I’ve heard commented, more than once, that there isn’t a lot to separate the two men running for mayor in Prince George. Both are seasoned politicians, both have sat on council, and both hold leadership positions in the community. A recent write-up in the Province sums it up well, under the headline “Very little separates Prince George mayoral candidates”:
“In separate interviews with The Province, both identified major infrastructure upgrades to the city’s roads, sidewalks, sewer systems and pools as key priorities should they win the seat, which went up for grabs in May when outgoing Mayor Shari Green announced she wouldn’t seek re-election.”
I’d back that, for the most part. I don’t think the vision either man has for the city is radically different from the other. One may support a zoning change to revitalize downtown while the other would prefer a tax break. Zurowksi may have made population growth a key part of his campaign, but it’s not as if Hall opposes the idea. Infrastructure and responsible spending are key to both their platforms. One gets the impression they wouldn’t mind sitting on committees together, and probably wouldn’t vote against each other’s initiatives all that often. Heck, when I asked them what their favourite music was, both said Rod Stewart.
I even tried making word clouds using the candidates’ official websites, to see if there were any big differences in language. Here they are:
The top words used by both: “Prince”, “George” and “community”. After that, no words were used more than ten times. The only thing that really stood out for me is that Zurowski uses “100,000” multiple times (as in, grow the city to 100,000) and Hall referenced educational institutions like the school district and UNBC.
Even on controversial issues you don’t see a lot of difference. For example, the always divisive Northern Gateway. Hall hasn’t, so far as I can tell, stated his own opinion on the project, simply saying that he is waiting to see how everything plays out from an environmental and regulatory standpoint. Zurowski has stated his personal support for the project, but emphasizes that is a personal viewpoint and not one that would affect how he runs the city. Both are quick to point out that what the mayor of Prince George thinks doesn’t matter, anyway, since it’s a provincial and federal decision. What they have to do is be prepared to deal with the infrastructure issues that would come up as a result of increased activity and jobs in the northwest. A pragmatic approach, in contrast to mayors and councils elsewhere in the province, a number of which have officially declared their stance on the project.
But if Hall and Zurowski both recognize their lack of power over national and provincial infrastructure projects, where do they stand on a major city project, like the Performing Arts Centre? In the Prince George Free Press election supplement, both were asked “If the federal and provincial governments agreed to fund two-thirds of the estimated cost of a Performing Arts Centre, would you support the city borrowing $15 million to complete the project?”
Zurowski answered simply “Not at our current population base.”
Hall would also not support borrowing the money, but for different reason. “The underlining factors such as scope of the project and operational costs have yet to be determined. There is ongoing work to be completed by the PAC Board and City administration to resolve these outstanding issues.”
Again, pragmatic approaches.
So when the substance is similar, where do you turn but to style? In the last few weeks of the campaign, I’d argue both men have sought to differentiate themselves by what type of leader they’d be, rather than where they’re leading. If you wanted to point to a flashpoint moment, it’s be an open letter from Garth Frizzell asking if they’d be a “council mayor” or a “CEO mayor”:
“In Prince George, the Mayor is both the leader of Council, and the CEO of the corporation. Will you be a ‘Council Mayor’ or a ‘CEO Mayor’? A ‘Council Mayor’ is one among nine, whose influence comes not from pre-determined authority, but because they can articulate the issues best, can be influential and compelling. They’re persuasive because they’re competent, have integrity and a clear vision. A Council Mayor recognizes that all members of Council are held responsible, and will stand beside and support colleagues. By contrast, A ‘CEO Mayor’ believes that ultimately s/he is responsible for the success or failure of policies at the City. This attitude is critical in business, where the business’ success or failure can mean the livelihood of a family and the families of employees. The CEO in business is the highest-ranking manager or administrator, and it all falls on his or her shoulders.”
Lyn Hall responded first. An excerpt:
“I think it is evident from what I speak about that I would be a ‘Councillor Mayor’ by your definition. It is imperative that a Mayor treats each Council member as an integral part of the team of nine – because they are. The reality is: elected officials are responsible and accountable to our community both individually and collectively.”
“I suppose I would be a ‘CEO Mayor’. A good CEO builds a strong team and relies on the strengths and input from those team members to move the corporation, in our case the City, in the direction of the common vision. A good CEO helps keep the team focused and steers them back to the important tasks when they become distracted. A good CEO is not dictator, but a team builder and leader that is not afraid to stand up for what they believe in and does not hide behind the team when problems arise. A good CEO leads the company with the best interests of the shareholders, in this case the residents of Prince George, in mind. I am the strong leader that this City needs.”
You see that? Inclusive leader versus strong leader. It’s something both men latched onto on CBC when asked about their key advantage over their opponent.
Lyn Hall, asked to sum up why people should vote for him:
“I think an inclusive style of leadership that the city is really wanting, and I think it’s the connecting of council to the community. So keep those two things in mind, that’s what I bring to the table.”
Don Zurowski, same question:
“I believe the city of Prince George deserves a mayor with a vision that aligns with their vision and expectations, and if you vote Zurowski for mayor, we will get Prince George growing.”
I should also note that while both Hall and Zurowski are saying they would be more inclusive or more visionary, neither one is saying they wouldn’t be that other thing either. Hall would be a CEO mayor when necessary, just as Zurowski would bring council-mayor tendencies to his leadership style. As Neil Godbout argued on CBC this morning, even when it comes to leadership styles there’s probably more similarities than differences.
For what’s it worth, the PG Free Press declared Lyn Hall the winner of the first mayoral debate based on style:
“Firstly, Hall gave answers that didn’t sound like they came out of a campaign platform book and often spoke in specifics. Zurowski, not always, but a few times, used the age-old campaign trick of trying to turn a question around to one of your talking points. For example, when asked about improving the city’s downtown nightlife, Zurowski referred to his campaign plank of growing the city’s population by 25 per cent as the solution.”
It should be noted that no one else was willing to declare a winner, and even the Free Press said both were “poised” and “articulate.”
Which isn’t to say there isn’t a choice to be made on November 15. There is. There are endorsements from various community leaders and groups, which I have no doubt you can find. Weigh those. Weigh also how important leadership style is. Equally important is to remember that whether led by a council mayor or a CEO mayor, there is still an entire council that shapes the direction of the city just as much as the mayor does. And in that realm, you can see some major differences emerge in style and substance on all sorts of issues.
I’ve put up the answers to my own council questionnaire here, the Prince George Free Press has published its Election Primer online, The Prince George Citizen has a special Election ’14 page and an election supplement for free on new stands around town. CBC Daybreak North has an election page and two in-depth interviews with the mayoral candidates. 250 News/CFIS have been doing interviews with all the candidates, as well, and posting summaries, you can find them here, and PGTV has put all its stories together, too, as well as compiling these candidate minutes – sixty seconds with each person. Finally there’s PGelxn.com which has its own questionnaire and some other information.
Whoever gets elected tomorrow is leading the city for the next four years. They will decide issues like how many taxes you pay, how many potholes get filled, how many parks get maintained, and how the image of Prince George is projected to the world. If that matters to you, there is a choice to be made.
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