Opinion

On Preparing to Run for Council (One Day)

I want to run for city council. But first, I need to study the arena, develop platform points of my own, and try to make a difference in my community.

By Chris Erl
Published May 31, 2010

I want to run for city council.

Politics has always been, for lack of a better word, exhilarating to me. The idea of standing atop a soap box and baring your soul, hopes and dreams to the people in return for the possibility of having their permission to act upon those ideals is, in my democratically-biased eyes, the most advanced way of organizing our society.

Who can count the nights I have been transfixed by polling results, watching the little rainbow-coloured bars on the bottom of television screens move, as if the will of the people was sliding them around like puzzle pieces, to determine the correct fit of lawmakers for this particular pattern?

Three federal elections in a row, I have stared keenly at the broadcast provided by the CBC, imagining my smiling profile appearing when the screen turns over to election results from the Golden Horseshoe.

'And we're getting the results in from Hamilton now,' Mr. Mansbridge announces to the Canadian people. Ears around our dear city perk up, people hush the chatter around them and lean intently toward the screen.

'It appears as if writer and journalist Chris Erl has been elected by a landslide over his leading competitor,' as my wide-toothed smile flashes onto the screens of my fellow Hamiltonians, the numbers below my photo in the high twenty thousands and the black open box to the right now filled with a bright red "X".

Just Dreams for Now

But, alas, capital dreams are, for the time being, just dreams. To run a federal campaign, one must have experience, expertise, extensive knowledge on the workings of a federal party structure and Parliament itself, but mostly...money. The more I work on the first three, the less I find myself having the last.

The great French political philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville, in his seminal work on the nature of the then fledgling American democratic experiment, made this analysis:

Municipal institutions are to liberty what primary schools are to knowledge; they place it within the reach of the people; they give them the experience of the peaceful exercise of it and habituate them to make use of it. Without municipal institutions a nation may give itself a free government, but it does not have the spirit of liberty. (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Part One, Chapter 5.)

I agree with de Tocqueville on this point. Municipal politics is extremely accessible and I find myself harbouring the most passion and expertise on matters of a local nature, because I interact with them on a daily basis.

The HSR, traffic flow, sanitation, planning decisions - all of these are right before my eyes and affect my decisions in tangible ways.

As I pass by City Hall each day en route to the great academic leviathan in the west, I can't help but think, Imagine the change I could achieve if I was there...imagine what I could do.

Then I snap back into my present reality, as the 51 - University barrels down King Street, delivering me to my current project: undergraduate studies, part III.

This third installment of the Political Science Tetralogy is due to finish in March of 2011, with the final chapter concluding a year following. This means that our October 25th polling date should fall right in the middle of my first Year III mid-terms.

The experience of writing 20-page analyses on the intellectual confrontation between Hayek and Keynes while running a competitive political campaign is not one I am willing to engage in at this juncture, so alas, my City Hall office will have to wait until 2014.

Get Ready

So to my fellow future political aspirants, my comrades of the Class of '14, associate addicts of the geeky street drug referred to as 'municipal government', I want to offer some advice as to what the next four years will hold in store for us, as we sit on the sidelines, waiting for that inevitable fumble that the coach cannot excuse, where upon he looks to the bench, points at us, and shouts "You! In the game! Hustle!"

First, watch this round closely. Take careful note of the issues (and mistakes), develop your own opinions on them, compose questions to ask candidates, and formulate a way to advocate on behalf of the ones you feel most strongly about.

This will allow you to make an informed decision on October 25th and will most certainly help you to gain activism experience and become known in your community.

Second, seek appointment to one of the many volunteer committees that convene following the swearing in of the 2010-2014 council. Advisory committees are open to most Hamiltonians, and deal with issues ranging from immigration and people with disabilities, to racism, LGBT rights and the arts.

These are excellent ways to get involved in the City Hall action, and can be an excellent platform for advancing your cause. And, of course, attending City Council meetings is essential.

More than anything, though, try to make a positive impact in your community as a private citizen. If you're passionate about that community garden plot you wanted to start, then gather your community, develop an action plan, and set about achieving your goals.

This will give you an excellent idea of what organizing an event is like, and will be a practice run for all the organizing one needs to do during an election campaign, and after.

So, yes, I want to run for city council. But first, I need to study the arena, develop platform points of my own, and try to make a difference in my community.

Maybe then, and only then, with a few brand new wards, four years of experience, and an degree in my hand, I'll be able to claim that City Hall office, and go to work in the service of the people.

To me, there can be no nobler vocation.

Chris Erl, a born and raised Hamiltonian, has wanted to change the world ever since becoming the Westwood Elementary School Chief Returning Officer in Grade 5. After receiving both a B.A. (Honours) and M.A. from McMaster, Chris decided to purse his passion and study urban planning.

In addition to serving on the City of Hamilton’s LGBTQ Advisory Committee, Chris is also a registered candidate for Public School Board trustee in Wards 1 & 2.

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By Moseby (registered) | Posted June 01, 2010 at 10:51:08

Chris, I really enjoyed your article. Hope to see you on the ballot one day. Good luck with the rest of your studies at Mac!

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted June 01, 2010 at 12:36:11

The idea of standing atop a soap box and baring your soul, hopes and dreams to the people in return for the possibility of having their permission to act upon those ideals is, in my democratically-biased eyes, the most advanced way of organizing our society.

Love the zeal Chris, but it isn't about them listening to you, it is about you listening to them... leave the soap box at home. We have enough of those politicians already.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted June 03, 2010 at 13:44:44

As much as I complain about the ineffectiveness of electoral systems, I must admit, I love a good campaign. I lost count of the number I've volunteered on long ago. Knocking on doors, pounding in signs, spending all day in polling stations and then getting good and drunk with a who's who of city politicos afterward. For all the frustration, it's a lot of fun, and very educational. And I agree in full, the Municipal level is by far the most workable.

This isn't to say that I've ever found it to be a particularly effective means of bringing change (win or lose). I once met a guy who'd given the current Mayor's parents a place to stay during her campaign as a part of their oppsosition to a highway project have the Mayor then flip flop, as soon as she got power, and he ended up arrested for trying to stop it. Twice (once alongside Jane Jacobs' son, Ned). But if you want an education in how the system works, as well as a way to develop a working relationship with the people who run it, spend some time electioneering. If nothing else, there's almost always free drinks at the end.

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