Who will it Be??
October 21st is an important day on the calendar; far more important than the billion dollar blow-out ten days later known as Halloween. The former date is when municipal elections are held across the province for every county, MD, town, village and city. The vote will likely take place at or near your town office but pay attention to local media for updates. Call your municipal offices if you don’t get a notice. This is something you don’t want to miss.
Your municipal leaders are, after all, closer to their constituents than any other level of government. They serve fewer people and can therefore serve them better, theoretically, anyway. Admittedly, I do run into our fine Member of Parliament, Blaine Calkins; at the annual parade, his occasional meeting with town council and sometimes at the Remembrance Day service.
Our MLA Diana McQueen, although she has a seat in cabinet as Minister of Environment, is seen a little more often around town than Mr. Calkins. She attends the Firefighters’ Ball and The Calmar Prairie Players performances, among others, in addition to the more official functions one sees Mr. Calkins attend.
A mayor or a reeve, however, is expected to be everywhere. They need to be seen at all town functions because, if you’re a small or rural municipality, it’s the only way to get your message out there. You don’t get much print media coverage, especially when things are going well, and TV and radio access is almost impossible to get. You need to make yourself available.
That is one of the marks of a good municipal leader. When considering your ballot choice, you may wish to mentally check off some of the prerequisites we all mentally harbour for the job. For me, having been a town councilor for three terms, I have a fair idea of what I’m looking for:
- They should be part of the fabric of the community before they seek to lead it.
- You should remember seeing them around town at local functions before they threw their hat in the ring.
- They must be able to articulate the improvements they intend to make to the status quo and demonstrate an understanding of the municipal process.
Those that want the very top job, mayor or reeve, should have at least one term as councilor before thinking they know what the job entails. There are actually people vying for the top job who think they will be able to tell staff what to do and boss people around. The fact is, all council does is set policy. Period. The only employee the council holds sway over is the town or city manager; no one else. Not many newcomers to local politics actually get that point.
Another facet of a prospective municipal leader, and this includes not just the top job but all councilors and alderfolk, is the willingness to work together. Being on a municipal council is a team sport. It is imperative that the representatives that are chosen are willing to fight hard for what they believe in, but when a decision of the whole is taken, to support the decision, whatever your personal view might have been. There is no place for back-biting away from the council table. If your candidate suggests he’s a maverick of some sort; be wary.
Be conscious of the fact that the skill-set one needs to get elected is somewhat different than the skill-set needed for being a good municipal politician. “Speechifying” doesn’t come easily for some, but that does not preclude them from having great ideas. Listen to what they say more than how they say it. Confidence in their public speaking skills will come with repetition, but you can’t practice not being stupid, if you are.
Electioneering can become combative. Keep in mind you need your council to get along if you want anything done If a politician or would-be politician goes over the line as far as personal attacks, don’t expect a good working relationship with that candidate and their council-mates going forward.
Be concerned if a candidate is a short-time renter in the community. If they are serious about their concern for the well-being of the municipality, they will still be around next election. Wait until then to vote for them.
Although it seems like our municipal elections are a bit bush-league, especially in the smaller centers, compared to the lofty heights of provincial and federal politics, this doesn’t mean it should just be a popularity contest. The people you elect are setting policy for the spending of millions of dollars. Decisions these people make on your behalf can cost you a lot of money if they are poor at what they do.
There are some upsides to municipal elections that aren’t present in its provincial and federal cousins. There are few attack ads, for example, in municipal politics. You also don’t have to be too concerned about getting robocalls, especially in municipalities of less than 5000. Another major plus is that, so far, there are no municipal political parties in the Leduc-Wetaskiwin area, or in most of the municipalities in Alberta. Political parties do not enhance democracy.
So do some research, attend an all-candidates forum if you can. Call up the candidate and talk to them directly. They may as well get used to it if they want to be on council. You can get a list of candidates in your area from the municipal offices or from watching the local media.
So chat up the candidates. Talk to the people around you to get their opinions. Discuss this like it is the important decision that it is. You owe it to yourself and your fellow citizens.
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