Burnaby mayoral candidate vows to ban kissing, and other municipal campaign missteps

Matt Coutts
REFILE - ADDING DATE A couple walks along Gillson Beach holding hands as the sun sets in Wilmette, Illinois, June 14, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY)
REFILE - ADDING DATE A couple walks along Gillson Beach holding hands as the sun sets in Wilmette, Illinois, June 14, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY)

It is election season in many areas of Canada, which means thousands of local council and mayoral candidates are taking to the airwaves to make pledges and promises as part of a campaign they hope will capture the attention of the public.

But with so many would-be politicians seeking electoral glory, there are bound to be a few flubs. Whether those flubs are intentional ploys for attention or misguided attempts at legitimacy, they make for some pretty funny headlines. And then there are those few priceless moments when a campaign captures the public’s attention through a paradoxical promise that defies categorization as either satire or serious.

Introducing Burnaby mayoral candidate Sylvia Gung, who captured national attention this week after promising to ban public displays of affection in the British Columbia community – right down to holding hands or kissing at a wedding.

In her profile on the city’s official election website, Gung makes some lofty promises, including banning election campaigns and getting rid of school boards, which are “nothing but funnel to thwart its political agenda down the throat of the public education.”

But it is this election promise that has captured the most attention:

2) Banning behaviors that hints sex/ sexuality, even including Bridal Kiss and walking hand in hand, that hurt public decorum and lead to further violence.

Now, sure, a campaign to rid the city of overt public displays of affection may be reasonable in the context of a municipal election, should one be willing to strain credulity far enough. But campaigning on a promise to stop people from holding hands is more than a little ridiculous. Not to mention banning the “bridal kiss,” which I can only assume refers to the smooch that commonly concludes a wedding ceremony.

Gung has previously run to be mayor, so we can’t chalk this promise up as satire, or a misstep by a novice. It is just one of those things that can come out during municipal elections, which tend to lack the polish or depth of provincial or federal elections.

With the spotlight more localized and the candidates more likely to be regular Janes and Joes than refined politicians, municipal elections can easily become a place of accidental humour.

With towns and cities in four provinces going to the polls in the next two months – Manitoba on October 22, Ontario on October 27, Prince Edward Island on November 3 and British Columbia on November 15 – there are currently hundreds of municipal election campaigns ongoing across Canada.

This means that while Gung’s “no touching” policy is noteworthy, she is not the only candidate making bizarre promises or otherwise eliciting strange headlines.

There are plenty of pratfalls, and here are a few.

In Kamloops, B.C., mayoral candidate Ben James (who is apparently best-known for picking up dirty syringes) told the Globe and Mail he was running because he was bored and unemployed.

“I’ve got nothing else to do and Kamloops needs a new mayor. We need some fresh blood in this town,” he said.

He is running against the incumbent and a third candidate who is known as Mr. Open Pitbelly, who straps a model of an open-pit mine to their chest and runs on a plan to boost job creation through environmental disaster.

In Maple Ridge, B.C., one candidate is running for two positions – mayor and school trustee –with the claim that he could foster a more collaborative atmosphere by wearing both hats.

“I think there’s a very slim chance that I can win, but stranger things can happen,” Gary Cleave told the Maple Ridge News.

In Kelowna, mayoral candidate Kelly Row said that “God” called him to run, which could be either a metaphorical nod to his faith, a tactical appeal to the city’s religious community, or a warning sign.

"I believe that we need someone of the Christian faith over top of the city as mayor," Row told Kelowna Now.

Larger cities tend to lure more polished candidates, but with 65 people running for the job of Toronto mayor there is bound to be a few unique options.

That list notably includes David McKay, better known as Sketchy the Clown, who told Post City Magazine he would come to work in full clown face paint because there’s no bylaw saying that he couldn’t.

And in Ottawa there is Robert White, a more legitimate candidate who employed the odd tactic of insulting the city and threatening to leave.

While answering a questionnaire for the Ottawa Citizen, he answered a question about his marital status by saying he can’t afford to get married because he can’t find work as a mechanical engineer.

He wrote, “Ottawa has been a very poor place to find employment for myself and others throughout the last thirty years. … If I am not elected I will move away from this backwater of a city.”

In Windsor, Ont., there is Bruce Martin, a mysterious mayoral candidate who has done no self-promotion after becoming a last-minute addition to the campaign. According to the Windsor Star, Martin’s first and only media release contained an image of a boxer and the slogan “Made in Windsor.” Martin told the paper he wouldn’t publicly promote his candidacy, before going on to say the world is at a “dangerous tipping point” and warning against the chlorinated city water.

And then there is Hamilton, where it is not a council candidate so much as the smear campaign against him that has garnered bizarre headlines.

Candidate Matthew Green recently became the target of an Anonymous-style YouTube video that somewhat oddly jumped back-and-forth between attacking and complimenting the target. In the video, a masked narrator calls Green a shadow candidate and “exposes” his affiliations to a freemason society. The video goes on to mention the candidate’s activism and past successes while also accusing him of trying to “control” his neighbourhood. Green told the Hamilton Spectator he doesn’t know who posted the video.

"Maybe you haven’t arrived until someone makes an Anonymous video about you?" he told the Hamilton Spectator.

All of these, however, pale in comparison to Gung’s promise to ban touching and public kissing which, come to think of it, would surely never be allowed to pass under Canadian law.

It does appear to be a law in China, though in these modern days it is less a hardline than a guideline. A 2009 column from China Daily suggests that readers feel free to display their affection for another, while keeping in mind the comfort of those around them.

As a campaign tactician, I would recommend Gung focus more on vilifying school boards that bridal kisses. She is not likely to win many voters that way.