When applying for a job, a prospective employee typically has some combination of education and experience in the chosen field, but what should be on the resume of a would-be local politician?
With people from all walks of life, some older and a few on the younger side, looking to land a spot on Delta council in next month’s civic election, there will be hopefuls with a wide array of qualifications, but is there such a thing as an ideal candidate?
That’s the question the Optimist recently posed to some former members of council as the biggest single turnover in almost two decades is expected to take place in October.
Beth Johnson, who was an alderman in the 1980s before becoming Delta’s first female mayor in 1990, was asked whether someone should have a particular background, either in business or civic affairs, in order to serve on local government. Or are ordinary citizens with a keen interest in local issues more than adequate when it comes to making million-dollar decisions?
She said having a certain business or educational background could be helpful but it’s certainly no prerequisite.
“Experience is helpful but the first time I ran for council for alderman I didn’t have experience. I served on some committees. Following the issues and being familiar with what is going on in the municipality and the major issues in people’s minds is important.
“It would also be helpful to have an ability to either understand budgets or, if not, be a real quick study because issues are one thing, but municipalities can’t run a deficit,” said Johnson, who served three terms as mayor before retiring in 1999.
Noting it was her IDEA council that first came up with the idea to eliminate Delta’s debt, she said those entering council must understand there’s a constant balancing act between dealing with the issues and available funding.
Johnson also said it’s important for a councillor to be willing to have professional staff carry out the tasks and “not beat them over the head if you don’t like their advice.”
She noted sometimes staff will come up with advice, such as a good engineering solution, but it might not meet the needs of people in a particular neighbourhood, so that’s when politicians must listen to the citizens and know when to tell staff to go back and solve a problem in a different way.
“One other thing that’s really important is to be able to read reports and understand them and ask questions, but also be able to communicate to people and help them understand the choices.”
Former councillor Krista Engelland was a newcomer in 1993 but was fortunate to join an experienced team with Johnson’s IDEA slate, which had the likes of Bruce McDonald, who’s still on council and running this October, Wendy Jeske and George Hawksworth.
“At the time, Wendy and I were the only members of council with young families and I felt that the makeup of council should include this important perspective,” said Engelland, who ended up serving five terms. “Several of us were self-employed or worked full/part-time. Vicki (Huntington) and I had small family business backgrounds as well. Several members had passionate interests which they represented at the council table; environmental issues, farming and our library system, to name a few.”
Engelland noted that for the coming election, she’d like to see candidates that are willing to really listen to their constituents, have an open mind and a familiarity with a wide range of issues facing Delta, while serving the community with balance and common sense.
“A large part of the job is massive amounts of reading council and committee reports, especially legal reports, so some understanding of legalese would be helpful. Committee work in the evenings and weekend events are a large part of a councillor’s workload,” she explained.
Engelland said she wonders if one of the current slates will gain a majority or whether there will be a mix from each on the next council, requiring, even more than ever, those elected to be able to work well with others.
Former mayor Doug Husband, who preceded Johnson, said the ideal makeup of council would have equal representation from all three Delta communities. That’s because, although there are many common issues, each is quite different and there’s “a psychological separation” that requires good lines of communication.
“We should probably, based on population, have three councillors from North Delta and three from South Delta. It doesn’t always work that way because, depending on the issues, there could be a better turnout in South Delta over the casino issue or over the Spetifore (Southlands) issue and it will trump the other area,” Husband said.
The University of B.C. has a school -- the Summer Institute for Future Legislators -- for those interested in running for politics.
“It is very important that our institutions are open to anyone who wants to serve, but we also need politicians who have the knowledge, skill, character and judgment to ensure our democratic institutions perform well,” political science professor Max Cameron states on the program’s website.
“This is a bit of Catch-22. How can you get the skills and knowledge except through practice? There is a very high cost to our democratic institutions when they are run by amateurs who lack the character or judgment to do the job well - and I would suggest (U.S. President Donald) Trump illustrates this.”
Candidates for the civic election must file their nomination papers by 4 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 14. The election takes place Oct. 20.