Saturday, 6 September 2014

Monsef Sparks Interest in Mayoral Campaign

Just days after Daryl Bennett formalized his intention to seek a second term in the mayor’s office, a surprising new candidate stepped forward to challenge him – Maryam Monsef, known around town as co-founder of the Red Pashmina campaign, a local initiative raising funds for women in Afghanistan.

Monsef herself was born in Afghanistan, and as a girl escaped the country with her mother and two sisters during the rise of Islamic militant fundamentalist group known as the Taliban in the mid-1990s following the end of Soviet occupation, as reported by the Examiner.

Monsef’s announcement immediately drew more attention and provoked more excitement than Bennett’s. Of course, young women with a hint of the exotic will attract more interest than balding old businessmen any day of the week – particularly in Peterborough, which continues to hold top-five placings in Canada not only in our unemployment rate, but also in our median age (43) and lack of ethnic diversity, as confirmed by our Wikipedia  page.

Monsef arrives on the campaign scene as Bennett’s antithesis - a welcome relief to voters who suffered through the 2010 election campaign hard-pressed to distinguish between the only two candidates, Bennett and incumbent mayor Paul Ayotte. Anyone seen tossing a coin on their way into the polling station could be forgiven.

The 2014 campaign will have some colour, thanks to Monsef, and not just because of her stylish purple lawn signs. Anyone looking for background on Monsef will run into the Red Pashmina campaign, which Monsef started along with Jessica Melnik (daughter of Peterborough’s best-known radio voice Mike Melnik) while both were studying at Trent University. Profits from the sale of the cashmere shawls known as pashminas are sent to a group called Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan  whose aim is help Afghan women and their families through education, a cause that has resonated with Peterborough’s career women and lends Monsef a feminist edge that sharply contrasts with Bennett’s old-school boys' club reputation.

Monsef's candidacy may help lure more young voters to the polls. She'll have just turned thirty when the new council takes office on December 1st. Bennett is sixty-six. Monsef’s website says she believes that effective leadership is based on “collaboration and creativity” - concepts seldom heard in the same breath as Daryl Bennett’s name. Monsef’s father was killed in the civil unrest which drove her mother to seek refuge for herself and her three daughters in Canada. Bennett, by contrast, was given jobs by his father and his father-in-law Keith Brown, both local businessmen. Brown was Peterborough’s MPP through most of the 1960s, and formed Liftlock Coach lines in 1974, which eventually mutated into Bennett’s own Liftlock Group of Companies. Read the Examiner’s 2010 interview with Bennett to refresh your memory on his background.

What do these two polar opposite contenders for the mayor’s seat have in common? They both graduated from PCVS, located right across the road from city hall. The PCVS building is about to be approved for heritage designation by city council, which will at least prevent it from being turned into a parking lot if the school board tries to sell the property.

This past week, Monsef announced that her mayoral campaign had already raised $10,000 – one-fifth of the $50,000 spending limit she’s aiming to meet. Bennett, according to the Examiner, is planning to finance his entire campaign himself. His financial statement for 2010 states that Bennett kicked in $43,000 of his own cash to the last campaign, topped up by various realtors and developers, including Liberty Greens, a company run by Saverio Montemarano of Melody Homes.

How deep are Bennett’s pockets? This past January he pledged to spend up to a quarter of a million dollars to fight the Ontario Civilian Police Commission’s case regarding his conduct as a member of the police services board.

Unlike federal and provincial elections, there’s no limit to the amount of personal cash candidates can spend in the effort to get themselves elected to municipal office in Ontario.

Maybe Dean Del Mastro should have run for mayor, instead of MP. Del Mastro’s $21,000 personal cheque to a consulting firm put him in hot water with Elections Canada and got him ejected from the Conservative caucus on Parliament Hill. Final summations were made this week in court, and the judge says she’ll make her decision known on Hallowe’en, just days after the municipal election.

Should make for an interesting trick-or-treating season.

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