Saundercook's demise

Poor constituent communication may have led to veteran councillor’s political demise

Parkdale-High Park did not escape the anti-incumbent wave that swept across the city on Election Day.

Garnering 47 percent of the vote, political newcomer Sarah Doucette emerged the victor in the race for Ward 13, effectively knocking out council veteran Bill Saundercook who received less than 38 percent.

With 22 years of council experience under his belt, and without a significant blunder in the recent term, Saundercook’s demise wasn’t exactly an obvious outcome — even for the new councillor-elect.

“I didn’t expect the numbers which did come in,” Doucette said a day after the election. “Running against an incumbent who’s been in for a total of 22 years you never get overzealous or assume anything, that’s for sure.“

She does, however, admit to have had “an inkling that things were going well” due to the broad support expressed to her while canvassing homes and other parts of the ward.

A despondent Saundercook said on election night he was confident he did everything he could to win.

Steve McNally, chair of the Bloor West Village Residents Association was more frank in saying, “I was very surprised because the built-in advantages that incumbents have are well-known.”

Interviewed on CBC’s Metro Morning the morning after the election, Saundercook shared a couple of issues he thinks may have contributed to his defeat.

He pointed to the moratorium he placed on daycares and a lack of support from colleagues on city council in modifying the Old Mill Pontiac development proposal.

While Doucette maintains that with similar platforms no key issue provided her with an edge over Saundercook, one common complaint she heard echoed by residents was a failure of communication between the ex-councillor and his ward’s residents.

McNally echoed that sentiment.

“We’ve seen over the last number of years a number of breakdowns in communication,” he said. “There seems to have been quite a big disconnect between the policies being pursued or the approaches being pursued by the councillor and the wishes expressed publicly by residents.”

Specific issues suggested which may have contributed to Saundercook’s defeat include the Humber Odeon development. Residents expressed concern about tall buildings being erected on the site and while meetings were held to address these concerns they were perceived not to go anywhere.

“There were promises of bringing the developer together with the community, there were promises made at these meetings to draw up action plans, and frankly they just didn’t get followed through on,” said McNally.

According to McNally similar issues were at play with the proposed bike lanes on Annette Street.

“There was a real sense that there was a lack of transparency in how that proposal was being handled,” he said, “there were meetings called on extremely short notice, very poorly publicized.”

These specific issues are, as McNally points out, fairly recent. However, they can be seen as symptoms of the more general failings in communication already voiced by residents.

Indeed, ward wide communication is a fundamental focus of Doucette’s.

Campaigning on better councillor accessibility, and ward wide communication to an audience feeling alienated by their previous councillor, may have been the integral factor in securing Doucette’s win and the nail in the coffin for Saundercook.

With many fresh faces on council and a brand new mayor, Doucette stressed that she can and will work with anyone.

“I would like 45 people to be working for the best of the party.”

Of Mayor-elect Rob Ford she says, “I don’t agree with all of his platform.”

However, she was quick to add that she will look at each issue individually and if there are good ideas out there she will vote in favour of them.

Town Crier was unsuccessful in its attempts to reach Saundercook after the election.

– With files from Codianne Wilson

About this article:

By: Randy Rovinski
Posted: Oct 27 2010 1:02 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto