CBRM Election Results: Cecil Clarke’s ‘Biggest Mandate’ Ever?

It’s a facet of a healthy democracy that never fails to impress me: the final handshake.

Two candidates who have fought a long, hard campaign shake hands — one graciously accepting defeat, the other graciously acknowledging victory.

The handshake. Rankin MacSween (r) congratulates newly re-elected CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke (l).

The handshake. Rankin MacSween (r) congratulates newly re-elected CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke (l). (Photo via LocalXpress)

And then there’s what happened in the CBRM on Saturday night.

As reported by various local news outlets, newly re-elected Mayor Cecil Clarke, while accepting rival Rankin MacSween’s congratulations, remarked that it had been the “dirtiest” campaign he’d ever been involved in.

And it wasn’t just in the heat of the moment that Clarke went there: three days later, in a CBC interview with Steve Sutherland, he was still insisting on the “dirtiness” of the campaign as witnessed by the “tone” of the candidates’ debate and the way some “people” were “hassled” for supporting him. He said he thanked MacSween for “challenging” him to “stay above the fray,” oblivious to the fact that his petulant, thin-skinned comments proved he was still in the fray — three days after an election he won.

Tellingly, he used the word “negative” where he surely meant “critical;” a strange mistake for a man who, by his own account, has held public office since Grade 5, when he won an election he’d convinced his teacher to hold (and then, legend has it, promptly engaged two Grade 3s as “political staff.”) And to suggest, as he did, that MacSween imported “US-style” politics to this campaign is just laughable, given that “US-style” politics right now include threatening to jail your opponent and lying about everything short of your first name.

To me, Clarke’s post-election behavior constitutes a dereliction of duty. Political campaigns do get heated and personal and yes, occasionally dirty (although I don’t believe this one was, and the Mayor certainly didn’t provide any evidence to back up his graceless accusations) but the moment you are declared a winner, everything changes. You are no longer a candidate facing an opponent, you are an elected official facing a constituent. The onus is on you to behave accordingly. The onus is on you to begin healing the rifts that have opened during the campaign.

It’s the same principal that sees election winners immediately promise to govern for all constituents, not just those who voted for them. It’s the principal that was guiding Mayor Clarke, as he sat at his desk in the Civic Centre on Sunday, and told the Post:

I also believe that the voice of the people that voted for me, and the majority voice, is the one I carry.

Okay, never mind, he is clearly guided by a different principal.

I’ll quote instead the mayor-elect of New Glasgow, Nancy Dicks, who won with 45% of the vote to rival Henderson Paris’ 43%:

When you realize close to half of the people that voted, voted for the other person, I think that you have to be respectful — what was it in their platform that resonated with people? What was it about Henderson that people voted for him?

Or the mayor of Truro, Bill Mills, who was re-elected with 43% of the vote to challenger Keltie Jones’ 42%, and said of those who did not vote for him:

I will serve them just as much as I will serve somebody who voted for me.




Clarke has also expressed the conviction that he has been given a strong mandate by the citizens of the CBRM. Literally every media outlet — even the Post — called the mayoral race a “horse race,” a “nail biter” or a “close-fought rematch.” The CBC didn’t call the race for Clarke until 156 of 158 polls had reported. And yet, Clarke told the Post that his roughly 1,200-vote margin of victory was not “insignificant” (while simultaneously insisting that his loss of vote share — from 59% in 2012 to 52% on Saturday — was “not a massive shift;” c’mon Your Worship, you can’t have it both ways).

Clarke is in no way acknowledging that half of all voters were dissatisfied with his regime. (You’d think it was he, and not Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, who sailed back into office with two-thirds of the vote.) Instead, Clarke has introduced the bizarre concept that because he’s not going to re-offer in 2020 (which is one of the first things he announced as Mayor-elect) he’s free to do pretty much whatever he likes as mayor:

I have the biggest mandate I’ve ever had in politics because they don’t have to worry about me worrying about my future.

No, Mayor Clarke, no, you don’t. You won 59% of the vote last time and 52% this time — 59 is bigger than 52 and no amount of spin can change that.

And are we to assume you spent the last four years “worrying about” your own future? That’s quite a confession.



I’ve been an outspoken critic of Mayor Clarke’s style of governing. I don’t like the secrecy that has been the hallmark of his time in office — in camera meetings, hidden reports, $42,000 access-to-information fees.

Clockwise from top left: Amanda MacDougall (District 8), Steve Gillespie (District 4), Earlene MacMullin (District 2) and Kendra Coombes (District 11).

Clockwise from top left: Amanda MacDougall (District 8), Steve Gillespie (District 4), Earlene MacMullin (District 2) and Kendra Coombes (District 11).

I question the relationship between the CBRM and Business Cape Breton (BCB), an agency that employed Clarke for a year prior to his first run for the mayor’s office and now serves as our “economic development arm,” although evidence of its success in this field has been thin, at best.

I question pretty much everything about the Port of Sydney Development Corporation, from how it was formed, to how its CEO was chosen, to where it gets its money, to who sits on its board.

I don’t like the way Clarke by-passed municipal hiring rules when he tapped Christina Lamey as his communications person and Mark Bettens as his executive assistant. Or the way he has clearly either already re-appointed them (was that why he was at his desk on Sunday?) or intends to shortly. (Clarke touched on the subject with Sutherland, saying it’s a complicated world and a mayor needs his “political assistants.” He believes the positions of executive assistant and communications advisor “should be enshrined” for future mayors. It was an amazing statement, the equivalent of, “I have to break all the municipal rules to makes these hires, future mayors should be spared my pain.”)

I heard nothing during Clarke’s campaign that led me to think he plans to govern differently this time around.

And  yet, I have hope that things will be different over the next four years and that hope is grounded in two things: the Nova Scotia Municipal Government Act (MGA) and the new arrivals on CBRM Council.

I find comfort in the MGA because it contains this statement:

The most important political structure in any municipality is its council.

And I take heart from the election of four brand new councilors last Saturday, each of whom ran on a platform that included greater transparency and accountability in municipal government; all of whom seem more than capable of questioning the Mayor, no matter how strong he believes his own mandate to be. They’ll join re-elected District 6 Councilor Ray Paruch who has never hesitated to question the Mayor when he felt citizens were being denied information and — who knows? — maybe backbone will prove contagious.


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