If Not You, Who?
Back in 2018, in the Winter Edition of Le Tour, I wrote an article called Who Knew? about some of the things I had learned during my first year as an elected municipal councillor. And now—in the blink of an eye, it seems—this year it is again the time for municipal elections. The ministry (MAMH)…
Back in 2018, in the Winter Edition of Le Tour, I wrote an article called Who Knew? about some of the things I had learned during my first year as an elected municipal councillor. And now—in the blink of an eye, it seems—this year it is again the time for municipal elections. The ministry (MAMH) responsible for municipalities has already started a campaign, “Je fais ma part je me présente.” to encourage women, in particular, to run for office. So I have decided to write again to give you my thoughts as to why you—yes, you—should stand for election as a first-time member of council in your municipality. Hang on, hang on. I know you think that I must be crazy, to even suggest it! But please—please!—don’t turn the page before you hear me out.
I know you love where you live and want your community to thrive and flourish. I see you and many others actively contributing to that in small ways and large: shopping locally, being a good neighbour, volunteering, sitting on the board of a local non-profit organization, and being passionate about voting. Another important way to contribute to the future of your town and its people is by serving as a member of your town Council. That starts by standing for election. So, why not you?
Because, I hear you say, I am not an expert in municipal finances, town planning, or public works! Your role is complementary to, but totally separate from, the professionals who work in the Town Hall. Their job, amongst others, is to provide you with information and expertise and put into action the decisions of the Council. A councillor’s job is to listen to the citizens, understand the issues, and take well-informed decisions for the general good and well-being of the community you represent. In my opinion, you are not elected for your past work experiences but rather your personal qualities: your community spirit, your ability to listen, your interest in learning, and the ability to keep a cool head.
OK, you say, but it is a thankless task, people are never happy. True enough. The job of a councillor is to understand the choices available and vote on the decisions that are necessary for a community to move ahead. Serving a diverse community means that not everyone will agree with each other, nor with you and the decisions or votes you take. Being a councillor may not be a bowl of cherries, but I can promise that it will be one of the most interesting, personally rewarding, and meaningful ways you can invest your time.
Another thing, you say, most councils seem to be made up of retired people—mostly men. Look harder. Times are changing. Ideally a council should reflect its population so that diverse viewpoints are considered. For that to happen, men, women, younger and not so young people all need to stand for election. This way their fellow citizens can hear them and, if they chose, vote for them as their representatives.
Ooo — election. I don’t know anything about that! Being elected is simply day one on the journey of making a difference to your community. However, elections cannot be avoided and may feel daunting. Fortunately, there is lots of information to help you in the process (see below), and there is nothing better than asking your fellow citizens, including past and present councillors, to give you a hand.
Back in the elections of 2017, I was extremely nervous about going door-to-door. However accepting to stand as a candidate for Council means that you want to listen and are receptive to the opinions of your fellow citizens, no matter your own point of view. I really enjoyed hearing what people had to say and learned a lot from my experience. People were always polite, and mostly appreciative that I was standing for election. Whether they intended to vote for me or not—at the very least it meant they had a choice!
True, municipal life is not always a bed of roses. The way municipalities must run is vastly different from the private sector. It can be frustrating and effecting change can take a long time. I have had to develop a thicker skin, mostly because there is no pleasing everyone. People can be very quick to tell you, and not always in the nicest way, what you should have done or must do. But it is always important to listen. Equally, you cannot always expect to agree with your fellow councillors, or for your point of view to prevail; you are there to make decisions, so sometimes you simply must vote and move on to the next issue.
So, with all this, do I regret the decision I made three years ago, to stand as a councillor? No, not for one minute! And I suspect that you will not either.
The deadline to sign up as a candidate is 4:30 p.m. on 8 October 2021. Information at ElectionsMunicipales.gouv.qc.ca.
Lynda Graham—this article presents purely my own point of view.