It Is An Honour and a Curse
Are you thinking about running for public office. I can’t tell you what it’s like to be an MLA (provincial) or an MP (Federal), but what I can tell you is that on a municipal level, it can be every bit as punishing of an experience as it can be rewarding. If you are a big picture thinker, who likes to dream big and move forward at a high pace, I am not saying don’t run, we need more people like you. I am just warning you ahead of time. You will be frustrated.
At no level of government are you able to have more direct impact for your constituents. The decisions you make will be seen and felt in the day to day lives of your community. The decisions you make end up being smaller in scope, but can have very big impacts.
At no level of government will you have less power. Municipalities are the “creatures of the Provincial Government.” That’s literally a line from the old municipalities act. And people are a lot less afraid to tell you to fuck off, right to your face.
From the highs of hosting a mega successful Lobster Festival, saving the school my Grandfather built from decaying into oblivion, Council has offered me some of my proudest accomplishments. On the other hand, the overall level of contempt that you have to be wary of, because these people are fully aware that they either live a few houses down or you’ll inevitably run into each other at the grocery store so who knows what they are ready to do, makes for some of the most frustrating experiences of my life.
Things Move Slowly, And With Great Difficulty
I was definitely one of those people who couldn’t understand why everything took so long to get through council. They must be dragging their feet, or incompetent. I can tell you without any question, that no matter what community you live in things will never work as fast as you and your constituents want them to.
Big ambitious dreams are what rural communities need; however, the people who have these dreams need to learn to temper their internal fires. Not because the passion isn’t required or that it’s a bad thing, but due to the legal, and regulatory processes, nothing gets done quickly. So you have to do your best to not burn out too fast.
The best thing you can do in your first few months is learn. Learn the processes, learn how the staff works, who does what and how to efficiently work with stakeholders to move projects forward. This could take a year, but the increased level of productivity that you’ll be able to achieve as a result will make your final 3 years far more effective.
Change is a scary word to a lot of people, so slow and steady is the name of the game. Springing a brand new vision on people who have a hard time grasping the present can end up causing a sudden and disruptive backlash.
You're Going to Need To Take Vacations
Listen, I know that I was extremely fortunate for the first 3 years of my term to be A) Childless and B) Having two incomes in the house; however, you will need to escape your municipality.
Unless you don’t care about your role as a councillor or mayor, the people in your community will frustrate you. You will need a break from them. Even if it’s just a few 100km away, and just for a few days, don’t spend all your time in the trenches, otherwise the resentment will grow to a level where you are never able to leave the battlefield.
Do's And Don'ts, If You Decide To Run
There is simply no way of telling you whether or not you should run. Municipal Office is the most rewarding and challenging part time job you’ll ever have. No matter what people tell you, you will be underpaid, under appreciated, and overly scrutinized. People will attack your background, your motives and your character, over something like a ditch.
I wrote this post in November for one big reason. You need to take your time and think this decision through. I have seen a lot of people run on reflexive impulses. For example, “I hate what person X did as councillor or mayor, I am running to kick them out.” Although the anger could be well earned, that is just a terrible reason to run for office. Take some time and reflect on this choice. Ok, you didn’t like what council did, what would you have done differently? What is your long term vision for the community? Because any “Big Thing” you do, will only be realized well after the term in which you do it.
Make sure your heart is in the right place, your head is in a healthy and supported environment and your balls (and ladies sometimes have the biggest ones) are ready for the conviction required to really make a difference.