By Jay Menard
We’re fast approaching London’s municipal election date. Though some have already made up their minds, I remain firmly in the camp of thinking there’s a lot of time. Things change, positions get analyzed, but — most importantly — there are plenty of opportunities for someone to prove to me that they meet the minimum expectations to earn my vote.
But that term “minimum” is a tricky word. After all, just because it’s my lowest threshold doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with lofty expectations. And, in my case, my minimum is held to a very high standard — the same standard I put on myself as a voter and an involved citizen of London.
Recently I had the distinct pleasure of spending some time with London’s current mayor, Joni Baechler. We had an open, honest, and frank discussion of where the city is, where it’s going, and how we can get everyone on board to ensure we get there.
Since then, I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I’ve refined what my expectations and requirements are for the people who will receive my mayoral and ward votes in the upcoming municipal elections.
My bare minimum expectations of a candidate are as follows:
London needs to be a city that’s designed for people of all ages, in all stages of life — not just one demographic. We need representation that respects people’s right to have different priorities and different views without castigating them, mocking their intelligence, or shutting them out of the conversation. London’s become rife with polarized politics — people and ideas are dismissed simply because they don’t align with a particular point of view or bloc.
That’s not politics; that’s zealotry. That’s not a city, that’s a cult.
The people I respect and whose perspective I value most are those who are willing to listen, reflect, and embrace new ideas. The people who I respect and whose perspective I value do not devolve into name-calling and casting aspersions or obfuscating ideas by assuming false personal motivations or beliefs. And ideally those who engage in that type of behaviour (either the candidates or their supporters) will be held accountable for their actions. That’s sadly lacking right now.
Unfortunately, we have a council — and a city — that’s decided to make things personal. It’s not about what’s best for the community, the ward, or the city as a whole. It’s about “me.” And that’s no way to grow or govern.
My opinion matters no more or less than anyone else in the city. No region matters more. So my candidate needs to take a leadership role and demand that type of respect from not only himself or herself, but also those around him or her.
I sit on four boards, am involved as a regular volunteer with three other organizations, I donate my time and effort to support arts and sports ventures, and I volunteer on occasion with other opportunities. I used to have regular, lengthy, phone calls with my councillor (sadly, since I moved, I reached out to my new rep, but have heard nothing but crickets). But first and foremost, I’m single dadding it — my main focus is ensuring that my daughter is healthy, happy, and grows into the strong, confident, independent woman she is. And has a whole lot of laughs along the way.
But I don’t talk publicly about what I do. I was raised believing that you put out effort without looking for congratulations. I continue to believe that and, while I’m proud of my efforts and contributions, I feel no need to boast about them. I have a tremendous amount of respect for people who go about supporting the community in what I believe is the right way and for the right reasons — quietly and because it’s important to them. Some people feel the need to stand up and shout their involvement. I find it personally unseemly and, often, self-aggrandizing. That’s just the way I was raised.
I’m not engaged*; I’m involved.
(*The only time I ever want to be called engaged is after I’ve proposed. The word has been tainted with self-aggrandizing and sycophantic undertones. Engagement can often be one-way; involvement is participatory. And involvement? That’s what I see all around me.)
The people I run into every day are building the city through their efforts, spending more time doing than talking. They’re having huge, real-life, impact on the day-to-day lives of the people in the community around them. They do it not so that people pat them on the back and publicly declare how great they are. They do it because they believe it’s right — that giving back to the community and sharing one’s talent is what we need to do as a community.
But these people are the unheard masses. They’re the ones who would rather do than speak, but their voices — muted as they may be — are so valuable. They’re the engine that’s chugging along without any care or attention. They’re the ones whose silent frustration is what’s going to stall our progress — not the squeaky wheels. So how do we get all those people together?
It’s not easy. There’s no magic bullet. My elected representatives are going to have to roll up their sleeves. Which leads me to my next expectation:
As I mentioned, it’s easy to grease those squeaky wheels, but if you’re not paying attention to the entire engine that’s when real trouble comes in. A squeaky wheel can be a persistent annoyance, but when your transmission drops out of your car because you’ve ignored all the other moving parts.
It’s easy to hear from the agenda-driven. Pre-Internet days, you’d get the polarized views represented at Town Hall meetings, in newspapers’ letters to the editor, and on talk radio. Today, those still exist, but they’ve been augmented by social media.
There are echo chambers in all aspects of our society: legions, union halls, social groups, Churches… all of whom feature intelligent people with varied perspectives, needs, and desires. So how do we get them together?
In speaking with the mayor, we both conceded there’s no easy answer. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to interacting with the citizens. An on-line survey may reach a certain demographic, but it leaves out a significant majority, just as basing your opinion solely on what you hear at a Lions’ Club meeting would likely be fairly specific.
There’s no easy solution. It takes effort. A willingness to interact with members of your community, seek out an entire spectrum of ideas, and do so in the way that best suits the needs of those from whom you’re sourcing your opinions.
It’s boots-on-the-ground combined with thoughts-in-the-cloud. It’s labour and resource-intensive, but it’s the only way to ensure you get a solid understanding of the desires and needs of the majority of one’s constituents.
Our problems aren’t that unique when you live in or look at other cities. I spent my formative years here in London, but went back “home” for a decade to Montreal in my 20s. I chose to come back to the Forest City because of the advantages I perceived for my situation — first and foremost being family.
But I’m often reminded of a place where I used to work. Many of the staff there had been hired right out of high school and had spent literally decades working for the company. Minor issues and inconveniences were magnified simply because some didn’t realize what they had. If you’ve never worked anywhere else, or been anywhere else, it’s easy to blow things out of proportion.
Or, worse, not appreciate the good things you have.
I’m not saying you have to move away to be a functioning member of any society. But you have to be willing to understand what you can’t see and reach out to those who are willing to share new perspectives. After all, if your team all looks with the same set of eyes, then how are you going to see new opportunities or different solutions as they appear?
I consider myself tremendously lucky as I’ve had the luxury of having friends and colleagues from all across the spectrum: born in Canada or from other parts of the world; gay and straight; sporty, arty, political, or a combination. I’ve learned from all of them and it’s shaped my perspective. Things are never black and white and success comes from filtering your beliefs through the prism of alternative needs and views. That’s when you know you have something.
It’s working with new people, reaching out to surrounding communities. Learning from the past and other people’s experiences and tempering that knowledge with the application of the circumstances surrounding your area and issue.
It’s about being respectful, taking a leadership role in enforcing an expectation of decorum — both personally and amongst your supporters, and it’s about not just going through the motions of saying you’re willing to listen, but rather taking active steps to ensure you’re available to hear what the majority (including the silent ones who are not accessed through the easy and visible channels) want.
So that’s what it’s going to take to get my vote. It’s not much. It’s just the bare minimum we should expect out of any candidate — and voter.