In a region with few media outlets, and almost non existent independent media, it is unsurprising that critical election coverage is hard to find (or that voter turnout/engagement is extremely low). Sun Media, possibly soon Post Media, control four of the five main print news outlets in the region (St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review, Welland Tribune and the Fort Erie Times). All of these papers have seen serious cuts to staff and also a serious reduction in local news coverage in recent years. Investigative news coverage? You must be dreaming.
Polar opposite to this – news coverage of the Toronto municipal election is surging. Surely, it follows some pretty basic framing and in many ways is shallow itself, however, that diverse coverage is pushing along serious social media engagement. I find myself most nights scrolling my social media feeds feel both envious and annoyed that I know so much about Andray Domise. In Niagara, politicians launch hashtags hoping to spur engagement only to later abandon them because the area seems impenetrable to filling this void or bridging discussion over to online communities.
What does this have to do with Mat Siscoe? I typically would not comment or invest myself in politics on any level. With every election my main interest is the issues discussed, how they are framed and what is ignored and left out. That said, locally there is a large push by right wing candidates in Niagara to co-opt progressive language in order to cover for party and business connections. Whether it is Walter Sendzick – hand picked Chamber of Commerce Mayoral candidate making awkward pitches for Beach restoration, or Siscoe with his Ford lite versions of “transparency and civic engagement” – there is simply no substantive media in Niagara critically engaging with how disingenuous these things are set against their actual platforms and motivations.
When it comes to Mat Siscoe the most glaring issue with his campaign relates not to his platform, but to his actual intentions. Elected in the St. Patricks Ward in 2010 – it was clear even from the beginning that Mat was being groomed as a future Conservative Party candidate in the area. His connections and support to Rick Dykstra – current St. Catharines Conservative MP – have always been overt and Mat has always presented himself with a polish and drive of someone with clear political aspirations beyond Council. When it came time for the Ontario PC Party to run a candidate in the Provincial Election – Mat was tapped for the position in January 2014. Up against a long time Liberal Candidate Jim Bradley, Mat ran a competitive campaign largely buoyed by the support Rick Dykstra and other notable Conservatives in the area. Somehow, Mat managed to evade scrutiny as a high school teacher running alongside a party that promised 100,000 public sector job cuts (many of those would have been teachers) – but again, my point on local media. He lost, but not by a large enough margin for him to move from his position as a budding Conservative candidate.
Throughout his campaign Mat stayed on council, but the issue of having a “partisan” on council has frequently come up. Speaking with other candidates in the area that were on council I’ve had some repeat my concern, “If Mat wants to move on – then move on. Stop running municipally.” The concerns are clear – How can you run claim to represent the community while you are focused on Provincial campaigns? How can you maintain relationships and work with others on council when you are so clearly partisan and so clearly not invested in Council? Why intentionally run when, if successful at another stage, you will put Council in a position of bringing in an unelected candidate – mid way through that Council’s life?
For the St. Patrick’s Ward this time around it is pretty clear that Mat Siscoe and Mark Elliott will get re-elected. The two, on this issue, are at opposite ends. Mark is the “arts and culture” voice on Council and has been on Council for two-terms and is seeking a third. Mark has played a major role in development downtown and growing and integrating the arts community into the downtown and with Brock University. These are long term plans of a person dedicated to Council and dedicated to seeing them through. Mat on the other hand?
Name recognition of these two is high and no other candidates are really running campaigns that could threaten them. Social and online presence for challengers is small and even debates – like last nights debate at Market Square – have seriously low turn out for a ward with 16,000 on the voting list (I’d estimate under 100 at that debate). Also, it wasn’t televised – so beyond whatever their ground games are even a good debate showing is unlikely to grow their base or take away from those running for re-election.
This puts the ward in a predictable situation – Siscoe and Elliott will get re elected. Siscoe will run Provincially or Federally, at the first opportunity. If he wins, Council may be forced into bringing on the 3rd place unelected candidate. If he loses, the ward will suffer with a Politician not particularly interested in the area beyond maintaining his name recognition presence. Why waste our time?
At the debate last night I really wanted to ask Mat directly if he would commit to not running for the Conservative Party if he is elected to Council. I instead chose to a question on crime rates in the downtown because all candidates were suggesting that we needed more policing/enforcement/police presence in the downtown (we don’t). I am writing about it here though because it is a question a lot of people should be putting to Mat right now. If he wins and leaves, it is likely his spot will be filled by Aaron Moukperian – the most promising challenger in my opinion. Moukperian’s platform is very different from Mat’s. If I was someone who was interested in voting for Mat I would want a commitment that he would stay on Council and not leave to make room for a person and platform I don’t agree with. If Mat won’t make that commitment, then he needs to stop trying to use Council as a rung on his political ladder and stop wasting our time. Sit out, run your Provincial or Federal campaigns and leave municipal politics to those who actually want to be there.