This election could go either way | George Le Masurier photo
The Week: Misinformation campaign sullies Comox by-election featuring four good candidates
Decafnation has covered elections for public office on both sides of the US and Canadian border, from local council positions up to gubernatorial and US Senate races in the state of Washington. And we have learned that one of the realities of any election is that the higher the stakes, the nastier the campaign.
Based on that, it appears that some people think there’s something at stake in the race for an open seat on the Comox Town Council, which voters will decide this Saturday, Nov. 27.
Here’s what’s going on. Someone or several people have spread a number of unfounded rumors over the past several weeks designed to hurt candidate Dr. Jonathan Kerr at the polls.
It’s difficult to identify the people spreading misinformation because it usually happens in conversations on the doorstep or in coffee shops and pubs. But it’s clear that whoever has started or is spreading the allegations doesn’t want Kerr to get elected.
Why? Probably because the negative campaigners worry that the control of the Comox Town Council is at stake.
Kerr is a progressive candidate who has been endorsed by three sitting council members and, if those four votes coalesced on important issues, that threatens the stranglehold on power held by the old guard of Russ Arnott, Maureen Swift and Ken Grant.
It’s uncertain whether Steve Blacklock, the other frontrunner in this election, shares values with the old guard or the younger progressive population growing in the town. He may well march and vote to his own beat.
But to those afraid of losing power in Comox, it is Kerr who must be defeated at all costs.
The allegations directed at Kerr by themselves aren’t that serious. Some are actually petty. But that’s not the point of negative campaigning. Spreading false information undermines the targeted candidate so that anyone uncertain about who to support will be less likely to vote for that candidate.
So what are the dishonesties being spread in this campaign?
Kerr has been accused of taking false credit for the recruitment of four new physicians to the medical clinic in Comox where he practices family medicine. Even people who have endorsed Blacklock have repeated this deceit.
But Decafnation contacted one of the owners of Sea Cove Medical Clinic who confirmed that Dr. Kerr did indeed recruit the four new doctors.
“Jonathan is our clinic lead and has been very effective in that role. He was lead recruiter of four new doctors to our clinic. Working with our clinic manager, he was the voice of the clinic … we couldn’t have done it without him,” Dr. Carol Ostry told Decafnation via email.
It has also been insinuated that Kerr would use Comox Council as a stepping stone to running for provincial or federal offices. But this charge appears baseless. Decafnation could not find any evidence that Kerr has ever shown interest in higher-level politics, and he denies it now.
Of course, jumping from local government to the provincial Legislature is not uncommon in the Comox Valley. Among those who’ve made that leap are Social Credit Stan Hagen, BC Liberal Don McRae and current MLA Ronna Rae-Leonard of the NDP. And ex Comox Mayor Paul Ives unsuccessfully sought the provincial nomination from the BC Liberal Party while serving on the council.
The latest untruth surfaced this week when a Comox resident contacted Kerr to ask if it was true that he was “pushing for a ban on residential, outdoor Christmas lights.” The person had heard the allegation from a neighbor who said it came from “someone associated with” Blacklock.
Kerr says it’s a ridiculous fib. He told Decafnation that anyone who knows him also knows that he “loves Christmas lights.”
Some of the negative campaigning might be the work of members of an anonymous group called Concerned Comox Valley Citizens who placed an attack ad in the Comox Valley Record alleging that Kerr would bring provincial party politics to local government. (Decaf note: When you send an email to the address they provide, you get no response.)
Aside from the unscrupulous aspect of an anonymous attack ad, the effect of introducing party politics at the local government level is a reasonable campaign debate point.
The Kerr campaign made itself vulnerable on this issue when a group of his supporters decided to call themselves the Comox Greens. That was a poor decision because it suggests a provincial party affiliation, whether or not it was intentional.
Kerr defends aligning himself with the Comox Greens because he says the 50-plus members are merely local citizens who share what’s known globally as the six “green values.” And, he says, there are members of the NDP, the federal Liberal Party and others among his supporters.
But that might not convince people who see the color of his signs and the inclusion of “Comox Greens” on his campaign material as a direct Green Party link.
Candidates can’t control all of the people who support them, so sometimes overzealous campaigners say things they know aren’t true or that they haven’t bothered to question.
And sometimes they do it for nefarious motives.
In any case, mudslinging and spreading false information have no place in local politics. It reeks of desperation and it’s really election bullying.
Decafnation contacted Blacklock this week about the attacks on Kerr. He told us that the allegations about his opponent “sound ridiculous to me,” and he vehemently denied any involvement in them. He said he doesn’t condone negative campaign tactics and would tell his supporters not to engage in them as well.
IN OTHER ELECTION NEWS
— Decafnation asked each of the candidates about their vaccination status. Blacklock, Kerr and Don Davis said they were fully vaccinated. Judy Johnson declined to comment on her vaccination status.
— The two frontrunner candidates, Kerr and Blacklock, have diverse opinions on a proposed bylaw change about urban agriculture and allowing backyard chickens in particular. Kerr and the other two candidates, Don Davis and Judy Johnson, all support the proposed bylaw change. Blacklock opposes it.
— Advance polling numbers indicate that voter turnout might be strong. Fewer people normally vote in by-elections than in general elections. But on the first day of advance voting last week, 412 people cast ballots. That compares with 390 on the first day of advance voting in the 2018 general municipal election.
This article has been updated to correct Judy Johnson’s vaccination status.
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