You are likely reading this because you have an interest in running in your municipality’s upcoming election. Serving the public in an elected position is an admirable and prestigious job, regardless of the size of your municipality.
Candidates elected to sit on Municipal Council are responsible for making decisions that directly impact the lives of citizens in their community. Council members must manage taxes, decide which services to implement, and, at times, make tough decisions that might not always be popular.
Making the decision to enter your local political arena shouldn’t be taken lightly; however, chances are, if you are considering a jump into the race, you likely have much to offer. Here are a few critical questions we think every prospective candidate should ask themselves before entering the race.
1. Does my current lifestyle fit with being a member on local council?
Most Municipal Council positions are not intended to be full time jobs; however, depending on the size of the community, they can often turn into full time positions from a time management perspective. While minimum requirements may involve attending monthly council meetings, incumbents quickly realize that the invitations and opportunities to attend public events in the community are almost endless. This is not to say that someone who has a full time job cannot sit on council, but, there will likely be challenges in balancing both.
Before you make the decision to enter the race, it is best to sit down with those that have already served a term on council; be it in your community or elsewhere. Find out from those with experience what the time commitment actually is, before making your decision. Every community is unique, and, generally, the larger the community, the larger the investment of your time that will be required.
It’s important to also remember that an elected Member of Council typically is invited to attend events after hours and on weekends. You needn’t attend everything, but, once you are elected to council, it is undeniable that a significant amount of time in the evenings and weekends will be taken up by political events. Ask yourself if this is something you can handle, and that you would be interested in doing.
2. Does my family support the decision of me being a local elected official?
Because of what was outlined above, once elected to Municipal Council, your day-to-day schedule will undoubtedly change. It’s critical that candidates have the full support and blessings of their immediate family if they plan to be successful. Family members don’t necessarily have to be involved in your political campaign, but if you don’t have their support, you will find it difficult to dedicate the necessary time to your campaign in order to win.
If you are married, is your spouse prepared for the number of evenings and weekends where you will be busy with local politics? If you have young children, can your spouse and/or other family members look after the majority of child care issues? Serving on your local council doesn’t mean you will be absent all of the time, however your availability will undoubtedly change. Make sure you have full family support before letting anyone else know of your intent to seek office.
3. What qualities and/or experiences do I have that will benefit my town should I get elected?
Unlike some other western democracies, Canadian municipalities do not require council members to have any specific training, education or experience before running for a council position. However, having some understanding of the local issues, or a credible background in a particular field or industry can be an important advantage when running against other candidates.
Many people who seek election to their municipal governments do so after working in some capacity in the public sector. Such experience will likely provide them with a greater understanding of how government works and operates. Others may come from the private sector and look to leverage their experience, be it in finance or some other speciality, for the benefit of the community. Still others may promote their energy, passion for change and desire to roll up their sleeves and work hard for the people they represent.
There is no single answer on the requirements needed for serving your local community; however, it is wise to identify and focus on the strengths that you bring to the table. Regardless of what your credentials are, or where you are running, be sure to keep an open mind and maintain a willingness to learn on the job. Newly elected council members often have a steep learning curve, as some elements can only be learnt once you have been elected.
4. Can I build a winning campaign team?
While it’s safe to say only the candidates name appears on the ballot, it is extremely rare for a successful candidate to win an election on their own. If you are thinking about running, it is critical that you think about who you can recruit to be a part of your team.
Depending on the size of the community, you will need a team of people that can help organize your campaign, raise the necessary funds needed to finance your campaign, and help you spread your message to the electorate. It’s always better if you can find individuals with some degree of experience; but, more importantly, you need people that will commit a certain degree of time to help you. Before you make your decision public, think about who you know that might be willing to donate time to assist you. The bigger and broader your campaign team, the more likely you are to succeed.
If you have answered “Yes” to the four questions above you likely have covered the most important aspects of making the decision to enter the race!