Petty Character Matters

It seems I got myself involved in a whole lot of hoofera in the local media in recent weeks. Let me explain.

Sean Shaw, who is running to be the councillor in Ward 4, admitted to the StarPhoenix that he had purchased the web domain names which could have been used by Troy Davies, his opponent in this fall’s election. Shaw apparently then had visitors to and re-directed to his own website. Nice, eh?

This prompted a flurry of activity ensued on Twitter during which some accused Shaw of essentially being a duplicitous little weasel. Which he was. Subsequently, Shaw was forced to apologize publicly to Davies (although his apology seems to have disappeared from his blog).

In the next day’s paper, the SP’s David Hutton reported about these shenanigans, how Shaw apologized, and quoted Councillor Darren Hill in a way that made it seem that he approved of these tactics:

The social media world was abuzz with talk of the tactic as dozens of people weighed in on Twitter – where Shaw is a prolific poster locally – Facebook and on talk radio.

Some felt it was good strategy while others said it was a dirty politics.

Coun. Darren Hill weighed in, saying it’s just good political strategy.

“It’s a tactic that a lot of campaigns use,” Hill said. “If you’re running you should’ve locked up your domain.”

Why did Hill comment on this story? He wasn’t mentioned in the initial article, and no one (outside of the Twitterverse) did either. Why not get a comment from the mayor or the city clerk? How about Myles Heidt, the current Ward 4 councillor who will step down this fall? Why was Hill the only sitting public official quoted for this story?

I’ll give you two reasons: because Hill is an already controversial figure linked to past indiscretions on the campaign trail; and he’s a self-absorbed narcissist who can’t help himself.

Here’s my letter to the editor as published in the April 30 StarPhoenix:

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

When Sean Shaw finally apologized for cyber-squatting on opponent Troy Davies’s potential web domain names in a stupid, childish and pathetic municipal election campaign stunt, no less than Darren Hill rushed to his defence, saying: “It’s a tactic that a lot of campaigns use,” and “if you’re running, you should’ve locked up your domain.”

Is this the sort of attitude you want in your elected officials – that in politics the end justifies the means, and so anything remotely legal goes? We should expect more of them.

Shaw belatedly saw the error of his ways and apologized, so there might be some hope for him. But we still haven’t seen any remorse from Hill since his wrists were slapped for his juvenile antics during the 2009 election. To him, he either made an honest mistake, he didn’t understand the rules or it’s someone else’s fault for his asinine shenanigans.

Issues come and issues go in politics, but in the end it’s politicians who promote these issues and make decisions that affect the entire community. If we want to have competent, ethical decisions made on our behalf, then it’s up to us to elect mature, competent and ethical politicians.

Character matters. If you see any more of these types of foolish antics occurring in the run-up to this fall’s vote, I encourage you to take these cynical tactics seriously. At the doorstep and at the ballot box, tell these candidates you deserve better.

Rob Huck Saskatoon

Petty character Darren Hill wants to move past “petty character attacks”

Of course, Hill had to defend his honour or (whatever that is in him he considers to be honour) because he’s a thin-skinned, overly defensive manipulator terrified of being exposed as a slimy sneaky sneak. His response to my letter came on May 4:

Thank you for printing the correction to the story, Candidate apologizes for buying opponent’s website domain names (SP, April 21) and for clarifying that my comment was not attributed properly.

Had Rob Huck (We deserve better, SP, April 30) contacted me for clarification as most other citizens, bloggers and media outlets did, he would have discovered that I did not say locking up someone else’s domain was a good campaign strategy.

The municipal level of government is most directly connected to citizens. As a result, I believe they expect more of us than from other levels of government. Voters want to know they are electing someone who will work hard in good faith.

Cheap political tactics are not the way to build trust. The more this happens, the more we marginalize the younger voters we are struggling so hard to get engaged. If we hope to excite the next generation about shaping the future of Saskatoon we need to move past the petty character attacks.

Darren Hill Councillor, Ward 1

Now, I’m not sure if he means we should stop the petty attacks on character or just stop the attacks on petty characters.  I’m going for the latter. But regardless, did you see that? He was a victim, dear reader, of first being misattributed by the local newspaper of record, and then being criticized by a citizen who the temerity to treat the local newspaper of record as the local newspaper of record. Then he goes on to become the defender of the public trust and the importance of engaging young voters, etc. How we need to move beyond the “petty character attacks.”

(Note also that I didn’t accuse him of saying “locking up someone else’s domain was a good campaign strategy.” David Hutton wrote that and the paper printed it. I just used the quote attributed to him. If Hill gets to split straws here, then so can I.)

(Another interesting sidenote: I tried to find the SP’s correction to the story online and it doesn’t appear to be listed there. The search engine lists all sorts of minor, basically inconsequential corrections on their website from the past few months, but I can’t find the one that Hill mentions. Hill or one of his supporters posted the photo of what is supposedly the correction from the print edition, though I’m not sure what the date of it was. Weird.)

(Also, check out the photo of downtown Saskatoon featured on his Facebook page. He stole it from the same place in Mr. Google as I stole the image of my blog background. Great minds, etc.)

Be that as it may, even if the attribution was wrong, you may want to forgive me for not contacting Hill “for clarification”. The last time I did that, I was shouted down by his supporters at a public meeting.

Oh, don’t you know about that? Well, allow me to enlighten you.

Petty character Darren Hill misleads Sutherland residents with “town hall” campaign meeting

In 2009, I was helping out Carol Reynolds in her campaign for the Ward 1 council seat, then held by Hill. My role was to support Carol’s communications, helping her develop her message and what not. I wasn’t her campaign manager, just a volunteer. Our team was informed in June that Darren Hill was handing out flyers in the community of Sutherland informing residents of a “town hall” meeting which would be taking place there.  At that time, Sutherland was represented by Bev Dubois, not Hill; the community was to be moved into the Ward 1 constituency for the October elections. Oh yeah, and the flyer prominently displayed the city of Saskatoon coat of arms.

Obviously, our campaign team was concerned that Sutherland residents would be under the impression that this was a city-sanctioned public meeting rather than what it truly was – a campaign event, one that was to be held prior to the official campaign period. We contacted our legal counsel, who advised we make a written, formal complaint to city council and the city clerk, which we did. We also wanted to see for ourselves how Hill was going to explain his intentions to the people in attendance.

I arrived to the meeting on my own just before it began; Carol wasn’t able to make it for about 15 or 20 minutes after it started up. Hill explained to those in attendance that this was to be a relaxed atmosphere and noted especially that there would be no cameras or recording devices, and that he just wanted to talk with people. He also handed around a sign-in sheet for participants’ contact into. At no time did he mention he was campaigning in the area or that this was his own campaign event.

Some residents expressed dismay that Councillor Dubois wasn’t there (though Councillors Pat Lorje and Gord Wyant were). Hill said that Dubois was “invited” to come but that she declined. Several people took the opportunity to bitch about Dubois, and Hill didn’t attempt defend her. That’s right: a councillor holds a “town hall” in another councillor’s riding, and then allows it to seem as if she’s an uncaring wench while he takes credit for being the good listener.

I held up my hand for most of the meeting, waiting to be allowed to speak. Hill ignored me for a little while, and then after an hour of questions, deigned to give me the floor. I stood up and introduced myself. I then proceeded to call him out for this little stunt, saying that this was a campaign event, that information being provided him would be used in his campaign information, that he should have been more up front about this, etc.

As I was speaking, some of his buddies or supporters in the room then tried to shout me down. Apparently, they thought it okay for them to try to interrupt me as I demanded a response from Hill, who refused to answer my charges. The chickenshit little weasel just sat there, looking sad, shaking his head, seeming to suggest “poor me, I try to good, and these haters come out of the woodwork and attack me.” He didn’t even try to defend himself. He let his planted supporters try to intimidate me instead. Because that’s what petty thugs do. Pat Lorje, who never met an audience she couldn’t pander to, sensed that the crowd was turning against me, and also spoke in support of Hill’s actions. Wyant, on the other hand, didn’t follow suit, because he isn’t a pandering idiot.

I only rose to speak that one time. To Hill’s credit, he let Reynolds speak when it was her turn, and she gave a gracious comment on the importance of speaking to people, etc.

At the following city council meeting, Carol’s complaint was accepted and read into the minutes, and Hill was later reprimanded by Janice Mann, the city clerk, for pulling that juvenile stunt. He offered no apologies to Reynolds or Sutherland residents. One of his supporters even had the audacity to claim in a letter to editor of the SP that I was rude and interrupted people at this meeting, which is another way of saying that I tried to speak above their shouting when I had the floor. Because that’s what petty thugs do.

I regret having to do what I did, not because I wasn’t in the right to do it, but because Reynolds’s name was associated with a loudmouth at a meeting, and that’s not fair. I found her to be a decent, honest, straight-forward person. She cared a lot about doing the right thing, and she campaigned with openness and integrity. In other words, she was at an obvious handicap with dealing with an opponent like Hill.

Petty character Darren Hill attempts to hide campaign expenses within ridiculous “recycling” program adverts

During the same campaign, Darren Hill started appearing on billboards advertising the “New 2 U” program. This program was ostensibly designed to encourage residents to “recycle” their junk by leaving it on their front lawns on a particular day. (Yes. That’s what his idea was. I wish I was making that up.)

The issue with this, however, is not the stupid idea, but the means by which Hill advertised it. His campaign photo was on at least two billboards in his riding complete with his name, his position on city council, the same colours and font design as his campaign materials. But don’t just take my word for it:

Saskatoon has a bylaw requiring municipal campaign spending to be reported. The period that the billboards will be posted and the dates when items will be put out fall within the bylaw’s spending period, she said.

“Residents have told me, in the past few days especially, that they are concerned that this is definitely election campaign material,” Reynolds said.

Hill should include the $7,500 New 2 U spent on publicity in his campaign expense report, and if he doesn’t, Reynolds said, she’ll file a complaint.

However, Hill said money spent promoting projects councillors sponsor or launch shouldn’t have to be included.

As long as they’re not campaigning to be re-elected under the guise of those efforts, then it’s not campaign material,” he said. [emphasis mine—ed.]

Meanwhile, the New 2 U website doesn’t display Darren Hill campaign material, but it does include a link to Hill’s website.

Clicking on that link calls up a page that says “Re-elect Darren Hill.”

Of course it did. Because he can’t help himself.

That the signs were featured within those same communities in lawn signs were placed showing the same photo and branding was purely coincidental, I’m sure. After all, Hill’s name and the fact that he’s a city councillor has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he’s a city councillor and his name is on the upcoming ballot, right? I mean, it’s the “guise of those efforts” that matter. What a maroon.

Not a campaign sign

By this point, I wasn’t with Carol Reynolds’ campaign team any more. The reasons aren’t really relevant here, but I will note that we had a disagreement on how she should attack Hill for his public record. She wanted to keep the campaign positive and stuff, while I thought it worthwhile to criticize the incumbent’s public record which, by our account, wasn’t too impressive. I think she would have won over a few supporters if she stood up against these types of bullshit antics more forcibly, but I guess that’s one for the political historians to mull over.

Petty character Darren Hill can’t take the hint

But it gets better. Just a few months ago, city council approved several measures aimed at preventing just that scenario from happening again:

City clerk Janice Mann said the rules were requested after questions during the 2009 campaign.

“This will give clarification as to where candidates would draw the line between election advertising and other kinds of advertising,” Mann said.

Questions were raised during the 2009 civic election about whether billboards and pamphlets by Coun. Darren Hill promoting a recycling program he was involved with constituted election advertising. A competing candidate, Carol Reynolds, said the billboards should be counted against the campaign spending limit, but never filed a complaint with the elections disclosure officer.

Hill disagreed, saying it was a separate initiative.

On Thursday, Hill said he believes the billboards did not and still would not constitute election advertising under the new definition. [emphasis mine–ed.]

“This is just clarifying what actual advertising is a campaign expense and setting some parameters for incumbents so they are very careful in terms of what they put out there come the actual election period,” Hill said.

He said councillors often advertise in monthly community newsletters and there needed to be clarity on whether that should be counted as a campaign expense.

Mayor Don Atchison said there are fewer rules for civic elections than either provincial or federal elections and this was another attempt to make them clearer.

“I hope people would use common sense and be upright and forthright with what they’re doing all the time,” Atchison said. “It doesn’t matter how many rules or regulations you put into the place some people want to live right on the edge.”

Can you believe that guy? The city clerk recommends and city council approves measures designed specifically to prevent someone doing what Hill just did, and Hill still believes that he was in the right. Some might consider that to be chutzpah; I call it arrogant stupidity. You’d think no one could be that freakin’ asinine, and yet there you are.

Petty character Darren Hill tries to smear opponent through unverified links to other politicians and unfounded allegations of homophobia

A few weeks after the 2009 campaign, I came across a letter written by Hill which had been distributed at the socialist bookstore owned by uber-activist Peter Garden. The letter alleged that Reynolds was controlled by Maurice Vellacott, and seemed to imply that Reynolds herself was some sort of anti-gay activist or something. I wish I hung on to that copy. The Civic Mistress reported seeing the same letter:

“I never had an opponent.” On October 27, 2009 Darren Hill sent out a letter saying his opponent was running a smear campaign on him based on his “family life.” He stated that many of his lawn signs had been defaced and that he received threatening calls as a result of his lifestyle. He seems to believe that his opponent, that he claims is supported by both Trost and Vellacott were behind it. He suggests they should google these two MPs and verify their positions on GLBT. He stated they have an army of finances and volunteers behind my opponent he needs help to fight this. And lastly he states “I am asking for you to stand up and show them that when it comes to our city – they do not have the control here! WE DO!”

I don’t […] know who the collective “we” is.

The letter was then circulated by Peter Garden of Turning the Tide Bookstore, who was the political activist who organized the protest march during Bush’s visit to Saskatoon.

Interesting enough, about a week prior to the election, someone was stating in the north end of the ward that Carol Reynolds was gay in an attempt to solicit the christian vote. And her signs were destroyed or went missing as well.

Interesting enough, the press are usually quick to hop on a “hate” issue during a campaign. Nothing seems to have been reported to the police or news.

Interesting enough, Ward 1 is, in my opinion, one of the enlightened wards in the city as evidenced by their election of Lenore in 2000, and Darren in 2006 and have not let sexual preference issues turn their vote.

Offensive is stating that two MPs elected by some of the same voters that he is courting should surrender “control” (whatever that means) to him and his supporters.

This whole thing is bizarre. And while defending an act of intolerance against one party these same people exhibit intolerance of others and their beliefs.

And finally Mr. Hill did have an opponent and I think the hype was his.

Again, we see traces of his supposed victimization by opponents. This time, he’s alleging his opponent is using the forces of evil or something to oppress Hill and the rest of the GLBT community. Which was a goddamn lie, and I’ll tell you why.

In the run-up to the campaign, I brought up Hill’s sexuality to the campaign team, not because we wanted to exploit it for our benefit, but because we suspected (rightly, it turns out) that Hill would try to smear Carol with unfounded accusations of homophobia. Carol stated unequivocally at this meeting that she won’t be bringing Hill’s sexuality up in any way and made it clear that she wouldn’t want any part in any sort of tactic which would bring up his sexuality, and the rest of the team agreed unanimously. We didn’t bring up the subject of his sexuality again. Full stop.

His conspiratorial mindset also saw Carol colluding with Maurice Vellacott and Brad Trost’s campaign teams, which never happened to my knowledge. I kind of wish Vellacott did send over some of his supporters because that would have helped the vote count considerably, but I don’t recall having any discussions with either one of those teams at all. We had one volunteer from Kelly Block’s previous campaign working hard for us, but that was it as far as I know. We were a really small team.

So, I’ll say it again. Hill lied to his supporters about who Carol was and what she represented, because that’s what Hill does. And that’s a crying shame; Carol deserved — and deserves — much better. An apology would be a good start.

Petty character Darren Hill breaks election rules when he isn’t even running

Did I say before that Darren Hill can’t help himself? In case that hadn’t come across well enough, let me provide a couple more examples. The NDP Boogeyman pointed out that during the by-election for former Councillor Gord Wyant’s old seat, Hill was actively campaigning for his Junior Achievement protégée Ainsley Robertson. While that in itself isn’t unethical — it’s stupid because Hill had to deal with Robertson’s eventually victorious opponent after the election – Hill did manage to cross the ethical bounds in an election in which he wasn’t even campaigning. He used his city-issued cell phone to campaign for Robertson. Which, of course, you aren’t supposed to do.

And who can forget the time when Hill was caught removing the lawn signs during the 2007 provincial election. Why? Who the hell knows? It’s Darren!

Petty character Darren Hill is the gift that keeps on giving

At this point, you might think that I don’t like Darren Hill. I know others have gotten that impression. But the fact of the matter is, I don’t really know him. I’ve met him once and found him to be civil and polite, although he tends to avoid me at public functions and I try to reciprocate. To be honest, I’m sure he has lots of friends and companions who think he’s a swell guy.

I also don’t have a problem with his politics, insofar as to say he actually holds political principles. I personally think he doesn’t have any. After all, how can you explain his opposition to the Canada-Europe Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement when the matter was brought to the executive committee, and then his bizarre reversal toward supporting CETA at the following city council meeting? I mean, I have my problems with Ann Iwanchuk but at least you know where she stands on the biggest issues of the day. You never know which way the wind will take Hill on any given occasion. But he’s hardly the first ideologically inconsistent (or non-existent) politician out there.

Back to my earlier point, being nice and polite has no correlation on the ethics or morality of a politician. Many are akin to con men, and some  of whom think they are actually helping out the people they are swindling. (Check out Diane Court’s dad from Say Anything to see a great example of a slick, ethically challenged service provider.) A rude, angry con man wouldn’t last very long, and neither would a politician of the same ilk.

And therein lies the danger. He truly believes that because he works hard, tries to serve his constituents, and is a nice guy in person, he’s entitled to do whatever it takes to win, that nothing is so petty or small that he can’t get away with so long as it stays within the letter of the law. As I mentioned in my recent letter to the editor, it’s the ends that justify the means with him. This gives his conscience (or whatever he has in him that he considers to be a conscience) solitude when he’s doing something he knows isn’t right.

After all, if he thought he was in the right, why would he hide his stupid little ploys and then play dumb when he’s caught? Why wouldn’t he instead just be proud of how he serves his constituents?

His sneakiness is pathological. He’ll never apologize for fucking around with the rules. And he’ll do it again.

And so, this leaves us with two main issues with the likes of Hill. First, if you were a constituent of his, do you really think that he would have any misgivings about screwing you over if you stood in the way of his goals of getting re-elected?

Second, since Hill apparently doesn’t feel entitled to follow the general ethical conduct the rest of his peers do, he relies instead on his own interpretation of the right path. And as he has shown himself capable of pushing the envelope, what exactly are his limits? How far will he go? The answer is, We just don’t know.

This is why I care so much. I don’t give a shit about Hill. But I do care about our political process, because it’s very essence depends on integrity. These petty, stupid, sneaky stunts pulled by the likes of Hill weaken the integrity of our democracy. And I will never stop reminding people of what kind of person Hill is until he’s finally and justifiably removed from elected office for good.

No wonder he wants to stop the attacks on his petty character.

  1. #1 by Big sister on May 5, 2012 - 9:24 am

    That was a great read. I especially enjoyed the “At this point, you might think that I don’t like Darren Hill. I know others have gotten that impression” paragraph. Nearly put my coffee through my nose on that one. He does sound like quite a maroon.

    I don’t often check the SP, so thanks for keeping me up to speed. We are a day behind you, after all.

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