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Wooing the vote: Landlords lobby for Sue Uteck 

Paramount Properties asks its tenants to vote for Uteck, but what message does that send?

click to enlarge Councillor Sue Uteck is endorsed for reelection by one of the largest property developers and managers in town.
  • Councillor Sue Uteck is endorsed for reelection by one of the largest property developers and managers in town.
There's a very large social component to elections that is fun to explore. People talk to each other. They notice who has a certain yard sign in the front yard. They form opinions based on what the people canvassing for a candidate is wearing. They ask their friends, their workmates, their drinking partners, their newspaper reporters who they're voting for, and why. There's nothing wrong with any of this.

But what about businesses? There is a line that can be crossed when bosses lay on employees to vote a certain way, and now that we have internet voting and computers in every business, I very much worry that there's coercion in some workplaces. Aside from that specific concern, however, I don't think there's anything wrong with a businessperson sending out emails asking colleagues or customers to vote for candidate X. Hey, it's a free country. You're free to ask me to vote for whoever you want to, and I'm free to ignore you, or to vote against your favoured candidate because your endorsement scares me off the candidate.

Which brings me to an email sent to tenants and former tenants of Paramount Management, the property management firm. It reads:

As you likely know, Sue Uteck is running for re-election to work full-time as your councillor for Halifax Peninsula South – Downtown (District 7). We support Sue and think you should too. She has proved her leadership over the years and we believe she is the only choice for Experience and Leadership during a time of change on Halifax council. Please visit Sue’s website if you would like to learn more about her record – www.sueuteck.ca .

You can VOTE NOW. We encourage you to please take a few minutes to VOTE for Sue Uteck online or by telephone right now – or anytime at your convenience between October 6th and October 18th.

You should have received your electronic voting card, which includes your ID and PIN numbers to cast your ballot. Please follow the information on that card. To vote online click on vote.halifax.ca or call 1-877-775-4649.

If you haven’t received your voting card, please contact HRM at 490-VOTE or visit www.halifax.ca/election.

Alternatively you can wait to vote in person on October 20th, 2012 at the ordinary (in person) polls.

As we have sent this email to many of our friends and colleagues, we recognize that you may not live in District 7. Please forward this email to others, encouraging them to vote for Sue Uteck as well.

Thank you again for supporting Sue and participating in this election.

Yours truly,

The email is signed by a boilerplate email signature that includes the name of Paramount office administrator Erin Sparrow-McNutt, but it is clearly not intended to be received as a personal plea from Sparrow-McNutt but rather as a company-approved message.

Interestingly, the email contains nothing of real substance. While it endorses Uteck, besides a vague reference to "Experience and Leadership," it doesn't really say why anyone should vote for Uteck. Will she vote to cut taxes? Increase taxes? Re-introduce a cat bylaw? Support the euthanization of Brindi? Vote to privatize arenas? Build a new rec centre in the south end? Close Point Pleasant Park? We don't know. The letter doesn't include any reasons whatsoever to vote for Uteck, besides the company's endorsement.

OK. So what does that endorsement get, if you're a tenant? Maybe Paramount is the best landlord in town, they keep their buildings in tip-top shape and they strive to slash rents at every opportunity. If so, voting on their endorsement might make some sense to a tenant. On the other hand, if a tenant thinks the building is falling apart, the laundryroom hasn't been cleaned in months, the super is kind of creepy and rents go up at the drop of a pin, well, that tenant may receive Paramount's endorsement and specifically vote against Uteck.

Not having rented from them, I have no opinion about what kind of landlord Paramount is. I think, though, that this is precisely why most businesses avoid getting directly involved in elections. They might get involved at some remove—give money to a candidate, or make endorsements via a third party like the Chamber of Commerce—but rarely do they directly solicit votes from their customers. So I find this interesting.

I also think that since Paramount made the plea, it's fair to examine who exactly Paramount is, and maybe try to decide from that where their interests in city hall might lie.

Paramount Management has been renting Halifax apartments since 1969. Currently, it has offices in the W Suites on Barrington Street, which it also manages. Additionally, Paramount manages the Vic building at Hollis and Morris Streets, the Tower Apartments on Tower Road, the Acadia and Waterford Suites on Hollis Street, Virtu Suites on Birmingham Street, Queen 1346 on Queen Street, Windsor Plaza on Windsor Street and the old Greenvale School and Lakecrest Estates in Dartmouth. Which is to say, it's a large player in the local rental market.

The company is owned by Dexel Developments, which in turn is operated by Louis Lawen, himself one of the largest developers in Halifax. Besides the W, Vic and Greenvale projects, Lawen is behind the Trillium, City Centre Atlantic and other projects.

Although the letter to Paramount tenants doesn't stake out any political positions, I think it's fair to say that Lowen's interests lie in easy approval of developments and a flexible interpretation of HRM By Design (both the City Centre Atlantic and Vic projects were grandfathered into that planning strategy). Likewise, Lawen would likely be opposed to any form of rent control.

Presumably his company's endorsement of Uteck reflects those values, and he at least believes that Uteck would vote in a manner consistent with them.

Additionally, I think any corporation likes to deal with known elements. Lawen/Dexel/Paramount has worked closely with Uteck in the past, and so knows what works with her and doesn't, while challengers like Waye Mason or the Dawgfather are unknown agents to the company, hence the letter says that "we believe she is the only choice for Experience and Leadership during a time of change on Halifax council." In short, while the voters seem to be in a throw-out-the-bums, anti-incumbent mood, the company is looking for a little stability.

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