The official start of campaigning for the 2018 Municipal Election finally gets underway this weekend. As of this Friday at 2 p.m., nominations close and the final list of candidates will be revealed. In many ways, this election will be just like previous ones, with candidates going door-to-door to plead their case, and election signs and brochures proliferating and using up unknown numbers of trees. For a full three months, all the way to the vote counting on October 22, we will be assailed by men and women trying to convince us that they have the plans, the vision and the energy to Make North Grenville Great Again (catchy title, I must copyright it…).
But this election is already quite different from what has been in the past. There seems to be more co-ordination of effort on the part of groups of candidates: people working together, canvassing together too, in a loose form of coalition. The last time this was seen was in 2010, when the Council of the day swallowed their differences with the mayor and campaigned as a Team. The suspicion persists that some inter-team backstabbing resulted in the team being elected without the mayor, but that’s politics for you.
Roaming around the community over the past number of months, I get the impression that there exists an attitude of “throw the rascals out” about this campaign. With the exception of Jim Bertram, the rest of the current council seem to have failed to excite anything positive in the hearts of the electorate. The sense is that, if they try to run on their record, they’ll have very little to say to voters. Of course, I may be wrong in this assessment, and even saying it may encourage some residents to run out and vote for the current team.
A fascinating article, recently reprinted in Municipal World Magazine, asked the vital question: “when is enough enough?” How many terms should a member of council serve before they run out of energy, ideas, something worthwhile to contribute? The writer, George Cuff, realised after time on council that staying for another term would be selfish, as “the rationale to do so would have been a lot more about me and a lot less about serving the public. This is not what we should reflect as elected officials”.
He points out the stress being on council can place on family, marriage, and other close relationships. But one of his main criteria involves what one contributes to their community: “Each council member ought to be adding value. Warming the seat might feel comfortable, but it does little for the progress of the community. Council members ought to be enthusiastic, “ideas-rich” people who strive to make the community better (i.e., not the same as it was when they started). Objecting to change or never having and expressing a new idea should be clear symptoms of an invitation to depart. You should come to terms with that reality … before your colleagues or the public do”.
To how many sitting on council now does that apply? How many are “warming the seat”, without having anything positive to add, who are simply voting for things without really understanding them, following along, devoid of any new idea, initiative or vision? I think there are one or two like that, possibly more. When is enough enough? After one term, or more?
But those entering the race to take their place need to think carefully also. Are you running to warm a seat, to enjoy the status of being on council? Do you really have anything significant and vital to add to the party? If you think current councillors should be replaced, why should it be you who replaces them? Do you think you have more to contribute than they do, or is it a matter of ego, plain and simple?
This paper has been critical of the current council at times, possibly often. But the real point of it all is to find a group of individuals who will work together on behalf of the people of North Grenville. Their job is not to defend staff, but to represent residents. Disappearing into the political bubble of the Municipal Centre may make you feel like an insider, someone who knows what’s really going on, but it will not help the people who put you there if you start to think of them as people who don’t know what’s good for them, who don’t deserve to be kept informed about what’s going on.
Whoever gets elected in October will find that bubble closing in on them, it is inevitable. But we need to find people who can resist the lure of the insider status, who will keep their feet on the ground and remember why they were elected. Who will see the people of North Grenville as an asset, a resource to be consulted and included, and not as an inferior species who have no right to know what their “betters” are doing.
This council, remember, have told us that it is “unacceptable for anyone to subject Councillors and/or staff to insults, derision or other derogatory comments”. This is the council which thinks that the media “threatens the democratic rights of the residents of North Grenville”. It is not enough for us to reject that kind of authoritarian thinking. We must also, during the coming three months, and especially on October 22, find people who will also reject those attitudes and commit to seeing the people of North Grenville as the source of their authority and power.
Here’s a slogan to voters and candidates to embrace: “And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it; and reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it. Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’, but I’ll know my song well before I start singin’. It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall”.