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White Rock byelection candidates blindsided by mayor's endorsement of one

Left to right (from top): Pat Petrala, David Chesney,Bill Lawrence, Scott Kristjanson, Tom Willman, Grant William O’Kane, Bruce McWilliam, Megan Knight and Graham Wood.  - Contributed photos
Left to right (from top): Pat Petrala, David Chesney,Bill Lawrence, Scott Kristjanson, Tom Willman, Grant William O’Kane, Bruce McWilliam, Megan Knight and Graham Wood.
— image credit: Contributed photos

Candidates in the City of White Rock’s byelection this weekend are critical of Mayor Wayne Baldwin’s decision to publicly endorse one.

The city's top official confirmed a day before Saturday’s election that he is endorsing one of the nine who hope to fill the lone position left open following the death of longtime-councillor Mary-Wade Anderson at age 84 last June.

Baldwin told Peace Arch News Friday afternoon that he emailed "40 or 50" friends and supporters on Wednesday – the day after the campaign’s only all-candidates meeting – to announce his support for Grant O'Kane.

"This is an important election," Baldwin explained of the decision. "The turnout is probably not going to be very good and whoever gets in is probably going to get the mandate of five per cent of the voting public. That concerns me.

"I just think it's too important to let it fly by and to have a last-minute choice at the ballot box."

Reaction among other candidates was mixed Friday evening, with some appearing blindsided by Baldwin’s email.

“Mayor Baldwin told my campaign manager, Glenn Duff, and I categorically that he would not be endorsing any candidate,” candidate Bruce McWilliam said. “The reason was that (if the endorsed candidate lost) 'it would cause dissension amongst council and certainly that of the person elected.'”

Candidate Dave Chesney said he’d heard Baldwin had suggested no council members endorse any of the candidates.

“What I find somewhat strange about the mayor's endorsement of a candidate is (that) a councillor told me prior to the byelection he told council to remain neutral, as no matter who is elected, the mayor and council will need to have a good working relationship with that candidate,” Chesney said.

“The optics and timing seem suspect to me.”

Candidate Graham Wood took issue with Baldwin’s explanation that his email was intended to encourage voter turnout.

“I am unable to draw a link between a sitting mayor's endorsement and voter turnout,” Wood said. “If that was the case, a simple letter to say there is an election taking place would have been sufficient.

“However, I am sure all of those that received the letter/email are able to make up their own minds and judge any candidate by their character, background and motivation to run.”

Mayor Wayne Baldwin

Candidate Scott Kristjanson Friday evening spoke highly of O'Kane but suggested Baldwin could have dealt with the situation differently.

"I have met Grant O'Kane and like him. He seems like a good man. I am sure that he will fit in very well with all those at city hall if he should win," Kristjanson said.

"I only wish Mayor Baldwin had chosen to be more up-front with his recommendation. We need more transparency at city hall."

Saturday morning, Kristjanson added," I had not realized that our mayor told council to remain neutral and then did the exact opposite himself.

"I knew that these dirty tricks were going on at some levels by our politicians. I knew that there were other deals taking place in backrooms as well, but I do not want to sink to their level. I do not want to be a part of the dirty side of politics that have turned so many good candidates into corrupt pawns of the special-interest groups. I have enjoyed running in this campaign and meeting so many great people in the community. I think they deserve better than Wayne Baldwin and his developer friends who are going to ruin this city with their greed and short-term Bandaids to our problems. We need leaders with vision and real solutions, not quick fixes that do not work. And we definitely do not need the dirty politics that go with it."

Candidate Pat Petrala said she believes city officials should not make their preferences known during a civic election.

"I am shocked to learn that Mayor Baldwin is campaigning for one candidate," Petrala said.

"I understood all council and staff are to remain neutral and private about their choices or preferences. Does he undermine staff and council this way he does with democracy as well?"

Candidate Tom Willman said he hopes voters will decide for themselves.

"I'm disappointed the mayor would endorse someone the day before an election – doesn't seem ethical," Willman said. "I hope White Rock voters will come out and vote for the person they think will do the best job of representing them.

"The mayor should have endorsed and commended all of the candidates for putting their names forward to work for the citizens and City of White Rock."

Candidate Megan Knight said the mayor should have remained neutral.

"I'm disappointed and a little taken aback that the mayor of White Rock would endorse any candidate right before the election," Knight said. "How does the saying go – 'politically incorrect'?

"All nine of us have put ourselves out there and have worked hard to get elected. The mayor should have stayed neutral, like he instructed his council to do. I guess the same rules don't apply to him."

Baldwin noted that about two dozen people had asked him who he’s voting for, so decided to put it out there.

He told PAN that while any of the candidates would be a good addition to council, he favours O'Kane.

Baldwin’s endorsement email states:

"In my opinion, Grant O'Kane would be a welcome addition to our present council. There are good candidates that have put themselves forward for this job but Grant is the one that in my opinion would work best with the present council and would support the plan that we have in place.

“This is of utmost importance because as a council we have been working this last year on cleaning up different issues at City Hall and have successfully done this…”

Baldwin concludes his letter: “ The most important thing, though, is to get out and vote. The person elected should have a strong mandate… The more people who participate in the voting process, the better off we all are.”

At least one recipient of Baldwin’s Oct. 31 email was angered by the move.

"I think it's wrong," said the resident, who forwarded PAN the email but asked not to be identified.

“They (other candidates) are going to lose their seat over this. I think (O'Kane's) going to get in because Wayne's endorsed him."

PAN sought opinions from all candidates by email Friday evening and, as of this update, has received comments from all but Bill Lawrence.

O’Kane himself – who had posted on his website early Tuesday morning that he was supported by both Baldwin and the White Rock Firefighters Union – initially responded Friday evening saying he had no comment when told Baldwin's letter has received some criticism.

However, a half-hour later, he wrote:

"Obviously the mayor is a very respected and effective resident and supporter of White Rock and would not state anything if he did not believe it was in the very best interest of the city. So whatever he believes to be best, as the voted leader, should be respected and honoured without scrutiny.

"It is unfortunate that others fill their time with the efforts or opinions of others and not focusing on their own actions.

"I would like to be aware of who the criticism of Mayor Baldwin's statement is from and can be presented for more public interest. Possibly the criticism is for self-serving purposes and not the general interest of our city."

On his website Saturday morning, O'Kane posted: "I believe because other candidates made this public that it reached more people than they would have liked… All I can say is that I believe that my endorsement and what ever number of votes I do receive are truly earned and trusted from those who do support me."

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