The Machine: What is it? Does it guarantee an election win?

Just how significant is an endorsement from the New Westminster and District Labour Council? Does an endorsement from “the machine” clinch a spot on city council or school board?

Although the labour council has been endorsing candidates since the 1960s, criticisms of “the machine,” as its critics have called it, have ramped up in recent years. Once fodder among local politicos, including some who failed in their attempts to get elected, the issue is now front and centre in the community. Questions at a mayoral forum held earlier this week focused on the issue, including a question posed by the New Westminster Chamber of Commerce.

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First-time independent councillor candidate Catherine Cartwright acknowledges it “will be extremely hard” to compete against the labour machine. She said she’s not anti-union, but believes city council should be balanced and reflect the community’s diversity.

“Not everyone that works in the community is of that same political inclination,” she recently told The Record. “In fact, I think there is too much interference from other levels of government, quietly, on council.”

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr, a former NDP New Westminster MLA, disagrees that the labour-endorsed candidates make it hard for others to get elected.

“For years, the concern was that everybody on council had huge contributions from corporations and developers,” he said. “Labour is an endorsement. It’s not a huge endorsement, but it’s an endorsement.”

Critics, however, say non-endorsed candidates can’t compete with the financial contributions from unions, phone banks and volunteers from unions that are affiliated with the labour council.

Calvin Donnelly, who has served numerous terms as an independent councillor, said he believes the labour candidates’ ability to get people out to the polls on election day is more important than the money that unions donate to the election campaigns.

The New Westminster and District Labour Council has a long history of endorsing candidates in civic elections –and a pretty good record of getting people elected. In 2011, it endorsed eight candidates for council and school board – and all of them got elected.

This year, the labour council is recommending candidates in New Westminster, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Langley Township, Maple Ridge, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Surrey, Delta, Langley City and Pitt Meadows.

Before getting endorsed by the labour council, candidates must submit an application and be interviewed by a committee of eight to 12 representatives from unions affiliated with the labour council. Questions relate to a candidate’s community involvement, stance on climate change and environmental issues, and ideas on creating livable cities and supporting local business.

The New Westminster and District Labour council is endorsing three-term city councillor Jonathan Cote in his bid for mayor, having last endorsed mayoral candidate Tom Baker in the 1980s.

After enjoying years of unofficial support from many in the labour community, incumbent Mayor Wayne Wright will see how he fares when going up against a labour-endorsed mayoral candidate who is being supported by the entire weight of the machine and all four councillor incumbents seeking re-election.

On the council front, the labour council is backing Bill Harper (incumbent), Patrick Johnstone, Jaimie McEvoy (incumbent), Puchmayr (incumbent), Mary Trentadue and Lorrie Williams (incumbent) for council, and Mark Gifford, Jonina Campbell (incumbent), Michael Ewen (incumbent), James Janzen (incumbent) and Kelly Slade-Kerr for school trustee.

“If we have six strong candidates, we are going to endorse six strong candidates. If we have four strong candidates, we are going to endorse four strong candidates,” explained Carolyn Rice, secretary-treasurer of the labour council. “That’s how the process works.”

Although candidates are asked if they belong to a union, Rice said that doesn’t factor into the committee’s decision on who to endorse.

“It’s a bit of a myth that people think that we only endorse union members,” she said. “That’s not the case.”

Some of the candidates, like Puchmayr, are well-known New Democrats. Although some people have suggested candidates must belong to the NDP in order to get the labour council’s support, Rice said that’s not the case.

“That’s not true,” she said. “We don’t even ask that question about their political affiliation. It is a total myth.”

That’s not the view of longtime city Coun. Betty McIntosh, who said it’s useless for people to seek an endorsement if they’re not a member of the NDP.

“It’s a charade,” she said. “If you don’t join the party, and they have the party list, they won’t even consider you.”

With two weeks to go before election day, some citizens belonging to unions have already received several phone calls from volunteers working on behalf of the “progressive” candidates.

A recorded message from Peter Julian supporting these candidates has made the rounds in the city.

Callers have informed citizens the same candidates being endorsed by the labour council are also being supported by Julian, Fin Donnelly, Judy Darcy and Dawn Black.

James Crosty, a mayoral candidate in 2011 and 2014, wrote to the federal government inquiring about the conduct of local officials in municipal elections, as they’ve left recorded messages and sent out leaflets in support of the labour council slate in past elections.

He was informed that MPs are permitted to endorse election candidates, but they’re not allowed to use House of Commons-provided resources for such a purpose.

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