Contest for Waterloo's regional chair aggressive and escalating
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WATERLOO REGION — It has the makings of one of the most aggressive municipal election races this region has seen — lawn sign wars, robocalls and swirling accusations of Elections Act violations and inappropriately inserting regional staff into the campaign.
The contest to be Waterloo Region chair after Oct. 27 is on.
Although there are seven candidates, the heat centres on incumbent chair Ken Seiling and anti-light rail advocate and Waterloo business owner Jay Aissa.
Seiling is running a typical campaign with lawn signs and public appearances, while Aissa is taking an aggressive approach more akin to provincial or federal politics. It’s turning some heads. But Seiling said he isn’t changing his game. “There’s no hired gun coming in to run my campaign. I rely on what I’ve done,” he said. “(People) know me, they’ve seen what I can do for them, they see what I do in the community and I’m relying on the fact that my experience and my involvement in the community will stand in good stead.”
Aissa is employing robocalls and lawn signs and has hired a well-known Mike Harris-era Progressive Conservative pollster and strategy man to run his campaign. He’s upfront about it. “I’m running a clean campaign,” Aissa said. “I never ran in the politics like the rest of (them) that have been here 30 years — I’m running as a business owner.
“I’m not interested in running the dirty campaign. What I see, what I hear, what I write on my website is what I believe in and I’m not going to change that direction.”
Seiling said there have been complaints his lawn signs have been covered up by Aissa’s, a move he called “disturbing.”
Aissa said he doesn’t know anything about signs being covered up.
Angelo Apfelbaum, regional manager of licensing and enforcement, said there has been one complaint about a regional chair candidate’s signs getting too close to another’s. There is nothing in the Elections Act or in regional bylaws that dictates a minimum separation distance for signs, Apfelbaum said.
Seiling said he got into politics to build a better future for his children and the community.
“I never got into this because I was angry about something or because I wanted to stop something,” he said. “My own view is I had a genuine interest in the broader community.”
He added: “I value my integrity — you won’t find me doing robocalls or implying negative things about other people.”
Aissa — whose robocalls have been telling voters that after 29 years with Seiling as chair, it’s time for change — got involved in the election because of his strong opposition to the region’s light rail project, but now rates debt and affordable housing as his top priorities.
He has been questioning Seiling’s record, calling him out on the region’s ballooning debt load — it’s more than doubled since 2009 to $428 million last year — and saying he would hold a referendum on light rail transit to give the people a voice.
Aissa said Seiling also inappropriately inserted regional staff into the campaign after an opinion piece was published in the Record written by chief financial officer Craig Dyer that commented the region can handle more debt.
Seiling told the Record that the opinion piece was a response to a story on debt that appeared in the newspaper. An internal decision was made at the region to ask Dyer to write the column because the election is on and it wouldn’t be appropriate for the chair to respond. Seiling discussed the issue with the region’s communications director.
Seiling maintains the region is in a strong financial position with a triple-A credit rating from Moody’s Investors Services.
“For anybody to suggest that we need to crank things back or stand pat or stop investing really doesn’t speak to the reality of what good managers we’ve been, how others view us — there are many other communities that would give their eye teeth to be in our situation,” Seiling said.
Among the accusations aimed at Aissa is he violated the Elections Act. Some pro-light rail advocates said on social media he violated the rules by spending campaign money before registering his nomination.
The comments were in reference to an ad that appeared in The Record in May seeking a political campaign manager offering a salary of $60,000. It said an executive assistant job may be available in the future.
Well-known political strategist John Mykytyshyn is a member of Aissa’s campaign team.
But Aissa said he didn’t buy the ad. He registered in September.
“Honestly, there was no such thing and I can put my name and my reputation on it that was never ever done by me. I had no clue by May I was even going to run,” he said.
Aissa’s downtown Kitchener campaign office had a surprise visit from a building inspector last week, he said. Someone had complained of illegal construction happening there. Five other local residents are bidding for the region’s top job, with a diverse group of goals among them.
Candidate John Wolf said he’s running a small-scale campaign and has been busy talking to everyone he can. “Not like some of the individuals who have tons of money in the bank — it’s more of a grassroots campaign,” he said.
Wolf supports light rail, but likes the idea of free transit fares to encourage transit ridership and reduce greenhouse gases.
Oscar Cole-Arnal is running on a wealth redistribution platform. His plans include distributing his salary to anti-poverty measures and cutting back staff salaries above $100,000.
Cole-Arnal said while he may be a fringe candidate, he’s a serious candidate and hopes to raise the vote — bringing out disgruntled voters, the homeless and marginalized. “If we can do that, we have a chance,” he said.
Paul Myles has set a goal to build 1,000 new affordable housing units per year if elected, and would hope to find the money within existing budgets.
“I’d like to find savings and efficiencies that have been unrealized,” Myles said.
Other regional chair candidates, Moira-Sharon Magee and Robert Milligan, could not be reached for comment.