A topsy-turvy week of politics

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
September 30, 2017 - 12:11pm
Photo: Coun. Donovan Cavers and Acting Mayor Arjun Singh chat during this week’s UBCM convention in Vancouver. (UBCM photo)

KAMLOOPS — It should come as no surprise that, when politicians get together, they talk about politics.

They also talk about the weather, the spouse and kids, their golf games, and hockey, but politics is always at the top of the list.

So when 2,000 civic politicians met in Vancouver this past week, along with a couple of hundred provincial politicians, pretty much every possible nuance of politics and current political issues came up during workshops, policy sessions, luncheons, a big trade show, hallway chitchat, and the ubiquitous hosted receptions.

It was the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.

In my other role, as an electoral area director with the TNRD, I spent five days at this political gabfest and I’m going to now take the weekend off and not even think about politics, at least not until the results are in for the Kamloops civic by-election.

And let me say right here that the by-election came up a lot at UBCM. Not in an official way, of course, but whenever there was some free time available for anyone who lives within a hundred miles of Kamloops to get together.

The opening question was always, “So who do you think’s gonna win in Kamloops?” followed with, “How many people are running? A half dozen for mayor and a couple of dozen for council?”

The latter always with a sense of awe and confusion as to why so many are trying to get a one-year seat. And then, of course, there was speculation on the various possible answers for that.

I’ve been to about nine of these shindigs over the years, and they are the one political convention I’ve always believed to be worthwhile. This year’s had an interesting dynamic to it built around the fact the socialists are now in power provincially and the conservatives are out.

It’s a topsy-turvy world.

BC Liberals, who were only such a short time ago in charge, were almost as obvious in their presence as the NDP. Ex-cabinet ministers and other opposition MLAs were highly visible. Interim Opposition Leader Rich Coleman made a pretty good speech, the party invited delegates to a breakfast, and Libs held their own open sessions on current issues like wildfire recovery, in a sort of competition with panel discussions featuring the new cabinet ministers.

My impression, though, was that the new government did very well at this convention. Delegates frequently commended the various ministers for their accessibility and willingness to listen.

There are two parallel streams to UBCM, as with so many conventions — day-time learning and policy making, and the all-important after-hours “networking.” The latter is carried out in large part at the receptions I mentioned earlier.

Delegates hit, on average, three or four of them in an evening, ranging from those hosted by petroleum companies to the Chinese government and CUPE. (The B.C. government hosts one, as well, and is distinguished by the fact it includes a cash-only bar, and properly so. Can’t use taxpayers’ money to buy beer and wine, after all.)

What I’m leading up to is the other topic of intense interest: the BC Liberal leadership race. Due in part to the interesting juxtaposition at the convention of NDP government reps, the Greens, and the Liberals who might be back in power sometime soon, the leadership was a big off-hours topic.

The closer one gets to Kamloops, of course, the more support there is for Todd Stone. And there seems to be a feeling that former Surrey mayor and Tory MP Dianne Watts doesn’t have the cred within the party to carry it off.

Which leaves the likes of Mike de Jong, Sam Sullivan and Andrew Wilkinson. I was interested to read Keith Baldrey in a piece for Global News this week that Stone “needs work on his communication skills.”

I can’t imagine what Baldrey is talking about, as Stone is a consummate communicator and accomplished schmoozer. Baldrey does go on to say Stone has youth and “a reputation for thorough organizing,” plus an “impressive” backroom team going for him.

I tell you, though, five days of non-stop political talk is exhausting, even for a political junky. A short breather is in order until the first polling-station results start coming in tonight.