COMMENT: Why Mayor Kerry Diotte would be good for Edmonton

Kerry Diotte GigCity EdmontonThat Kerry Diotte is running for mayor of Edmonton is exceedingly good news. He threw his hat into the ring for the Oct. 21 civic election at hastily assembled press conference Thursday.

Full disclosure: I know the guy. I worked with him for more than 15 years at the Edmonton Sun, where he was one of the star columnists for many years, covering politics both local and provincial.

He’s a remarkably centrist guy, which will be interesting. There’s a perception in modern politics that the centre doesn’t vote; this is somewhat true, although most politicians I’ve talked to are in denial about the real reason: the belief that most politicians are self-important, underqualified, undertasked with real work that has real consequences and, eventually, eminently corruptible.

So Diotte needs to get a large turnout to have a chance, as pandering to one base or another isn’t his style. He’s not going to be hard right, because he’s a socially liberal and intelligent guy; he’s not going to be hard left because he’s a fiscally conservative guy.

In other words, he’s one of those rare politicians that ACTUALLY reflects the majority: centrist, cautious about government spending, but open to new ideas. We don’t hear much from this segment of the electorate anymore, because most people in it realize that engaging anyone with a hardline theological or political addiction in a debate is like trying to argue with a drunk about the demerits of drinking.

He also changes his mind based on new information, a sign of actual functional intelligence and not, as any hardline political operative will immediately term it, “flip flopping.” Expect whomever he’s facing to start dragging out newspaper columns he wrote years ago that were thick-headed because … well, anyone who has to write three columns a week occasionally writes something dumb, and “dumb” is always good political ammunition. They’ll ignore the overarching theme of most of his writing when he was a columnist – and as a councillor – which has been that government spending deserves great scrutiny.

Kerry Diotte GigCity EdmontonWhich it does. One of the great ironies of the right-left dichotomy in modern societies is that both are often right and both are often wrong. For example, governments DO accomplish great things, so the left idea of communal action through represented employees is correct sometimes. But governments also waste far more money than they use effectively, so the right is also correct that  big government is a recipe for ignoring real priorities. The less we know as individuals, however, the more secure we feel taking an easy answer from one side or the other, and the less likely we are to consider both.

Life isn’t black and white. Politics, the last muck-mired stand of the man without compromise? As a career, it’s always black and white. In that respect, Diotte is not typically political.

For example, he has staunchly opposed the new arena in Edmonton. He’s right. Most of his fellow councillors are wrong. Not just wrong, but wrong in the face of overwhelming academic study showing that similar projects have not helped communities in the U.S., and the undeniable fact that ours is the worst deal for the public in terms of financing in the history of the NHL, a virtual handover of more than a half-billion – BILLION?! – of local residents’ money to a businessman.

And yet our current crop of professional glad-handers barely blinks. Our current Mayor, undaunted by the failures of such ventures to create economic gain in more than 90% of the communities in which they’ve been publicly funded in the U.S., merely comments that it’s not that much money any more.

And whose fault is that? If Edmonton has roads that resemble World War One battlefields, out of control urban sprawl and a snow control system that actually damages people’s cars, who’s to say wasting tens of millions of dollars on a failed bid for a b-grade Expo no one would attend isn’t a smart use of our bucks?

Who’s to say that we wouldn’t have been better off without Diotte as one of the only councillors consistently willing to vote against exorbitant waste?

And it’s not as if he just opposes spending. Diotte has advocated for turning public dollars towards real priorities, like infrastructure renewal and affordable housing. If he opposes one pet project you really, really feel passionate about – such as more cycling lanes, for example – you’ll likely find there are numerous others upon which you agree.

And there’s the dilemma: is a centrist politician seen by the electorate as someone balanced, who’ll do a job of competent administration over flash and fluff? Or is he someone who can’t win, because it’s the human condition to defer to our passions?

I don’t know. It’ll be interesting to watch, that’s for sure. I rather hope he does win. He’s not perfect. The hard left will call him right-wing and the hard-right will call him a liberal.

And yet, he’s so far the best candidate by a country mile. Why? Because on any given day, I have a hard time believing I couldn’t find eight or nine people walking down Jasper Avenue or Whyte Avenue who wouldn’t do a better job than the clowns with whom Diotte serves.

(Photos by Con Boland)