Wanderings – A road not worth taking

The local nomination race for the Progressive Conservatives in this riding is taking a partisan turn, and not in a good way.

MPP Jim McDonell decided to retire at the end of his term. Considered a “safe” seat by the ruling PCs, winning the party nomination in Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry gives that candidate de-facto front-runner status in the election later this spring.

Two candidates, Cornwall businessman Nolan Quinn and South Stormont councillor Andrew Guindon, each want to carry the blue team baton. The interesting part in this nomination process is not how the two candidates are competing against each other, but instead in how the partisan stripes are being revealed elsewhere – primarily crossing into municipal politics.

Municipal politics in Ontario is purposely not based on a party system. The political leanings of municipal politicians are not an unknown to the public, but party affiliations are generally subvert. There is a good reason for this – because one feeds the other.

Municipalities in Canada exist solely at the will of the provinces. At the stroke of a pen, a town can cease to legally exist. This happened in 1997 when then-Ontario Premier Mike Harris forced municipalities to choose to merge or else. Some jumped before being pushed, others were pushed.

Current Premier Doug Ford redrew the City of Toronto’s council, cutting the size in half just before the last municipal election in 2018. A court battle ensued and the city lost.

New Brunswick is in the process of this right now, consolidating its municipal government structure down considerably.

Municipalities receive a lot of money from their provincial overlords too. Need a new water tower or an arena? Play nice. Is that the reason South Dundas was the only municipality in the riding not to receive recreation infrastructure funding?

Municipal councils must play nice with provincial politicians, no matter what party has control in Queen’s Park so as not to bite the hand that feeds.

In this PC nomination race, the partisanship of municipal politicians is becoming more overt – in some cases highlighted in day-glo orange paint.

For example, the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry and South Nation Conservation in celebration of SNC’s 75th anniversary, published a news item on its social media channels showing SDG Counties Warden Carma Williams, SNC officials and PC nomination contender Nolan Quinn. Normally this type of photo-op is reserved for elected politicians like McDonell or SDSG MP Eric Duncan.

Counties officials clarified to The Leader that Quinn does not work for SDG and that it did not organize the event. The photo was not taken by SDG staff but was provided to them. The inclusion of Quinn in the photo, distributed by SDG, should not be taken as an endorsement of him by the Counties. That’s great, but the optics of this posted for over a week without that clarification, looks like an overt endorsement. In the election season, optics matter, often more so than facts.

Not to be outdone by the Counties, three-fifths of South Stormont Township council publicly endorsed their fellow council member Andrew Guindon.

This endorsement does make more sense than Quinn’s as Guindon serves on council with Mayor Bryan McGillis, Deputy Mayor David Smith, and Councillor Cindy Woods. This does make me question why South Stormont’s endorsement was not unanimous.

It’s like if four-out-of-five dentists recommend a brand of toothpaste, I am more interested in why the fifth dentist didn’t sign on.

Partisanship, or in some cases über partisanship, has permeated into many more places in the past 10 years. Even before the pandemic, picking one side or the other – instead of meeting in the middle – has become the norm. Partisans often paint those who are unwilling to take a side as being weak.

Yet the risk of partisanship at the municipal level is a gamble not worth taking. Choosing to back one horse over another means taking a side, making a choice. If that horse loses, what are the consequences? Fair play or retribution?

Being neutral when sides are being taken is not a sign of weakness, but of strength – especially in municipal politics. Overt partisan politics at the municipal level smacks of interference with politics at the provincial level. That is a turn in the road that should not be taken.