COLUMN: They should have been running for their lives

After attending just two all-candidates’ meetings, I was struck by how impressively most hopefuls had mastered the art of graciousness.

Politicians are a slick lot, aren’t they?

Attending just two all-candidates’ meetings this civic election – one for Surrey, the other for White Rock – I was struck by how impressively most of the hopefuls have mastered the art of graciousness in seeking my vote.

They are humble in their requests to serve me, nodding convincingly in their desire to do good, leaving a strong implication that other contenders, while perhaps admirable in their own ways, will do less good, if any at all.

Each spoke of social passion, of fiscal management and of representing my interests with honesty and integrity. Each was in favour of positive change, and against negative measures… just like me.

So, if these candidates are all pro-good and anti-bad – and if they truly are as sly as I perceive – how did all but two incumbents end up being re-elected last Saturday, given all the political grousing we’ve been hearing for years?

It’s easy to blame our electoral system. After all, it’s certainly got its share of faults, not the least of which is encouraging the more ignorant among us to cast ballots based on name-recognition, thus benefitting incumbents, impeding challengers and punishing voters who support fresh faces.

However, I have to wonder whether the unsuccessful candidates should shoulder most of the responsibility.

Certainly, the least recognizable names have the disadvantage of struggling to get their voices heard, especially within the confines of the mainstream media dictating what is and isn’t newsworthy. But, just as certainly, if candidates really have something to say – and they can’t convince the big, bad newspaper editor to print it – voters will still hear it, whether through paid political advertising, social media or plain old word of mouth.

Love of their city? Fiscal responsibility? Honesty? All admirable traits, all distinguishable by levels of subjectivity, and all unmemorable and unlikely to be noted in the objective media on even the slowest of news days.

In the lead-up to the election, any political operative who asked me how to get coverage in my newspaper received the same response. Candidates must say something of substance, I explained, and not just their expected position. Issue multiple news releases – one a day, if you want – knowing that the more unexpected the announcement, the more newsworthy it would likely be.

Raise or eliminate taxes? Increase or ban development? Create or pave our parks? I’m listening.

Spend less and provide more? ZZZzzzz….

Few rose to the challenge, and even the all-candidates’ meetings I attended came off as little more than an odd combination of love-in between ideologies and bicker-fest between individuals.

Many of the issues raised at these debates seemed either not specific enough, or too off-course from what voters base their decisions on, or – as was the case in the claim of one candidate that Surrey is “nearly bankrupt” – poorly supported when challenged.

Instead, newspaper readers were treated to such contentious issues as election-sign placement, which candidates can say “re-elect” in their literature or, my favourite, whether the BC Press Council should be involved when Surrey’s mayor says she lives in Cloverdale, when she actually resides south of Cloverdale.

Yep, the folks in Libya must be watching good ol’ Surrey right now to see just how effectively our system of democracy works.

If all this sounds a little too disrespectful to those who have given selflessly of themselves to take part in our democratic process this year, I don’t disagree. They chose to put their reputations on the line, allowing the rest of us to snipe from the sidelines.

I just wish those who ran for public office did so as if they were running for their – and our – lives.

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