White Rock candidates were not the only ones caught off-guard by the mayor’s endorsement of one last week before Saturday’s civic byelection.
Of three sitting councillors reached Monday, all expressed at least a degree of surprise with Mayor Wayne Baldwin’s decision to encourage support for Grant O’Kane’s run at the council seat left vacant by the death of longtime councillor Mary-Wade Anderson in June.
O’Kane was one of nine candidates vying for the seat. Preliminary results released Saturday evening indicate he finished fifth.
Baldwin confirmed Friday that he had emailed “40 or 50” friends and supporters on Oct. 31 in the hopes of tipping the scales in O’Kane’s favour.
Seven of eight candidates who commented on the decision prior to the byelection said they were upset by it.
One, Dave Chesney, said he heard directly from a councillor that Baldwin “told council to remain neutral.”
Monday, Chesney would not disclose which councillor.
Couns. Helen Fathers, Larry Robinson and Al Campbell all said that while there had been no directive given to not publicly endorse any candidates, there was an understanding.
“I think right at the start there was some conversation (that) it would probably be better for us all to stay as neutral as possible,” Fathers said. “That’s our job, to remain neutral. I tried to stay out of it as much as possible. I think in the fairness of democracy, you just have to do that.”
Robinson said he’d understood that “nobody wanted to upset the harmony of council.”
“I think we sort of agreed amongst ourselves, if not officially, that we will try and stay neutral,” he said.
“There was never anything formal… just a mutual agreement among us all.”
Noting he has made his own mistakes in the past, Robinson said he doesn’t condemn Baldwin for the move.
“I think I made a decision early in my term which was probably a little dumb and I say things that are a little dumb,” he said. “Wayne gives me the latitude to be dumb, and I give him the same latitude.”
Campbell said he was “very surprised (anyone would) put pen to paper” when he saw Baldwin’s emailed endorsement.
Campbell said that while it was expected that council members would likely talk amongst their friends about whom they were eying – that’s human nature, he said – “there was a discussion that we maybe shouldn’t go out on a limb and certainly shouldn’t be doing what happened.”
Baldwin said Monday he stands behind his right to endorse a candidate and doesn’t believe his message had much of an impact on the byelection’s outcome.
“Everybody has a right to free speech,” he said. “I did not put it out to a lot of people and you can tell by the results.
“It didn’t affect much.”
While some candidates complained that Baldwin didn’t follow his own instructions to remain neutral, the mayor said he does not remember telling council to keep their personal opinions regarding the various candidates to themselves.
“I would not, as a rule, say one thing and do another,” he said. “If I said it to the councillors, I would not go out and do it myself.”
He also reiterated that his main goal had been to encourage voter turnout.
“A lot of people, it’s just not that important to them.”
PAN sought opinions from all candidates by email Friday evening and, prior to the byelection, received comments from all but winner Bill Lawrence.
Lawrence said Monday that while he, too, was surprised by word of the endorsement, “I didn’t think anything of it.”
“I just kept going with my campaign and didn’t let it faze me,” he said.
Scott Kristjanson was particularly critical in earlier comments, but he emailed Peace Arch News Monday to retract the statements and apologize to Baldwin, describing the endorsement as “an honest mistake.”