think she has done a great job for the community in which I live. And no, I don’t work for Karen Stintz’ campaign but I would vote for her if I could (I am not yet a Canadian citizen, so it is all a spectator sport for me). I really didn’t know too much about the other candidates. Now I am also biased against one of the other candidates. Here goes…
Today I got around to reading our local community paper, the North Toronto Post, which featured interviews with the City Council candidates for the Wards in this area, including Ward 16 where I live. All candidates were asked where they live. All answered except for Steve Watt who left it “unanswered”, which I found curious. Then I walked by one of his campaign signs, which are plastered all over a new store that just signed a short-term lease in the RioCan plaza on Avenue Road. Steve Watt’s campaign sign provides the URL for his website, so I thought I’d find out more about his community involvement on his site.
First, the web address stephenwatt.ca, which is printed on the campaign signs, leads to a “coming soon” placeholder site with ads. That’s embarrassing but okay, after an educated guess I did find his real website at stevewatt.ca. Again, nothing about what he has done for the community so far or where he lives. But he provided a link to a Rogers cable television station where he and the other Ward 16 candidates had recorded short videos for their campaigns. The other candidates talked – among other things – about how long they’ve lived in the community. He didn’t.
So I did a little more web searching and came across a National Post article from a few weeks ago, which provides an explanation. Steve Watt doesn’t live in Ward 16. According to the article, he lives in Rosedale and was “advised” by his friend Mayor David Miller to run in Ward 16 “where Mayor David Miller openly yearns to take out the incumbent” Karen Stintz (described as Mayor Miller’s “nemesis”, which made me smile). So he isn’t running because he is interested in the community in Ward 16. He has simply agreed to help an old pick-up hockey buddy from university days who is now running for re-election as Mayor of Toronto.
The article also mentions a “glitch at the printer’s” because Steve Watt’s campaign signs weren’t ready at the time. And now that they are ready they include the wrong web address. Attention to detail doesn’t seem to be one of the strengths of Steve Watt’s campaign. But I guess that’s not very important if his intention is simply to take away votes from Stintz. I find it ironic that Watt accuses Stintz of being negative when he is running a campaign that doesn’t stand for anything but helping Miller get rid of a critic. Not to mention that having a different opinion from Mayor Miller doesn’t necessarily mean you’re negative. You just have a different opinion.
Steve Watt’s big words to describe himself are experience and leadership. Sounds good. But integrity is part of leadership. It would be nice for Steve Watt to display integrity throughout his campaign by openly mentioning on his website that he doesn’t live in Ward 16. He should have done it in the North Toronto Post article, too. It may not be a big deal for him or other people. But I find it deceptive and annoying.
Maybe it is just me but community involvement matters and I find a candidate who actually lives in the community more credible. But even if Steve Watt disagrees, he should be open about it, and not just when a National Post reporter calls him on it. He could have turned it around and on his website said something like “I don’t live here but I saw that Ward 16 is in desperate need of leadership, so I am stepping up and here is my commitment to the community…” But the National Post article just
exposes him as [correction] makes him look like a fraud whose intention is to stifle opposition to Miller on City Council.
Steve Watt also emphasizes his experience and his years of working as a lawyer with municipalities. He supports the RioCan project, a huge community issue (read more about it here and here). In the National Post article he comments on Karen Stintz’ fight against the project: “Based on my 100 appeals to the OMB, the project is going to get built.” He may be right.
He goes on to say that an “experienced councillor should understand that. You can’t just say no.” Apparently Steve Watt thinks that City Councillors should just be yes-men (yes-persons?) to the Mayor and to developers. Karen Stintz has put up a passionate fight and got City Council to vote against the project with a large majority. She understands that this is a fight not just about one development but about the future of the neighbourhood. Even David Miller agrees that a study of Avenue Road should be completed first before the future of the RioCan development is decided.
In the video on Rogers cable, Steve Watt accuses Karen Stintz of preventing $400,000 from flowing into Ward 16 for community projects because of her opposition to the RioCan project. What he fails to mention is that the $400,000 would be paid by RioCan for breaching existing bylaws to increase height and density of a development. No wonder his campaign signs have popped up on RioCan property but on almost no front lawns within the community.
What am I looking for in a City Councillor? I look for integrity, competence, passion and community involvement. Somebody who is open and honest and doesn’t try to hide things. Somebody who displays transparency – on the Web and anywhere else.
Experience would be nice, too. But the the thing with experience is…well, let me put it in the words of writer and journalist Kurt Tucholsky: “Experience means nothing. You can do something badly for 35 years.”