Monday, January 18, 2010

Small Town Politics... everywhere...

I grew up in the small Town of Summerside and there was a very fine gentlemen there in the name of Wally MacGillivray an accountant who was the Treasurer of M. F. Schurman Company Limited one of the Town’s oldest and largest employers. It was said that Harold Schurman back in the late sixties had parachuted young Wally into Town from away to help “reorganize” the Company and introduce computers into the business and he did that and a hell of a lot more for our Community.

Wally and Joan and their young family were very involved in our community and there were very few events or causes that you wouldn’t find one of them working hard for. Back then our Island legislature had 16 districts which were represented by a Councillor (protestant) and an Assemblyman (catholic) and our Town had the good fortune of being represented by the Premier of the day Alex Campbell and his catholic running mate T. Earle Hickey an accountant who was the Minister of Finance. In 1978 Premier Campbell was heading into his fourth term but his Government was getting a little long in the tooth according to the Opposition and Hickey had stepped down prior to the election call so who better to fill his shoes than “Wally” who was well entrenched in the local liberal party. Campbell’s Government won a squeaker 17 to 15 but unfortunately Wally’s “timing” wasn’t the best as he was beaten by George McMahon, a lawyer who in the previous election had showed well against Hickey, and no “new” liberals like Wally were elected. Premier Alex Campbell stepped down later that year and liberal Bennett Campbell (no relation) took over and against the advice of many liberals he went to the polls in 1979 and got hammered 21 to 11, but Wally was smart enough and busy back at work to know the tide had already turned in favour of the Tories so he didn’t put his name forward.

A couple of years later Wally was getting a little itchy to get back into politics as he really wanted to do something to help his Community so he decided to take a run at local municipal politics hoping that that it may prove to the locals that he was capable and sincere and the experience would hold him in good stead if and when the Provincial Tory tide was about to change. Wally won a land slide municipal election in Summerside as a Town Councillor and was quickly appointed Finance Chair and set out to put in place some fiscal responsibility on behalf of the Town. He went on to do a brilliant job but during his term he quickly recognized that unlike private enterprise, where common sense mostly prevails, he found himself fighting a battle of small mindedness and nepotism which always seemed to be forefront in the media.
A number of years later, when it was the deadline to file municipal papers for re-election, a young journalist from the Journal Pioneer, who was shocked that Wally hadn’t filed, called him to ask why and I think I can still remember a bit of his response, “I think I’ve done my name enough damage for now”… being what he perceived was the result of being dragged down to the pettiness of municipal politics.

I know I and many others were quite disappointed that the Town had lost such a great public talent so in frustration I queried one of my friends, just what the problem was, and he said the answer to my question was on the sign leading into Summerside that should have said “the world’s greatest collection of small minded thinkers”. I’ve always found my friend’s cynicism quite funny, with a hint of truth, but after many years of now living in Charlottetown and recently watching Charlottetown Councillor’s Devine and Tweel at their best fighting a church congregation over changes to some doors …. I now realize that my friend’s imaginary sign could easily be erected as a lighted billboard on the way into Charlottetown (of course subject to getting a permit). Some would argue that this may be the case in a lot of Communities in this Region or in our Country but as a frequent traveler and developer in most, it’s not always been my experience, as there are some really good people representing us out there who are being dragged down like Wally was. It’s unfortunate that our most talented don’t always pursue or succeed at our public offices but I think it’s up to all of us to encourage and support good people if we want good representation. We can also do this by getting out and voting as our municipal voter turnout is abysmal at the best of times. So maybe it’s time to be looking around in your community and encourage good practical people to come forward by offering your support. As it’s my guess that the debt loads our Communities are building up, through the infrastructure program, are going to demand good representatives like Wally in the future, otherwise we’ll pay the penalty at tax time….

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A clear, cogent analysis of a persistent problem in both public AND private sectors on the Island (and, in fairness, elsewhere). Progressive, entrepreneurial initiatives run headlong into deadwood roadblocks set up by small-minded bureaucrats with a vested interest in keeping things just the way things are. Sadly, this is often done in the name of protecting "the Island way". More sadly, the personal and professional costs of fighting to dismantle an encrusted status quo has driven many to invest their resources elsewhere. Thank you, Tim, for staying the course and for holding up a mirror that too often reflects a disquieting image.