Council addresses NDP rumours

Bonnie Belec
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Party leader quashes any hint of planned political infiltration

The upcoming September election is already creating a buzz at St. John's City Hall.

Speculation that an orange wave is moving towards St. John's City Hall has been swirling for months and as the municipal election approaches the gossip continues to swell.

"The rumour, of course, is the NDP is preparing a slate to run in the municipal election and over the last number of months the rumour mill has indicated candidates are being actively recruited to run, and I believe that to be so," St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe told The Telegram during a candid, sit-down interview.

"I've been told the goal in the city of St. John's is to get six seats - the magic number. There's 11 on council, including the mayor, so if you can get six positions on city council you will always have the majority," he said.

The mayor, who is running again in the September election, said when the rumours initially came to his attention early last year, people were telling him the NDP was trying to take control of city councils in different parts of the country with the aim of using that power to eventually take over provincial governments.

He said those rumours continue in St. John's with an even more intriguing tidbit added to the hearsay heap.

"A really interesting rumour that's all around the city and came to me from a number of sources last week is that the leader of the party, Lorraine Michael, is considering resigning her position and taking a run at being the mayor of St. John's," O'Keefe said.

"Absurd," Michael said Friday when asked if she was contemplating wading into municipal politics.

Michael said it doesn't make any sense for her to turn her back now on a thriving party she has worked so hard to build.

"Here I am, the leader of a provincial party that is growing and becoming a real force in the province and is something I committed myself to doing when I ran for the leadership in 2006," she said.

"Now is so exciting for me to be the leader of our party because we have made progress, and the goals I've been setting for myself and the party are being met. I'm so excited about continuing to lead my party into the 2015 election and it would be rather absurd for me at this point to say it's over and done with - that's crazy," said Michael, adding she hadn't heard the rumours.

"All I can think is there are a lot of Tories out there who would like to see us fade away and who would like to see me fade away, and my message to them is, it's not going to happen."

Michael also said there is no plan by the provincial NDP party to run a slate in the municipal election.

When contacted by The Telegram this week, several St. John's city councillors confirmed they've heard rumours about the NDP running candidates. Two - Couns. Sheilagh O'Leary and Sandy Hickman - said they have not. Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff couldn't be reached for comment.

"As far as I know, municipal politics is a non-partisan entity," O'Leary said.

"It always has been and that's the reason I have been drawn to it. Everybody has their own political leanings, but that's their own business. But as for an NDP slate, it's the first I've heard of it," she said Friday.

"I don't know where the rumours are coming from. I've been having lots of dialogue with people regarding new interested bodies running for municipal politics, especially because I'm the newcomer who did so well the first time. I'm getting a lot of people coming to me for advice and interest, but this is the first I've ever heard of an NDP slate."

O'Leary, who polled the highest votes of all candidates in the 2009 election - 24,056 - was given an endorsement for the mayor's chair by federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair last year when he was in St. John's for an NDP fundraiser.

She has said in the past she's thinking about running for mayor in this year's election, but would only confirm Friday she will be seeking re-election.

O'Leary said when Mulcair commented she would make a good mayor, it was done unbeknownst to her.

"And as I've reiterated since then, I'm totally open to endorsements. If Justin Trudeau wanted to come and endorse me I would be more than welcome to receive it, or anybody else who wanted to throw their support behind my form of leadership at city hall," she said.

O'Keefe and other councillors agree the rumours may have originated from Mulcair's endorsement of O'Leary and just kept gaining momentum.

"Everybody in the city knows Coun. O'Leary is still in the process of trying to make up her mind if she's going to run for the position of mayor, and it doesn't bother me who runs one way or the other," said O'Keefe.

"I'm running for mayor I'll run on my service to the city, so if someone wants to run for the position of mayor and they think they can do a better job then I leave that up to the good residents of the City of St. John's."

But politically speaking, he said councillors shouldn't be toeing any party line.

O'Keefe's colleagues agree.

Couns. Frank Galgay, Debbie Hanlon and Gerry Colbert, who are not seeking re-election, said they've heard the rumours and agree with the mayor about politics in the chamber.

"Partisan politics doesn't serve the best interests of the municipality. If you begin to adopt that model, the city loses its objectivity and sense of independence," said Galgay.

Colbert, another veteran councillor, said he remembers a few elections back when a group of people shared an agenda to get seats on council, but it didn't work.

"Not one of them got elected. People did not like a slate, they did not like the fact that there was going to be a group on city council who, by the nature of the cohesion, could control council. They wanted 11 individuals as best they could to speak their own mind and not have to toe a party line and they were very clear about that," said Colbert.

Couns. Danny Breen, Wally Collins, Bruce Tilley and Hickman are seeking re-election.

Collins said he doesn't know if the rumours are true but the bottom line is that politics doesn't belong in the chamber.

"My gut feeling is if they want to run, that's up to themselves, but I don't agree with one party running municipal politics. The more individuals, diverse people, the better, because you have ideas coming from a range of different people with different thinking," he said.

Coun. Tom Hann hasn't announced his intention regarding the election, but he agrees that diversity adds spice to debates around the chamber table.

While Hickman said he hasn't heard the rumours, he is a strong supporter of an independent council.

"A municipality is and should be comprised of a cross section of the community, and in the larger cities it requires full-time councillors, which makes it a little more difficult, but in St. John's the brilliance of it is it's a part-time position. Therefore, if somebody has their own business they can run, or a teacher can run, or a doctor can run, and that's what makes it so well rounded and that's important," he said.

O'Keefe said slate politics is an old-fashioned way of running towns and he doesn't want to see it in St. John's.

"If you're into party policies, party discipline and party agendas, I think it would be really negative for any municipality to go down that road," he said.

"We have a good system. ... We have five wards, four at-large councillors, a mayor and deputy mayor who make their decisions based on how they feel on a particular issue, and the party line, party policies, doesn't come into play, and that's the way it should be."

Organizations: NDP, The Telegram, St. John's City

Geographic location: St. John's

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Recent comments

  • My city too
    January 20, 2013 - 16:38

    I'm sure the majority of councillors have a political affiliation however they run as independent thinkers. The thought of a slate running to force NDP political decision making on the city is scary to put it mildly. With regards to OLeary as mayor, the very thought makes me shudder in dismay for the well being of the city. No doubt we will have lot of trees and every citizen well be given a white suit for protest, her leadership style is one of arrogance and uninformed. Anyone who votes on issues without fully understanding the issue has to make one question their abitiliy,but then to vote over and over again for an item and stand and say they don't agree with it. REALLY OLeary . NDP slate not what this city needs. They would run the city into the ground and my tax dollars would plant trees and fund the arts. That's about it. Progress not likely under an NDP slate nor O'Leary I feel the majority of citizens won't be lead down the NDP garden path to a weed bed.

  • jeremiah
    January 20, 2013 - 14:02

    I would vote for and campaign for anyone who has amalgamation of the NE Avalon as a priority. The lack of planning in this region is pathetic. Amalgamation will be realized. Lets make it sooner rather than later.

  • ms reality
    January 20, 2013 - 09:28

    Im trying to see this article for its validity. I can see a strong NDP wave trying to soak up the seats at city hall. However, an obvious PC council currently exists, so whats the big deal? While I am not a party person myself and would prefer to vote for the 'best person'... I have major concerns for St.Johns should Oleary become mayor. This woman has to get her ducks in a row and realize that running a city is more than planting trees, conducting a "Butt Campaign" (that was a big success???lol), suggesting tordon elimination (prov issue that had been addressed by city before|), the fence (that she voted in favor of, and again supported the 2013 budget that announced funding for the fence), and now the damn pensions that has already been discussed by herself and the rest of council (let me guess, she will donate hers to charity??) I would like to ask what her experience is in economics? she spends more time discussing the Indian Status than things more pressing like infrastructure and development. I really like the point she makes about getting more than 24000 votes!!! |I nearly woke the neighborhood laughing!!!! I suppose she forgot there were another 3 people on the ballot sheet|? Guess, they didn't get one vote, not even their own!! Cant wait to hear another 1/2 hour about trees tomorrow... oh but its going to save the city millions by soaking up the water in the ground!!!!!! Oh SHEILAGH, go do your homework!!!!!

  • Jim
    January 20, 2013 - 07:15

    When council is dominated by a group of conservative geriatrics would spend most meetings wallowing in gossip, who are so dedicated to anti-intellectualism that they refuse to recognize the differences between fact and fiction (and who appear to be thoroughly confused by the studies that they contract, and thus then ignore), who are so stubbornly nostalgic that they are dedicated to repeating the mistakes that have been proven disastrous by other dysfunctional cities throughout the world... perhaps it is time to retire? Of course, many residents in St. John's, and Newfoundland more broadly, would be horrified by the idea of a well educated, progressive city council. We need things to be black and white, good and evil... Christian, white, heterosexual, and conservative.

  • Jay
    January 19, 2013 - 15:52

    Doc's stance on slates must have changed recently. He was part of the Wells, Coombs, Dinn, etc slate for years. It may have been unofficial but it was easily recognizable. Notwithstanding, this is a tempest in a teapot, and probably a poorly disguised attack on O'Leary. As voters, we simply choose which individuals we want to choose. We're not obliged to follow any party loyalty. Furthermore, Doc should concentrate on running the city effectively instead of getting caught up in these petty conspiracy plots.

  • Christopher Chafe
    January 19, 2013 - 15:17

    I fear for this city if O'Leary get's in the mayor's chair. There is one way to either prove this rumor true or false: ask those who throw their names in the hat what political stripe they are. I for one have no intention of voting in a candidate that supports the NDP.

  • Jennifer McCreath
    January 19, 2013 - 15:04

    While it is important for City Council to have good rapport with all provincial and federal political parties, we as voters have to be well aware of the impact - specifically the risks and potential conflicts of interest, of allowing provincial and federal partisan politics to impact municipal issues. When I announce my intentions to run for City Council - and yes, I plan on making a formal announcement soon, I will make it clear that I will not be a member of any provincial or federal political party, so long as I am seeking election to City Council, and/or so long as I sit on city council.

    January 19, 2013 - 12:25

    Paranoid Councillors?...maybe.. O'leary for Mayor Duff for deputy Mayor the remainder are the status quo and if change is to happen in St. john's these folks have to go.

  • Steve
    January 19, 2013 - 12:18

    This is completely bogus. Most of the current council are tories, and everyone knows it. Tom Hann is a Liberal. Doc O'Keefe has publicly acknowledged being a PC campaign worker, I know former Councillor Keith Coombs was a big Tory as well. If anyone with an association with the NDP happens to get elected to council, so be it, because it's no different than most of the other councillors. A fair-minded perspective on this is that anyone interested in City Council is probably interested in politics in general, and has probably been involved with one political party or another. Doc is is the one who is spreading the rumour, trying to smear other candidates. He is the one who is introducing party politics into the municipal political arena.

  • Robert
    January 19, 2013 - 11:10

    Well there goes my vote for the NDP! St. John's does not need such interference. Anybody is entitled to run in an election but NOT with "other" motives; they obviously will not be representing the people.

    • GT
      January 22, 2013 - 11:54

      Why are some people so afraid of the NDP?No one from the NDP came out and said they have other motives in an election, and, if they were having anyone run.Mayor Okeefe is getting so paranoid and trying to nip this( rumor) in the butt before it may happen.Relax you have two terms in,you will be looked after.When their is proof than speak.

  • Political Watcher
    January 19, 2013 - 10:27

    O'Keefe says "But politically speaking, he said councillors shouldn't be toeing any party line". Sure O'Keefe is an extension of the current PC Party; he toed to party lines for them more time tha any other and on occasion, at the expense of his residents. The countdown is on Doc.

  • Doug
    January 19, 2013 - 10:24

    Paranoia hits the bunker! If they bunkerites were as worried about doing the jobs they were elected to do as they are in making sure they keep getting elected, perhaps the city wouldn't be fall down around their ears.

  • J
    January 19, 2013 - 09:47

    Scary thought. He NDPs mayoral candidate, O'Leary, has been opposed to almost every development in the city since being elected. If she gets a majority we may be doomed, higher taxes and less business.

  • John
    January 19, 2013 - 08:58

    Whoever, "wink", started the rumour, it was a good political move to shoot down O'Leary before she can get a shot at the mayor's chair. Good Politics !

  • Just Replace The Council Entirely
    January 19, 2013 - 08:57

    Replace all of them with the Moonies or the NDP or whatever. But just replace this entire dismal council, every single one of them is a flop.

  • W Bagg
    January 19, 2013 - 08:47

    sounds like something Harper would come up with.................. a conspiracy theory................oh yeah which party has Doc volunteered for for several decades

  • Orange hotdogs
    January 19, 2013 - 07:42

    Retire Doc, out to pasture. Its either that or the glue truck! Its time for st.johns to be run like a city b'y.