On this Canada Day long weekend, I stand to remind you that there are seven weeks left to file your nomination papers.
I realize there are always people that leave these things to the last minute, but I’m deeply concerned that after nine weeks there are still only 20 candidates for 24 elected positions. As of this writing, one, and only one person has filed their papers to run for one of the school board trustee seats. One person for 11 positions.
Am I really meant to believe that in this town of nearly 150,000 people only 20 people are concerned enough, smart enough, and daring enough to put their name on a ballot? No one has any new and different ideas about leading our local government, or one of the local school boards?
I find this shocking.
When I see Guelph news posts on social media, I see a random collection of Guelphites that have some beef with something going on or coming out of city hall.
When I go to city council, I see citizens so concerned about some policy or direction on the agenda that they sometimes sit there for hours waiting to give the horseshoe their two cents.
When I talk to people online, or on the street, they have ideas about what council should focus on, but they also feel that politics, even local politics, is a morass, a black pit that pulls you under and never lets you go, so they won’t even touch it.
I hate to think that we’re so far gone that no one wants to be a community leader because the price of leadership is social media threats, political attacks, or even just feeling compromised by compromise. Everyone understands the give and take of reaching consensus among different parties, but I think people are worried that their idealism will be crushed under the political machine.
Does that mean you can’t effect change? Of course not. Cities are incubators of democracy, a chance to try new things on a limited scale, and to reach residents in a much more direct way. You stand a much better chance of running into your city councillor than you do a Member of Parliament or a cabinet minister. And you will almost definitely run into the current mayor if you’re having a yard sale.
Could that be contributing to a sense of reservation about running? Lord knows that we’re often not kind to our politicians, confronted, perhaps, by the knowledge that Justin Trudeau and Doug Ford are unlikely to hear or see the nasty comments we make about them. No wants to be a city councillor if they know that the neighbours are sharpening their proverbial knives next door.
This is understandable because even though we tend not to admit it, we all have ego to bruise, but is that really the cause of our collective disinterest in running?
Of course not. Ego plays a part, but there’s also cynicism, the belief that one person can’t make a difference, and our baseless belief that there are other, better people who should be in politics more than us. These ideas are evidence of a kind of brain washing about what our governance is supposed to look like, but I promise you, you are just as qualified to be a councillor, trustee, or mayor as anyone else.
Consider this man named Michael Douglas Aldo Ford Stirpe.
He’s 28 years old, and less than two years after graduating high school in 2014, he ran to be a school board trustee. He parlayed that political success into becoming a Toronto city councillor in 2018, and just last month he won a seat at Queen’s Park and was named the new Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism.
Now I don’t begrudge an ambitious young person that wants a career in politics, but where does the drive to go from high school graduate to provincial cabinet minister in less than 10 years come from? Is it because Michael Ford is just a naturally talented politician with ideas that catch the imagination of potential constituents, or is it because one of his uncles was Toronto’s mayor and another Ontario’s premier?
You may not come from a political dynasty, but you have ideas that matter. I know you do. We all believe that Guelph is good, but it could be better. We know what our neighbourhoods need, and we know that no matter how good and perceptive our current City council and staff are, they don’t have all the answers. They, like you, are only human.
I hope that as people embrace summer, they also embrace the idea that they can run for local political office, and make a positive difference despite all the hurdles, the noise, and the long hours.
There’s a debate about whether or not she said it, but these words attributed to Margaret Mead ring true whether she really did say it or not, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
So on this Canada Day long weekend, do the most patriotic damn thing a citizen can do: Run for something!