FREDERICTON – To start, I cannot say I am a disinterested observer in the Fredericton municipal election. I have expressed through social media my preferences for several candidates at the council and mayoral level – including Cindy Miles (Ward 12), Misty McLaughlin (Ward 11), Leah Levac (Ward 10), and Matthew Hayes (Mayor). I even (very briefly) considered a run in Ward 9 (Hill Area/O’Dell Park) myself. As an op-ed columnist, I do not see any commentator as being truly neutral, however I will try my best to give an objective observation of the municipal race in Fredericton.
Not all wards in the city are contested. However, and maybe this is the effect of following the race on Twitter, there seems to be a unique buzz around this race unlike other years, with Ward 10 having 5 candidates, incumbent councillor Tony Whalen declining to re-offer (possibly) because of challenges from former mayor Sandy DiGiacinto and Greg Ericsson in Ward 8, and Cindy Miles – a formidable campaigner – running to unseat incumbent David Kelly in Ward 12.
This municipal election is also seeing a greater emphasis at the ward and mayoral level on ideas and policy – with issues such as democratic accountability – through meeting and consulting with constituents – and sustainable urban development coming to the forefront in political debate.
Brad Woodside is the longest serving mayor in Fredericton’s history, having been mayor from 1986 to 1999 and again from 2004 to the present. Most – including even many of Woodside’s opponents – concede that he has been an effective mayor on many fronts, promoting the development of a strong IT sector in the city and being a strong advocate on issues such as preservation of civil service jobs – an important sector in the city – to the provincial government.
Woodside has fended off many challengers in the many elections he has run as mayor – some challengers strong, some weak. This has contributed to the (possibly true?) belief that Woodside is unbeatable, the Hazel McCallion of Fredericton who can retain the Mayor’s office as long as he wishes.
Though some observers would challenge the assertion of Woodside’s unbeatability, enter Woodside’s challenger, Saint Thomas University professor Matthew Hayes.
Hayes is running a campaign emphasizing ideas and policy – one can draw analogies to Naheed Nenshi’s campaign in Calgary – emphasizing issues such as democratic accountability, more effective mass transit, and planning policies that favour walkable downtown-like developments over box-store style sprawl.
Even if Hayes forces Woodside’s hand on policy – and one can posit that the vote on council on banning shale gas is an effect of Hayes’s campaign – he can claim victory.
But Hayes is ultimately running to win. He is a much more formidable political strategist than many may have initially expected – articulate and politically savvy. He has been holding campaign events, and his campaign signs are visible throughout the city.
But then, Woodside has won election after election at the municipal level. He has a reptutation for administrative competance. While Hayes is likely to be a much stronger challenger to Woodside than Tim Andrew was in 2008, Hayes’s path to victory is still a steep one.
The ultimate question, will voters think Woodside has been in office too long and its time for new ideas? Regardless of the outcome, the mayor and council races in Fredericton promise to be some of the most interesting ones we have seen in a while.
Photo by Martin Cathrae
Hassan Arif is a columnist with the Telegraph Journal in New Brunswick. He is a PhD candidate in urban sociology at the University of New Brunswick and has a background in law and political science. He can be reached at arif.telegraphjournal@gmail.