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The MP to mayor pipeline: Why so many provincial and federal politicians are heading to city hall

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Poke your head into any city hall across the country, and there’s a chance you’ll find a former MP or member of the provincial legislature sitting in the mayor’s chair.

Recent municipal elections in B.C., Ontario and Manitoba saw scores of seasoned politicians making the jump — or the return — to the local level.

Andrea Horwath is among them. The former Ontario NDP leader is the newly elected mayor of Hamilton, Ont.

­”Certainly I had accomplishments that really did affect all of Ontario, as an opposition leader,” she told CBC Radio’s The House. ­”But the municipal order of government really is the closest to the people.”

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Horwath is one of at least a dozen politicians in Ontario alone who previously held provincial or federal seats and last week won their race to become mayor.

 

CBC News: The House8:11Why are so many federal and provincial politicians moving into the mayor’s chair?

CBC’s Emma Godmere speaks to newly elected mayors and experts about why so many provincial and federal politicians are making the leap to municipal politics.

But why are so many political veterans taking their talents to the local level?

“I understand that folks may have some cynicism,” Horwath said.

“It’s not that you’re in it for any kind of personal aggrandizement or personal agenda. You’re in it to serve your community.”

‘People have a real stake in you:’ former Calgary mayor

According to one of Canada’s best-known former mayors, there’s simply no better gig around.

“It is the only political job in Canada — the only executive level political job in Canada — where you are actually elected by everyone you serve,” said Naheed Nenshi, who served as mayor of Calgary for just over a decade.

“The prime minister is not directly elected, premiers are not directly elected, but the mayor is,” he explained. “Because of that, people have a real stake in you.”

Naheed Nenshi speaks to the media the day after being elected as mayor of Calgary in October 2010. ‘[Mayor] is the only political job in Canada — the only executive level political job in Canada — where you are actually elected by everyone you serve,’ he said. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Even if voters recognize that stake, some might expect mayors to become MPs — and not the other way around.

“I think we’re actually very wrong to see politics as this kind of progression, of city council being the minor leagues and then provincial and federal politics somehow being the major leagues,” said Shannon Sampert, a political analyst and columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press.

Sampert — who just helped guide new Winnipeg mayor Scott Gillingham’s campaign to victory — is also quick to push back on the idea that politicians hopping from campaign to campaign could be looked down upon.

“I think that we need to think that being a career politician isn’t necessarily bad,” she said. “I think you have a best-before date … constituents will let you know when they’re sick of you as well.”

MPs can face long periods away from home, election uncertainty

Former Conservative MP Alex Nuttall, just elected mayor of Barrie, Ont., is one of several federal representatives who chose to leave Ottawa and switch to municipal politics. Previously a Barrie city councillor, he was first elected MP in 2015 but declined to run again in 2019, opting to spend more time with his family.

“When I made that decision, it was one that I didn’t take lightly,” he told The House.

Nuttall’s father recently dug up an old hockey card from when the mayor-elect was 13 years old.

“And on the back of my hockey card, my future ambitions were to become a member of Parliament.”

Nuttall admits that dream job came with plenty of challenges.

“When you’re elected as a member of Parliament, and really any position — it’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle, right? It’s most severe on the federal level,” Nuttall explained.

“I was lucky. I was only a five-hour trip to Ottawa from Barrie. But there were lots of folks who, it’s 12 hours for them to get from their home to Parliament Hill. And you know, that has a humongous effect on family life.”

Ken Boshcoff, right, is congratulated by a supporter after winning the mayoral race in Thunder Bay, Ont., earlier this month. (Marc Doucette/CBC)

Ken Boshcoff remembers those personal impacts well. The newly elected mayor of Thunder Bay, Ont., held the job before, back in the 1990s, before becoming a Liberal MP under the minority governments of Paul Martin and Stephen Harper.

“Every day was the possibility of an election,” Boshcoff told The House.

“You know exactly, right now, when the next municipal elections are — in four years. So it truly makes a difference in terms of stability, and your ability to plan and even act as a human. Whereas in federal Parliament, you certainly wouldn’t be buying a car or a house if you were with the government at that time. It was just not doable.”

Taking the parties out of politics

While remaining an MP comes with obstacles, leaving Parliament Hill can also be difficult for some.

“In our research, we found challenges with transitioning to a non-political career,” said Sabreena Delhon of the Samara Centre for Democracy.

The non-partisan group has spent years holding exit interviews with MPs to get a sense of why many choose to move on from federal politics.

“Once you have been a politician, it’s quite difficult for your community to see you as anything else,” Delhon explained.”So a cynical view might be that there’s this insatiable appetite, a narcissism related to being elected. But it might also be that political life has closed other professional doors for you.”

Nuttall, the mayor of Barrie, said he left a successful business career to return to municipal politics.

“I’ve been very blessed in my private sector career,” he said. “And I’m going back to public service, taking a pay cut, and wanting to contribute.”

The former Conservative MP said it can be easier to make that contribution without the partisanship Parliament often brings.

“You take the political parties out of it, and the reality is that there’s a lot more opportunity for consistency, for continuity on the items that are being worked on.”

Horwath announced her resignation as NDP provincial leader on June 2, 2022, after leading the party through four elections. (Tara Walton/The Canadian Press)

Horwath agrees.

“I have to admit that when I left municipal politics to become an MPP, one of the things I missed the most was that idea that we’re all in it together and we’re all working from the same space, or the same imperative,” she said.

Whether they make the jump for personal reasons or political reasons, former Calgary mayor Nenshi will tell any veteran-politician-turned-mayor that they made the right choice.

“I always joke — and I’ve been doing it for years — that if the federal government disappeared while we were talking, it would be a week or two before anyone noticed … but if your municipal government were to disappear, you’d have no roads, no parks, no transit, no emergency response,” he said.

“The issues that we are working on at the municipal level are the cool ones, the interesting ones. And I think more and more politicians are figuring out — that’s really where it’s at.”

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B.C. Premier David Eby unveils his new cabinet

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B.C. Premier David Eby to reveal new cabinet with health, safety, housing priorities

Here is a list of British Columbia Premier David Eby‘s ministers following his first major cabinet shuffle since taking over as leader:

Agriculture and Food — Pam Alexis (new to cabinet)

Attorney General — Niki Sharma (new to cabinet)

Children and Family Development — Mitzi Dean (unchanged)

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Citizens’ Services — Lisa Beare

Education and Child Care — Rachna Singh (new to cabinet)

Minister of state for child care — Grace Lore (new to cabinet)

Emergency Management and Climate Readiness — Bowinn Ma

Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation — Josie Osborne

Environment and Climate Change Strategy — George Heyman (unchanged)

Finance (includes Columbia River Treaty) — Katrine Conroy

Forests and minister responsible for consular corps. — Bruce Ralston

Health and minister responsible for Francophone affairs — Adrian Dix (unchanged)

Housing and government house leader — Ravi Kahlon

Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation — Murray Rankin

Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation — Brenda Bailey (new to cabinet)

Minister of state for trade — Jagrup Brar (new to cabinet)

Labour — Harry Bains (unchanged)

Mental Health and Addictions — Jennifer Whiteside

Municipal Affairs — Anne Kang

Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills (includes immigration/foreign credentials) — Selina Robinson

Minister of state for workforce development — Andrew Mercier (new to cabinet)

Public Safety and Solicitor General (ICBC) — Mike Farnworth (unchanged)

Social Development and Poverty Reduction — Sheila Malcolmson

Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport — Lana Popham

Transportation and Infrastructure (BC Transit and Translink) — Rob Fleming (unchanged)

Minister of state for infrastructure and transit — Dan Coulter (new to cabinet)

Water, Land and Resource Stewardship — Nathan Cullen

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022

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Bob Rae heads to Haiti in attempt at political consensus, amid possible intervention

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OTTAWA — Canada is trying to dislodge a political impasse in Haiti by sending one of its top diplomats to Port-au-Prince.

Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, started an in-person push for negotiations Wednesday.

Haiti is facing a series of crises as armed gangs block access to fuel and essentials, leading to water and power outages that are worsening a cholera outbreak.

The Haitian government has asked for a foreign military to intervene and push out the gangs, but opponents argue that might only prolong an unpopular government in a country that has not had elections since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said Canada might be part of an intervention, but only if there is a consensus across Haiti’s fractured political scene.

Rae’s three-day visit will include talks with politicians, grassroots groups and United Nations officials on how Canada could play a role in what the Liberals say would be “Haitian-led solutions.”

Defence Minister Anita Anand gave no sense of what that might look like.

“We are making sure to be prudent in this situation,” she told reporters Wednesday.

“We are studying those contributions, potential contributions, and we will have more to say on that in short order.”

This fall, Canada has sanctioned 11 prominent Haitians over alleged ties to gangs, sent military vehicles to the country, and had Trudeau’s former national security adviser conduct an assessment mission.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.

 

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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An anti-environmental group is shaping Oregon politics and policy – Oregon Capital Chronicle

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Shortly after this year’s midterm elections, an anti-government group in Oregon called Timber Unity posted a call to action on Facebook. It asked its followers to “bombard” Portland City Council members during an upcoming hearing over a proposed change to a motor vehicles fuel code.

The changes in the code would reduce dependence on nonrenewable fossil fuels by “increasing the required percentage of renewable fuels blended with petroleum diesel.”

In its post, Timber Unity called this a “special eletist [sic] blend” that would raise the price of diesel, lead distributors to disinvest in Oregon and cause biodiesel and renewable diesel to “not meet specs.”

All of these claims were false, according to the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

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Timber Unity has been active in Oregon politics since its founding three years ago.

This year, it endorsed Republican Christine Drazan for governor. Even though she lost, other conservative candidates won and did so with help from Timber Unity, an increasingly active conservative organization with a decidedly anti-conservation agenda.

County commissioners backed by Timber Unity flipped several seats this year, including Ben West who won in Clackamas County, unseating an incumbent. In Lane County, Ryan Ceniga defeated Dawn Lesley, an environmental engineer who prioritized climate change.

Taking over these hyper-local positions has been central to Timber Unity’s strategy of political influence.

Timber Unity’s origins

In June 2019, truckers and loggers living mainly in logging country between the coast and Portland became fed up and angry over a proposed carbon emissions bill.

Many of them, including the trucker and movement’s founder, Jeff Leavy, viewed the bill as a means of killing jobs.

In fact, the bill would have financially benefitted rural communities, such as theirs, affected by climate change.

Known as cap-and-trade, the bill proposed that companies emitting more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide would have to buy carbon credits at auction.

But the proposal galvanized workers in the industry who mistakenly thought that China would be able to trade in the marketplace and, as Leavy put it to me, “keep polluting this earth on our dime.”

After hearing about the bill, Leavy used Facebook to organize a protest at the Capitol in Salem.

Over the course of several weeks in June, truckers and haulers staged their rigs, coordinated a convoy and held speeches in front of the Capitol.

They called themselves Timber Unity.

Soon after that protest, right-wing figures, including anti-vaxxers and secessionists, joined Timber Unity.

The protests attracted national media attention and statewide political interest.

That month, each of the 11 Republican state senators walked out of the legislative session and effectively killed the bill.

Political alignment

Now over three years later, Timber Unity is still energized, even after some initial internal splintering and leadership changes (Leavy says he resigned).

The group endorsed several winning candidates in the 2020 election, and even helped flip a House seat that hadn’t voted for a Republican in two decades.

In a September 1 Facebook post leading up to this year’s elections, the group applauded then candidate and former House minority leader Drazan for joining a 2020 Legislature walkout by Republicans over a bill aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The news that Timber Unity endorsed Drazan wasn’t a complete surprise despite the fact that an early Timber Unity supporter, Betsy Johnson, ran this year as an independent.

Angelita Sanchez, a co-director of the Timber Unity PAC, told me, vaguely, that Johnson was “a yes vote on a gas tax,” which Sanchez considered a “bad vote.”

And Mike Pihl, a former Timber Unity president, was already listed as an endorsement on Drazan’s website.

Anti-conservation agenda

In interviews, Timber Unity leadership distances itself from extremism and right-wing figures, but posts on Facebook and other promotional materials reveal far-right ideologies.

In October, Timber Unity screenshotted a Vox story headlined “How logging, a Nike founder, and the alt-right warped the Oregon governor’s race” and wrote, “Well, well, WELL!!! Look at what we have here!!! The FAR LEFT EXTREMIST came out with a story today, and lets just say they are running scared and they give ALL THE CREDIT TO YOU!!!”

The group also previously promoted a rally with a poster that included a QAnon banner and members of the private Facebook group in 2020 included election deniers, QAnon conspiracy theorists and at least one man calling for war ahead of the Capitol riots.

The rise of Timber Unity mimics previous anti-government movements, particularly in western states.

The “Wise Use” movement in the 1980s and ‘90s, for example, wanted the expansion of private property rights and less government oversight on federal lands. Its anti-government and anti-environmental rhetoric was similar to that used by Timber Unity, which sees environmental and government regulation as an infringement on freedom and rights.

Pihl, the former president, told me there’s already too much regulation of the timber industry.

“We already have the Forest Protection Act, which is very deep and it’s 87 pages of regulation,” he says. “I have it sitting on my desk, I read it all the time and there’s so many protected already, like the Siuslaw National Forest. You can’t do anything there.”

Timber Unity has successfully tapped into deep-seated resentments over environmental regulation, and its statewide support seems here to stay—at least for now.

This story was originally published in Columbia Insight, an independent environmental journalist news site.

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