In Thursday’s column, I noted how then-St. Catharines Mayor Roy Adams risked incurring the wrath of thousands of local GM workers by suggesting they not vote in favour of a strike and, instead, accept whatever the auto industry was offering a contract.
This seemed a particularly rash act by the mayor because he would be seeking re-election as mayor a few months later.
Turned out, though, infuriating the labour movement in St. Catharines had no real impact on that fall’s election. Only a last-minute decision by a political unknown to enter the race prevented Adams from winning by acclamation. He won the election in a romp.
That no serious candidate, union-friendly or otherwise, arose to siphon votes from a seemingly vulnerable Adams was in keeping with the general lack of influence the city’s labour movement had on local politics.
St. Catharines may have been home to General Motors and a number of other unionized manufacturers, but its citizens were, in the main, a pretty conservative bunch when it came to political representation.
The other argument at the time was that no single issue, particularly one unrelated to the running of a municipality, could be expected to seriously harm the election chances of a veteran incumbent mayor.
That view would be tested three years later when Adams sought a fifth straight election victory.
He was upset by challenger Joe McCaffery.
Now, there may be a number of factors for Adams’ loss, not the least of which is he had been around for eight years. Residents may have been tired of him and were looking for a change.
Certainly, the colourful McCaffery was a stark contrast to the staid, button-downed Adams. But while the St. Andrew’s Ward alderman was active in minor sports and a prominent foot soldier in the local Conservative party, he had not been a major player on city council.
However, fortune smiled on McCaffery and deserted Adams a few weeks prior to the election when it was revealed the city had lost its shirt, as it were, when two Alberta banks it had deposited $25 million in collapsed.
The federal government covered the loss and it wasn’t Adams’ decision to invest the money in the banks, but if residents were searching for a way to register their disapproval over the city’s short-term investment practices, one was provided on the mayoral ballot.
A single issue, it seems, can have a major impact in a St. Catharines mayor’s race.
It just has to be the right one.