It’s not at all unusual to hear someone say they might be able to do a better job than the current crop of municipal politicos.
It’s something else again, though, instead of simply complaining, to actually get in the game and try to prove it.
As of last week, a record 82 new candidates had registered to run either for council seats or the mayor’s office in this fall’s civic elections.
It’s heartening to see so many people willing to give of their time, energy and possibly sanity for a chance to join the sometimes circuslike proceedings on Laurier Avenue.
Qualifications for the job are limited. Chiefly, you have to convince enough people to give it to you.
There’s no obvious relationship between one’s ability to campaign for a spot on council and one’s ability to actually do the work day to day. The electoral process is akin in this way to hiring an accountant because he’s a good dancer.
And the deck seems powerfully stacked against political newcomers. In the past two municipal elections, despite some vocal public dissatisfaction with council performance, every single city councillor who has run for re-election has won it. Only when the incumbent retired and left their seat vacant has anyone new been able to get in.
Mayor Larry O’Brien, who beat predecessor Bob Chiarelli for the top job, was the only novice to buck the trend, and he had name recognition, political connections and campaign funding other outsiders can only dream of.
So full credit to the 82 stout souls who disregard all this and run for office anyway. Whether it’s a sign of increased frustration with the way things are going or increased faith that one individual can do something about it, we’ve never had so many people stand up and volunteer to run this place.
Now if only we could convince the voters to show up. Turnout is in steady decline in Canada, and municipal elections are some of the worst examples. The City of Ottawa, provider of basic services like police, transit, water and firefighting, probably has more direct effect on our lives than any other level of government, but this doesn’t translate into electoral interest.
Only 54.4 per cent of Ottawa voters bothered to cast a ballot in 2006, and that feeble showing amounted to a record turnout. In 2003, it had been even worse, at 33 per cent.