We're now in full election mode, with signs popping up on boulevards and lawns, ads in the paper, flyers appearing in mailboxes, and candidates knocking on doors. Signs, of course, provide the least information about a candidate, ads slightly more, and flyers even more. And the city website provides a brief profile provided by the candidate. But all of these are the candidate's attempt to put forth the most favourable impression - they don't really go into too much depth.
Should you get a candidate on your doorstep, this is your opportunity to ask more in-depth questions. Should your paths not cross (and as someone who has done a lot of door-knocking over the years, it's hard to catch people at home in these busy times), their contact information is on the city web-page, and on their flyers as well. I would encourage you to pick up the phone or drop them an email, and ask these questions. After all, nobody should be elected based solely on a good looking picture or a snappy sound-bite.
For starters, why are they running for council? It's a hard job where criticism comes far more often than compliments, and like any job, some people are better suited to it than others. Beware the candidate who is running because they have a specific interest - they need to be interested in the well-being of the city and its residents as a whole, not just one sector, particularly one that will directly benefit them.
Have they been to a council meeting? Have they reviewed an agenda? Do they have previous experience on boards and committees? Do they understand that council works best when all opinions are heard with respect before decisions are made?
Did they review this year's budget? Do they understand that council, cannot, by law, pass a deficit budget - that is a luxury only allowed higher levels of government. To reduce the need to increase taxes, do they see areas where spending could be done more efficiently? Do they see areas where wants took priority over needs? How would they persuade the rest of council to get on board?
One of the biggest areas where council was criticized this year was on the bail-out of the Borealis Music Festival. Would your candidate have supported this bail-out? What would they have done in the earlier stages to prevent the need for such a bail-out? We all agree that new initiatives are needed - how can council members prevent adding additional burdens to the tax-payer?
Do they understand what falls within council's control, and what doesn't? The unglamourous basics like infrastructure maintenance, garbage pick-up, snow removal and street sweeping are things that affect every resident, and have to be taken care of. Much as they affect us, social issues are the responsibility of other agencies, and while we can support initiatives from these agencies, we don't drive that particular bus. Council has to know which areas are our responsibility, and those which we can only support, and focus on the fundamentals that are within our control.
The police budget takes up more than one-third of our expenditures. What are their ideas for using these funds more efficiently? Do they understand that there are no quick fixes, but taking a stronger stand on bylaw enforcement for rental properties, for example, would actually help to resolve some of the underlying issues behind high crime rates.
Most council decisions require balancing different needs against resources. We cannot give tax concessions to one group, for example, without finding revenues from somewhere else. How would they find this balance?
And finally, and probably most importantly, do they act with integrity? Do their actions match their words, both now and in the past? In all three elections in the past year we've seen candidates embarrassed by things that they've posted on social media that don't match what they're saying now. If this is the case, do they have an explanation?
Your responsibility as a voter is to make the best decision possible, and you can't do that without finding out what your candidate really thinks. Don't be deterred by platitudes; if they won't give you a straight answer, then they don't deserve your vote.
"There is no stupid question; stupid people don't ask questions." - Anonymous