Editorial: What the Mayor and Town Can Learn from China

Should municipal politics become partisan?

Mayor Burton, Justin Trudeau
Editorial: What the Mayor and Town Can Learn from China
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About the Author

Richard Landau

Richard Landau

Richard Landau is a professional writer, broadcast executive, and creative director. He has won 41 television awards during his lengthy career. Currently, Richard resides in Oakville.

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China’s Ambassador to Canada wisely chose at the last minute to ditch a photo opportunity to meet with Canada’s third party leader at a Chinese New Year party organized by the Liberal Party in Toronto, Thursday, Feb 19. The Ambassador cancelled, in spite of being accorded guest of honour status. The matter was reported in the Globe and Mail.

It would seem that His Excellency’s PR staff had the sense to realize that he was not being invited so that he could be engaged in something as substantive as, say, a discussion of trade relations with a potential future prime minister. They surmised, one can imagine, that the credibility and stature of the Ambassador was going to be used in a partisan photo opportunity for the sole purpose of making Mr. Trudeau appear prime ministerial. He chose to not be “furniture” in someone’s photo opportunity. Typically, foreign governments try to stay out of the internal political affairs and elections of their host nations. So, he backed out.

With that in mind, you have to wonder what’s going on with the Town of Oakville?

On Friday, the very next day after their ‘Beijing Bust’, The Liberal Party of Canada announced a similar event…in Oakville. The Liberal PR office and the Office of the Mayor and Council of the Town of Oakville jointly issued a two-part “media advisory”. It listed as one of the two contacts: Lesley Patel, Communications Advisor, Office of the Mayor and Council, Town of Oakville. That’s important.

The first advisory included the itinerary for Mr. Trudeau for Monday, February 23 – announcing his meeting with “regional mayors for a roundtable discussion on transit and housing” at the Holiday Inn, Oakville at 11 am. It was identified as a “photo opportunity only”.

The second notice invited us to a media availability with the Liberal leader, a half hour later – same place. In other words, questions and answers with Mr. Trudeau.

While both advisories were forwarded to the media, at the time of writing – neither is available on the Town’s website nor the Liberal Party of Canada.

Here’s the problem…
Of course, Mr. Trudeau, as a national political leader, is perfectly within his rights to meet with mayors and to become conversant with their points of view. His party is also well within bounds to publicize such a meeting. In a non-election year, such meetings ideally would take place in private or over the phone. One thinks of Toronto Mayor John Tory’s recent visit to Ottawa. It was a working meeting – not a campaign event for the Prime Minister.

But what has me shaking my head is that the Town of Oakville jointly issued the media advisories with the Liberal Party of Canada. To be fair, will they do the same thing for Elizabeth May? Or Thomas Mulcair? Or for the Prime Minister himself? My point is: this type of action tends to drag the Town into partisan federal politics, and if the Town does not back the eventual winner, what will be the consequences?

It’s enough that Mayor Burton has already been identified as a Liberal Party supporter before now. In fact, he has not hidden the fact that he supports the Liberal Party. Furthermore, this is not the first time this type of conflict has come up in Oakville. There was some question about Oakville Hydro making a financial donation to the provincial Liberals a few years ago.

At its core, the Corporation of the Town must remain neutral. Why? First, because by its very nature and definition, it must be seen as judiciously impartial. Second, because if any party other than the Liberals is elected federally, Mr. Burton and company will be in an awkward position when they are looking for assistance or cooperation. In effect, it puts the Town at risk. It would be much wiser, especially in an election year, to remain neutral and at arm’s length, while, yes, extracting commitments from all national party leaders. For the Town to now wade into this thicket by acting in concert with the federal Liberals is neither appropriate, nor smart.

If the Chinese Ambassador figured this out as a conflict, you have to wonder why the Town of Oakville and its Communications Advisor don’t get it.



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Readers Comments (2)

  1. John McLaughlin says:

    I thought that Oakville – and Town Council – was green, not red.

  2. Craig Schiller says:

    Gee, now, this couldn’t possibly have been written by a non-professed Conservative, could it? Oh wait…


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