March 8, 2014
The mister and I were sitting by the fire the other night, when I had an epiphany: I want to be a municipal councillor. In that moment, I looked at the mister and said, “Shit.”
I imagine it’s a little like coming out of the closet: I felt both relief (me accepting this is who I am) and discomfort (me no longer able to deny this is who I am). I have enjoyed observing politics as a journalist and interested citizen, but instead of leaving it at that, I’m moving towards involvement, which is a far less comfortable position.
It’s uncomfortable because the job of municipal councillor has many drawbacks, but these three stand out for me:
- I have to speak in public. I had a brief membership in Toastmasters a while ago. On the night of my first speech, while driving to the meeting, I came up with the perfect plan to avoid having to say it: crash the car. I nearly did too, but just as I was looking for a telephone pole to crash into I realized that when I recovered from the accident I’d still have to say the speech. I gave it that night, and it went relatively well, but it does not come naturally. I shake when I’m speaking in public. Once, I gave a speech at a conference. I was holding the podium as an aid to help my body stop vibrating. Instead, the podium started jumping right along with me, so much I was worried the two of us would hop right off the stage.
- I am going to be poor. Councillors make very little money and put in so much time. We will be the family who never goes to Disneyland and sends the kids alone on the plane to the relatives in England because we can’t afford to travel all at once.
- I am going to be unpopular. You never read the letter to the editor that says, “I just want to say what an amazing job our council does.” The only thing I’ll hear is what a terrible job I’m doing.
Even considering those negatives, I can’t deny that local politics brings me joy. It’s dramatic because people are so invested in where they live. You can’t avoid an issue because it’s in your backyard, and you can’t avoid a conflict because it’s with your neighbour. I can sit through hours of council meetings, even the boring ones, in person or online, where I learn so much about decision making, human behaviour, and process. It’s my happy place.
Before I take a run at sitting on the right side of the council table, I’m going to learn the truth about what it takes to be a municipal councillor. No point realizing six months into the job that I hate it. That would not be such a happy place anymore.
Here’s my plan: I’m going to speak with current and past municipal councillors and staff, CVRD directors and staff, the media, and residents to enlighten me on what life as a public servant is really like, and what qualities a person must have to be good at it.
I’ll write here what I learn so you can follow along. You can learn for yourself what our community leaders and citizens think about the role. It might help you decide who to vote for in November’s municipal election (other than me, obv).
After all the input, if I still feel this is my destiny, I’ll break out the signs (not the usual plastic; we’re more creative than that!) and throw my toque into the ring to run for a seat on North Cowichan council. If not, we’ll all be a little more informed on election day.
I’ve often said you have to be crazy to want to be a municipal councillor.
Call me crazy.