• Sean M. O'Connell

Politicking and scandal


June 2, 2019


Back to the River Project


I went to council for a few sessions in May. The important takeaway was about the Back to the River project. Councillor Lewis succeeded in having his amendment voted on to have the administration produce a second business case without the iconic Ribbon Bridge. In short a business case without any substance. I love how some councillors seem to think they are saving the city time and money but they are costing us exactly that.


Mayor Holder had a situation last month where he had a visiting diplomat and they asked for a photo op at an iconic spot in London. Ordinarily there are many cities where one can point to such locations and romanticise. However London doesn't have any such locations despite our namesake as a city. It was quite embarrassing. Especially when the only thing that was suggested was a local bar/hangout. I think the incident speaks for itself and London really needs this project.


I advocated last year that if we want London to become a thriving city we need to think bigger and have a sense of vision. Half of council currently lacks any vision under the guise of 'saving money'. There is an old adage that in order to make money, one has to spend money. In this case, if we don't complete the project we will ensure London is irrelevant even as a mid-sized city. For instance, we have half a transit plan, homes are expensive and as a mid-sized city we lack tourist sites.


Look at r/londonontario at any given time and its filled with people asking questions about what to do in London or where can I find X. In my opinion we have a public relations problem. London will not be solving it by denying funds for public works. Giving oxygen to the Councillor Lewis's amendment just proves the point.


Can we as a city have more commitment to our goals? Councillors aren't doing us any favours by entertaining these resolutions. I will be following more updates on the project in the coming months.


Scandals


On May 30th a mystery was solved. Who was responsible for the smear campaign against Maureen Cassidy and Virginia Ridley? Some speculations from last year were confirmed. To sum it up, Amir Farahi bought two website domains using their names, and produced signs/material and used them to slander the candidates in order to influence and ensure his clients were elected. One major fact I didn't know was that Blackridge Strategy is Amir Farahi's company. Last year, he falsely tried to say he was framed and that he wasn't responsible for any of this. At the time it was pretty clear he was lying and had watched too many movies (with being framed plot lines). It is rather disconcerting that he has allowed the worse tendencies to get the better of himself. There is a moral outrage against these types of tactics and I would hope we do not see a repeat of this situation in the future. It is unscrupulous.


When conducting politics there are some lines that one doesn't cross. Personally I believe one has to hold oneself to a higher standard than everyone else when your in public office and especially when trying to attain public office. It is just what is expected. Though he wasn't seeking public office, his actions put a definite 'smear' on his reputation. He was getting a fair amount of attention from his articles in the Londoner and as a young entrepreneur. However, this wasn't the first time he has had an interest in monetising politics. A few years ago he tried to create a course for would be candidates to learn how to campaign. I am sure he will manage to get others to buy into his services in the next election cycle. To be clear, I don't condone his actions, but it is a shame, really, to see someone who had promise fell from grace.


Alternatively there is another question, did the smear campaign work against Virginia Ridley? This is why Paul Van Meerbergen has some explaining to do as he was one of Blackridge Strategy's clients. If it did work, PVM directly benefited from it. This creates a thorny question of whether should he resign. I suspect that without a public consensus/outcry over his win, he will remain in the seat. He will likely try to reaffirm his election win as legitimate. At this point it is hard to assess.


Thoughts


My advice to 'up and coming' candidates or students interested in politics, volunteer. You don't need money to do it and can learn many things about the community around you. There are differences in tonality with campaigns and levels of government. In my own experience, I found that provincial politics tends to be toxic. The province controls too many aspects of people's lives such as education, health or economy. It makes people bitter. The federal election of 2015 was much better and people definitely have an opinion one way or the other. Municipally was quite good, as party affiliations are usually removed and people are willing to speak with you about things that matter to them (in regards to the city). Similarly, people frequently confuse jurisdiction of governance (ie federal, provincial, municipal). I would also encourage anyone who wants to run municipally to do your research, go to city council and listen to what is happening in the city. Quite often I have been the only candidate to do so. Thinking you know something is not the same as being informed.


To give you some insight on campaigning. I built this website, I maintain it etc. I didn't need a consulting company to do it either. It didn't cost me much, certainly not thousand of dollars. Candidates really need to be more deliberate in their choices of who they are doing business with. Perhaps I should have been the one to solicit my services? I would have been far more ethical and professional. I digress, my point is when you want something done, rely on yourself.

I understand there are times when you will need help. Don't be afraid to ask. Conversely, don't buy into 'the money is needed to win an election' logic. Elections are about emotions and ideas. If it becomes all about who has the most money, then they may as well put a 'for sale' sign on public office. There have been plenty of people recently elected around the world who people/pundits thought would never do so and defied the odds, money or not. In the meantime, I will let you know when I do so. Till next time.