The University of Regina’s Public Interest Research Group did a survey of all of the mayoral candidates. They asked five multi-part questions and then gave each of those who participated a letter grade.

The resulting candidate report cards can be read here.

The questions were pretty much what you’d expect from a PIRG (and that isn’t a bad thing). The first set was about what the candidates will do to support a cycling culture. The second concerned transit. Third was about community gardens and food sovereignty (which I REALLY could have done without but have already raged about at length here). Fourth was about affordable housing and fifth was on waste management.

The candidates’ answers were then scored on whether they demonstrate an understanding of the issue, how thoroughly they answer the questions and whether or not they present tangible solutions to the issues. Their scores were then averaged into overall letter grades.

And here’s how your candidates did according to the University of Regina Public Interest Research Group:

Liz Brass B-
Tom Brown D+
Marian Donnelly A-
Jim Elliott C+
Michael Fougere D+
Chad Novak C+
Tim Siekawitch D+
Charles Wiebe C+

(Meka Okochi, for reasons I can’t find on the RPIRG site, did not respond to the survey.)

Now, I’m a big fan of PIRGs. They’re groups that have formed on campuses across Canada* which study and advocate for various progressive causes I’m generally friendly to. So, I’m sympathetic to what RPIRG is trying to do here. But I have some issues with the results.

And my misgivings all comes down to one grade they gave out….

On the subject of supporting cycling culture, they gave Jim Elliott a C+.

Seriously. Jim Elliot get’s a C+ on cycling.

That. Makes. No. Sense.

Hasn’t anyone at RPIRG ever seen Jim Elliott’s campaign vehicle?

Elliott bicycles all year round, even on the coldest of days. He’s biked to every single campaign event, including both university candidate forums. He talks about making the city safer and more conducive to cycling all the time. As far as I know, that bike is his only mode of transportation beyond his feet.

The only way you could be more hardcore about cycling is if you grafted bike parts onto your skeleton.

And yet, Elliott only rates a C+ from RPRIG. He couldn’t even get into bicycling grad school with grades like that.

Meanwhile, only slightly behind Elliott on the bicycling question is Chad Novak with a C, the guy who proudly drives a red sports car around town and who had as a centrepiece of an early version of his platform the construction of an motorsports facility.

Again, that these two guys are nearly tied for fourth place on this question simply makes no sense.

The explanation, I guess, is that Elliott must have done something wrong on the question. Like maybe he was drunk while answering it and his secret monster-truck-loving nature suddenly spewed out. Or maybe he was being ironic and that got missed somehow.

Let’s have a look at what he wrote.

Q: Bike lanes- if elected, what will you do to promote more bike lanes in the city? Will you support removing parking and/or driving lanes for cars in order to do have more bike lanes? Will you support bike safety education for bikers, drivers, and/or pedestrians?

A: Yes and yes. Bike lanes are the most cost effective way to reduce congestion, increase safety for cyclists and build an active transportation strategy for the City of Regina. Education and enforcement will have to be a component of encouraging more cycling in Regina.

No ironic monster trucks there. Apparently, how emphatic those Yes’s are just doesn’t come through.

But if you look at the other candidates’ answers, I concede this clearly isn’t the most complete or best written of them. And I guess that’s why Elliott was docked marks.

But in doing so, RPIRG has kind of mangled the intent of these candidate report cards. They’ve treated them as though they’re report cards for school children.

Sure, it makes perfect sense when you’re grading an essay by a student to take marks off because they don’t fully explain or poorly argue their position. That grade is supposed to give the writer feedback so he/she can improve.

But these candidate report cards aren’t supposed to be helping Elliott et al become better mayoral candidates. They’re supposed to be educating me, a voter, about where the candidates stand on a set of issues.

If Elliott,¬†who is demonstrably the most committed to making the city better for cyclists,** has a bad day or a dodgy internet connection and can’t fire off a perfect thesis on why bike lanes are a social good, giving him a near-failing grade on his cycling answer misleads RPIRG’s intended audience about him.

And that they did mark him down on this question and published that grade in a pamphlet that’s intended to inform voters seriously undermines this whole project.

As such, I’m left very suspicious of the rest of the letter grades they’ve given out and frankly I’ll be ignoring them.

I’m thinking the only thing of value to come out of the RPIRG report card is the collection of complete candidate answers. You can read through that here. It’s a great resource.

And as for RPIRG, as much as I like what they’re doing and respect the whole PIRG project, I’m giving them a C- on this report card.*** A good idea but they missed a few key details.

Hopefully, the next one will be better.

* There are PIRGs in the U.S. but they’re independent of universities and are not related to the groups in Canada.
** By the way, this essay should in no be understood as an endorsement of Jim Elliott for mayor. I’m honestly just annoyed because a subjective rating of candidates (something that, if billed as such, is a completely legitimate and worthwhile project) is being made to look like it’s some kind of objective, numerically-based assessment.
*** Actually, even before noticing Jim Elliott’s weird-ass grades, I’d already docked several marks because of the font they used in the pamphlet — a casual, scripty thing called Hudson –shudder-. No one takes handwriting fonts seriously.

Follow all of our online election coverage — including interviews, analysis and podcasts — on our Regina City Election 2012 page. And you can read about everyone running in this election on our Candidate Profiles page.