Friday 17 October 2014

An assessment of Mayor Daryl Bennett - and his chances

Daryl Bennett was elected to mayor of Peterborough in 2010. He received, 14, 061 votes, almost 59% of all votes cast. The incumbent, Paul Ayotte, received 9,990 votes, over 41% of the total. There were no other candidates. This time around the citizens of Peterborough have more choice. Mr. Bennett is back up for re-election, with Maryam Monsef, Alan Wilson, Patti Peeters, Terry LeBlanc, and Tom Young also in the race.

Below is a brief assessment of the mayor – and his chances.

Daryl Bennett

Mr. Bennett’s family has a long history in the city. His father was a city alderman, and he claims that family members have held public office of one form or another in the Peterborough region for four generations. He is a successful local businessman, having helped build the Liftlock Group, a local private company, which owns and operates Capital Taxi and Greyhound Peterborough.

No one really knew what they were going to get when Mr. Bennett entered office, and many have been surprised by his performance. If you like Mr. Bennett, he is a can-do mayor, a man of conviction. If you don’t like Mr. Bennett, he is a bully. In our view, he is no bully – you can’t steer council to vote for a $79 million dollar parkway project, unpopular with many citizens, if you don’t have some legitimate powers of persuasion.
He has the baby vote

Mr. Bennett should not necessarily be seen as a conservative, either. This was the gross miscalculation Police Chief Murray Rudd made when he showed up in 2011 asking for a $1.6 million dollar (8.4%) budget increase. Bennett stood his ground, citing flat-to-declining crime statistics, and told the chief to do better. What has followed is an all-out war between the Police Services Board and Mayor Bennett. It has resulted in the suspension of the mayor from the Board and 11 allegations of breaching the code of conduct. The resulting investigation from the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (no ruling yet) provided some proof, in La politica’s opinion, of the risks inherent in civilian political challenges to the demands of the police. The mayor may have behaved badly – he can be indiscreet and stubborn as a bull – but the colossal waste of time and treasure spent on the investigation should be a lesson to all: pick your battles, and fight them well. The bull entered the china shop, and the impolitic mayor soon became a symbol of discord and dysfunction. He was right all along – there was no reason for property-owners to shell out a 2.5% increase in their taxes to officers paid at the same scale as Toronto – but he handled it poorly.

Then there is the parkway. Peterborough had a referendum on the parkway in 2003, with 55% of citizens voting against it. In the last election in 2010, Bennett was clearly in favour of the parkway, but no one expected him to drive the agenda with such rigour. The resulting approval of the $79 million project, including the controversial bridge over Jackson Park (with Mayor Bennett casting the deciding vote), has divided the city. The depth of the division is easy to understand. On the one hand, the north end is growing, and traffic is a problem. On the other hand, the global economy is supposed to be shifting to more sustainable development and transportation policies. Mr. Bennett, if nothing else, lets us know where he stands, though he seems reluctant to acknowledge the numerous conflicts of interest that come from his real-estate and transportation holdings. The Bridge Too Far blog has done an excellent job of exposing some of these.

Finally, there is the downtown. The city is supposed to be encouraging people to live downtown, and the candidates for Town Ward are on side with this. After all, 40% of Peterborough’s growth is supposed to come from “densification”, and that means more people living in the core. But Mayor Bennett, the city bureaucracy, and the DBIA, simply have no concept of what it means to live downtown, as was evidenced recently by a mind-bogglingly inane survey contracted to urbanMetrics.  For those who live downtown, and those who plan to, it is a neighbourhood. It is not a place where we go – it is a place where we live. Those who live here can handle it, and don’t want security cameras, as the mayor and Town Ward councillor Bill Juby – who does not live in the ward – propose. The people causing trouble don’t reside in this neighbourhood. They live in the surrounding suburbs. Many have little respect for those who put their heads on pillows to the sound of drunken quarrels and smashing glass, and who wake to vomit on their doorstep.  Having more people living here is the best surveillance, and the cheapest. It will keep the downtown safe, and it will ensure its economic security. Do Mayor Bennett and his supporters on council get it? No.
The mayor and his wife Jewell

The mayor’s chances

The mayor has a fight on his hands. Turnout will be higher this time. Voters are more motivated, and we expect more students to vote (low student turnout has been an issue for years). The field is strong. Some of the mayor’s centre-right support will go to Alan Wilson, and almost all of the anti-parkway vote will go to Maryam Monsef, despite concerns about her youth and lack of experience. The mayor has turned a lot of people off, and those voters without strong ideological convictions are looking for options. Patti Peeters could cut into Monsef’s support, but will not be a major spoiler. Terry LeBlanc and Tom Young are not factors at the ballot box – but they are having an impact during the debates, and can be seen as representative of the high level of dissatisfaction with the present administration.

Time for some speculative math. In 2010, 20,051 votes were cast. This time around, we expect a few thousand more, and most of those won’t be going to the mayor. Ours is a first-past-the-post system. If 26,000 people vote, and the mayor’s support falls to 10,000 (he got 14,000 in 2010’s two-horse race), with Wilson picking up 3,000, and Peeters another 1,000, Monsef could win this with 11,000 to 12,000 votes. Could that happen? Yes, of course it could.

Remember, history isn’t only remembered, it is also made. Mr. Bennett and Mr. Wilson are old guard. They represent the experience, and the demographic, that have held Peterborough back. History would say that Peterborough’s parochial voters would not choose a female child of Afghani refugees; but, then again, history said that Calgarians would not vote in the first Muslim mayor of a major North American city. In Peterborough, history could happen again on October 27.

After all, if you make a habit of driving your Cadillac Escalade with your eyes fixed on the rear view mirror, you might just drive off a bridge.


Daryl Bennett

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