Breakenridge: Motive for recall less important than the message it sends

It would go a long way for politicians who are vulnerable or even subject to a recall campaign to take the time to listen to voters’ concerns

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We’re just over a week away from knowing the results of the recall campaign against Mayor Jyoti Gondek. One way or another, this campaign will soon be over.

It’s been noted many times just how unlikely its success is, given the ridiculously high bar that needs to be cleared. It will still be interesting nonetheless to behold the final signature count, and to what extent it represents a rebuke of the mayor.

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What will also surely be parsed in the weeks ahead is the question of just who was behind or involved in this recall campaign. Much has been made about alleged shadowy or covert political support of this campaign or the idea that it’s been co-opted in the name of bigger and broader political ends.

Here’s the thing, though: none of that matters.

Such talk might help cast doubt or even discredit the petition in the eyes of the public, but it’s important to note that no one has alleged or suggested that any rules or laws are being broken (other than some signs — some of which were subsequently vandalized — that appeared to lack the proper permits).

Alberta’s Recall Act lays out the rules for recall campaigns, which includes rules around not just the gathering of signatures, but also fundraising, spending, and third parties. If folks have thoughts on how those rules could be changed or tightened, then by all means bring those ideas to the table (it certainly sounds like the province is open to making some changes).

There may be an inclination to think of a recall campaign as something stemming from a major scandal or a clear and unforgivable breach of voter trust. Those may be more obvious examples, but there’s nothing in the legislation — nor should there be — that mandates such a requirement. It’s clear that the frustration and disapproval of this current mayor stems from many different and overlapping issues, and that’s fine.

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But in the context of an election, a voter can cast a ballot for or against someone regardless of reasons or motivation. Similarly, it shouldn’t matter what the reason is for someone signing a recall petition or even organizing or putting up signs in support of such efforts. Conversely, it’s fair that a targeted politician as well as his or her supporters have an opportunity to counter-campaign against a recall petition or a recall vote.

Either way, rules need to be followed. Otherwise, though, we don’t question or scrutinize why folks might be involved in the democratic process — which is what this is, remember.

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While it seems that this recall campaign was indeed the byproduct of a single individual, it’s silly to think that only that one individual should be responsible for gathering and submitting half a million signatures or that he should have to scrutinize everyone’s motives.

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If we want the threshold to remain high for recalling an elected official, then we need to accept that efforts to clear that bar will require mobilization and organization. Again, let’s enforce the rules around fundraising, spending, and registered third parties, but that’s where our concern should end.

As it turns out, the initiator of this petition got himself an audience with the mayor last Friday to discuss this campaign and the underlying concerns about her performance. It’s probably too late to have any kind of impact on the recall efforts, but it obviously wouldn’t have happened in the first place had it not been for the petition.

It would go a long way for politicians who are vulnerable or even subject to a recall campaign to take the time to listen to voters’ concerns. Politicians may be reluctant to acknowledge that they’re unpopular, but that denial can seem like arrogance when it’s perceived that valid concerns are being dismissed.

If this whole process has humbled this mayor, or even by extension humbled other politicians, then it was worthwhile, regardless of anyone’s motives.

“Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” airs weekdays from 12:30 to 3 p.m. on QR Calgary

[email protected]

X: @RobBreakenridge

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