The Race for Mayor Heats Up 🔥

Andrea Horwath at her campaign announcement. July 26, 2022.

The race for mayor entered a new heat with the announcement last week that Andrea Horwath will vacate her Hamilton Centre MPP seat to run for mayor of Hamilton. As a constituent of the riding she is vacating, I have to admit to feeling disappointed about this development for reasons I’ve already written about. I’m not happy with the blatant careerism of the move. According to a tweet sent out by Joey Coleman, apparently her website domain was registered just days after she was sworn in as MPP, over a month ago. I would have hoped as elder statesperson, she would have encouraged someone more immediate to the situation than take the job herself, but then, would it be open for her in four years? And what is politics if not careerism anyway? Are my expectations for change too high?

I have long been a Horwath supporter. There have been a few gaffes along the way, impossible to avoid in a long political career. I would have welcomed her candidacy and probably written in support of it if she had declared her desire to break the glass ceiling and be the first woman mayor of Hamilton. But now I feel like I’ve been played, like many in Hamilton Centre who voted for her. How hard did she fight for the provincial NDP knowing she could run for mayor as backup? Would the NDP have returned better results if she had resigned as leader and a new one led the fight against Ford? What if, what if… But I bet I can safely say that she wouldn’t be running for mayor of Hamilton if she had won the premiership of Ontario.

So I have a little bit of bitterness to deal with. Much like she needs to canvass Hamilton to get a sense of what her platform will be. I guess we’re even; we both have work to do around her decision. I was critical of Donna Skelly when she abandoned her council seat and ran provincially after saying she wouldn’t. I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t turn the same critical lens on Horwath and her political aspirations just because I happened to support her for years.

Why does this matter? Well, go out and poke a person about politicians and what do you hear? A 2015 Pew Research study in the US found that people think politicians can’t be trusted, they lie to get votes, they’re “out of touch, self-interested, dishonest and selfish

Researchers in Britain found that people think politicians should be held to a higher standard than the general public. A 2012 study found that 58% of the public considered the “honesty and integrity” of British politicians low or very low. Although published a decade ago, I would argue it’s only gotten worse, what with Brexit and Boris Johnson being booted from Downing Street for the latest scandal to hit his government and there have been several.

And more recently and closer to home, a 2019 Angus Reid poll found that 64 per cent of Canadians (68 per cent of Ontarians) agree with the statement “most politicians can’t be trusted” and 32 per cent are motivated by “personal gain”. It’s a fascinating survey of how Canadians view their politicians, and it’s not very favourable. The numbers around municipal politics are more positive, with only 14 per cent of respondents having a negative opinion of people who run for office. However, in answer to that question, there is also a 40 percent grey area of indifference, with only 32 per cent answering for the positive. Not quite a ringing endorsement.

Voter participation in Canada is at record lows. In municipal elections, we’re lucky if half the population gets out to vote, despite municipal politics having a more direct impact on our everyday lives. There are many reasons why, but when I ask people why they don’t vote, it’s total disengagement with the system, from no viable candidate to everyone is corrupt. They are lazy answers for sure, but people are inherently lazy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Right? And if it is broken, let someone else fix it.

The cynicism about politicians that pervades average Joe/Jane discussions is hard to overcome. “Everyone knows” politicians are out for themselves. Bribes, kickbacks, favours, the perception is politicians are ripe for the picking; if you tickle them the right way, like blueberries, they just fall into the hand. I’m not accusing Horwath of any of these things, just of being a career politician. My fault for having great expectations.

In justifying her move, Horwath said that the work that she can do is more “impactful” at the municipal level. One wonders then why she didn’t stay in municipal politics? I dare say she would have already broken the glass ceiling and have a couple of mayoral terms behind her if she had. Also troubling is the Conservative government’s plan to give some municipal mayors “strong mayor” powers and the challenges that poses to how things get done. What would an opposition NDP MPP say vs elected mayor? What would any mayor say? No? That’s funny.

As far as Horwath and her chances at getting elected, it will depend on how far she can distance herself from the current “Old Guard” councillor; with Mayor Fred Eisenberger coming out in support of her candidacy, does she pose enough contrast to “the way things are done” and have enough support to bring the change Hamilton needs? We don’t know at this time. There is nothing on her website as I write this but a “Hello it’s me. Please donate” page. There is no platform. Just a name.

This election is considered a “change election”, with five councillors and the mayor not running for re-election. Despite having history as a councillor, can Horwath present herself as an agent of change or just more of the same old, same old? Can she switch from opposition-based politics to one centred in collaboration and consensus building? She has been out of municipal politics longer than in, and despite having her heart in Hamilton, her mind has been elsewhere for much of the last twenty years. How steep is her learning curve on the challenges facing the whole of Hamilton, and not just Hamilton Centre? From the looks of her website, and her comments in the press, steep indeed.

One thing for sure, the race has become much more interesting. Maybe it will be enough to get more people voting? One can only hope.

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