Less than one year to go before the next civic election!
Are you considering running for council? I've got some tips :)
Less than one year from now, on Oct 15 2022, BC will have the opportunity to elect their local government representatives. Those fortunate to be elected to a council or a regional board will have an amazing opportunity to help shape the post pandemic future and also to work on a great diversity of opportunities and challenges.
Local governments manage roads, walking and cycle paths, drinking water, sewage,recycling and solid waste, parks and recreation, residential and commercial development, and so many other critical and important services. It is important to vote for the candidates you think are best to help create and shape policy and represent the community as a whole.
Have you considered putting your name forward to serve on a council and regional board?
I’ve run in 5 civic elections, been elected 4 times to Kamloops city council, and have also had the opportunity to help train local government elected folks across BC. I plan to run again next year. Here are 10 tips that I have found helpful in being a successful council candidate and a successful councillor.
Having been a Thompson Nicola Regional District Director since 2014, these tips apply to regional board elections as well.
- Be a community builder, not a community buster: it’s easy to criticize, to assign blame, and to go negative. Much more rewarding and challenging is to work to find solutions to complex problems, to generally believe in others, to take a positive can-do approach, and to engage the widest diversity of people to build up communities together.
- Take time to learn about what councils and regional boards actually do: local governments, provincial governments, federal government, and indigenous governments all have sets of roles and responsibilities. These can be distinct, such as the federal government's responsibility for the criminal code, and they sometimes overlap, as with all orders of governments having different and complementary roles in the provision / enabling of housing. There can be misunderstandings of what local governments are generally responsible for. Some of the best ways to learn what specific local governments do are to read local government annual reports for the past 4 years and to view past or current council / board meetings, agendas, and/or minutes.
- Embrace tough issues and bold opportunities: Even while adopting a community builder approach, we have to acknowledge there are very tough challenges local governments have not addressed as well as we need to. Tough issues today often seem to be much tougher than tough issues in the past. A community builder approach sees bold opportunities in addressing these challenges well. Doing this requires collaboration with a whole range of community members, city council and staff colleagues, and other orders of government. Governments of all types and stripes often move too slowly in working on pressing community issues
- Develop strong relationships: One of the initial mistakes I made when first elected to city council was thinking that I didn’t need to or couldn’t cultivate good relationships with my council colleagues. I have since learnt that good relationships are so incredibly important. You don’t need to agree with your colleagues and you definitely should not have a blind loyalty. It helps enormously if you do genuinely think of them as good people who are trying to do their best. And to have good personal rapport. I have some of my greatest successes as an elected official when I have helped others and supported their interests. And this goes far beyond council colleagues. It is important to work towards strong relationships with as many people in the community as possible.
- Working as a team : This is probably the most critical aspect of being on a council or regional board. You can’t really get anything done as an individual. You can’t promise implementation of any specific policies during an election. You can only commit to advocate. A majority of the council or board, and hopefully much more than that, needs to approve anything. You are bound to lose votes and, in the vast majority of instances, you can’t hold on to lost votes and get angry or upset. Both agreeing well and disagreeing well are very important features of successful local governments. If you really believe in something and are unsuccessful in getting majority support, bide your time a bit and keep on trying to advocate to your colleagues.
- Be accessible, transparent, and forthright: People trust governments less and less. I think there are some really good reasons for this. I also think some of this mistrust is not justified. Regardless, it is so important that elected officials and candidates for elected office build / rebuild trust. On hard issues especially, but on everything really, it's important to be forthright in your views, transparent about your decision making process, and accessible to engage, listen, and explain.
- Get yourself known in election campaign: If you are not already well known, it can be hard to get attention during an election campaign. If you are already well known, it’s also important you just don’t try to coast through a campaign without a lot of work. The tips below relate to some of that hard work. Key foundational items in my view include developing a policy platform, dedicating substantial time to the campaign, and raising enough money to fund campaign printed and online materials, signs, advertising, and events.
- Door knocking during campaign: I find door knocking to be an essential part of a campaign - the “on the ground” component. Yes, it is important to be respectful of those who don’t want to talk but I have found the vast majority of people are happy to see you and happy for a quick chat. It is one way to engage with people and/or provide some material about your campaign. It really gives candidates a good sense of individual neighbourhoods and areas in the community or area.
- Campaign signs and media advertising : As door knocking is the on the ground component of a campaign, so campaign signs and advertising are like the "air" component of the campaign. Campaign signs help develop name recognition and/or let people know you are running as a candidate. Advertising helps develop high level awareness of what you are promoting or talking about in the campaign. Showcasing endorsements from various community members also work well in advertising.
- Participating in campaign election forums: In many local government elections, there will be a lot of people running. Often, forum organizers are not able to offer a lot of time for opening statements, responses to questions, and closing statements. So, it is a good idea to practice being concise and to the point. And let people know where they might be able to find more information about your candidacy. You should also try to get comfortable with responding thoughtfully and briefly to questions. You won’t have any advance warning for a lot of questions. It’s good to develop a broad understanding of the major opportunities and issues in the community and also to practice thinking on your feet.