The countdown to our municipal election starts now. Nominations close this Friday and in five weeks we go to the polls. We don’t yet know who will be running nor do we know what the major issues will be. But it doesn’t hurt to speculate.
For me the biggest consideration will be how our existing council treated us over the last three years. They approved the construction of stupidly oversized and inappropriate private docks at Cape Roger Curtis. They did it in secret and then they pretended that they were forced to do it. It wasn’t until we saw an email from the provincial government, obtained through a freedom of information request, that their malfeasance was exposed. It looks like up to four current councillors will be running again. If you get a chance during the campaign, ask them what happened. If they tell you they had no choice, don’t vote for them because they aren’t being truthful. They may tell you they got caught trying to negotiate a rezoning scheme in exchange for community amenities. They may say they allowed the docks to show their good faith only to have the deal fall apart later. If this is their story, don’t vote for them. They were hoping the end would justify the means, they staked their reputation on it and they lost. If they tell you they personally argued against the approval but were overruled by others on Council, don’t vote for them. They don’t have the strength to represent your interests when the going gets tough.
Looking forward there are a couple of different ways that an election can shake out. There is the first-past-the-post outcome where the candidates line up on two different sides of the issues and see which side wins. In our case it is pretty much a pro or anti development dividing line. This approach lends itself to multiple candidates running as a slate. The other possibility is the representation by population approach. The idea is that each candidate has a short list of what they feel the community’s priorities should be and voters select candidates who reflect their values. For example there may be one candidate that has a solid commitment to a new community centre and if there are eight hundred voters who share theirpassion they could get in on that one issue alone. One trouble with this approach on Bowen is that it’s hard to know how sincere a candidate really is. At the public meetings they tend to all agree on almost every popular initiative.
So how will it go this time around? There is no referendum question like the national parks and no monster development scheme like the Cape Roger Curtis Neighbourhood Plan. In the absence of a compelling single issue voters tend to vote for the people they like and respect and avoid like the plague those who they know and don’t respect. Newcomers to the island tend to rely more on the candidates brochures, letters to the editor, forum posts and neighbourhood gossip to get a sense of the candidates’ relative strengths. There is no doubt that candidates who have been involved in the community for a long time have a distinct advantage while incumbents who haven’t worked out very well get brutally punished. In many respects it really is a popularity contest.
During the last few elections I conducted straw polls. I would pick random people and pester them into filling out a mock ballot. I didn’t ask them whom they were voting for but rather whom they thought would win. I kept the ballots and made sure that I asked the best prognosticators to fill out a ballot for the following election. Almost invariably they were completely off base the second time around. The main lesson from this was that it is a lot more difficult to predict the mood of theelectorate than you may think. One time you can be completely in tune and the next time way off base. But the other thing I gleaned from my conversations with my voters was that they chose candidates as if they were casting parts in a play. They almost always wanted one bean counter to keep an eye on the finances, an old timer who would resist anything that meant tax increases, an environmentalist to cry foul if some developer got too carried away and often somebody who just looked good and presented themselves well. My voters didn’t say it that way but physical appearance and carriage definitely made a difference for the last few choices.
Remember when you’re voting that you don’t have to vote for all six councillors. When you give a vote for somebody based on their smile you may be giving them the vote that takes them one past the person you really wanted to see win. And to the candidates my advice is to lay it on the line. Instead of mumbling the same old tired phrases about ferry marshalling and Snug Cove revitalization just admit that you think it’s a fool’s game and of no interest to you. Even people who don’t agree with you might throw you a vote just because you’ll speak your mind at council meetings.
Anyway, the silly season is upon us. Three disastrous years are coming to an end and we all get to select a new cast of characters to entertain, frustrate and hopefully occasionally bring us joy for the next four years. The game is afoot.