Friday, July 13, 2007

Pssst... Hey, You... Wanna Run For Office?

One of the most common statements I hear about the politicians and leaders of today is that they're all crooked and morally bankrupt. "More people of good character and pure intentions should run for office", they say. I agree.

Let's look, though, at the process involved.

First, you decide to run. For simplicity's sake, let's say you're going to run for Member of Parliament. Huzzah! Joe Citizen for MP of, say, Everytown, Manitoba.

So you've decided to run. Now you have to ask yourself, for whom? Will you run as an independent? There's a certain romanticism about it - beholden to no one, David versus Goliath, all that jazz. Or will you run for a party nomination, and eliminate the financial question from the board - at the cost of the ability to act independently? Money IS an issue - it costs many thousands to run and have a chance at winning. So you go the party route.

Now you have to win your party nomination. If the party has any chance of winning the seat, you'll have at least 3 or 4 people contesting the nomination. You'll have to round up between 50 and 500 signatures from riding residents who are probably also required to be party members (unless you're in Calgary - West, but don't get me started). Then you get to go to the nomination meeting, where the other candidates will impugn your character, list the reasons why you are incapable of doing the job, and you'll be faced with a room full of people who were promised various things if they made sure to show up at the meeting and vote - whether or not they cared, or were party supporters or members even a couple weeks ago.

Somehow, miraculously, you survive the nomination meeting, and win the party nomination in Everytown.

So now it's election time. The other parties have hired operatives to dig into your background. During the campaign, it comes out that you smoked pot when you were 15. When you were 19, you had sex with your 17 year-old girlfriend of 2 years - outside of marriage (gasp!). You cheated on a test once in university. You have a friend who is a practicing pagan. And, while we can't PROVE anything, you've been seen having coffee with a neighbour. A single, good looking, female neighbour.

None of these things is even remotely related to policy. And yet, your family - wife, kids, parents, all of them - are reading these allegations, true or not, in the paper. "Leaks" from the other parties. In the local debates, the parties plant protesters to "boo" whenever you speak. Leaflets arrive at doors in the area listing all of your moral failings, real or imagined. Your lawn signs are vandalized, no longer reading "Joe - on your side", but now reading "Joe - child rapist". All parties disavow any knowledge of this horrifying stunt, but it was only posted on main street during the morning rush-hour before your office heard about it, so only several thousand voters made a mental connection between you and child rape.

Election day comes - and you win! A win for the good guys!

Now you sit in government (obviously, you weren't running for the NDP). You show up for work every day before 7, and you're at work in various committees and panels, as well as sitting in the House, returning calls and letters from constituents, and making media appearances, until well after 9 each night. You see your wife and kids a few times a week. Your dog forgets who you are. Your party whip is speed-dial 1 on your cell-phone, and your mother is speed-dial 8. You're making about $80,000 a year, all told, and all it's costing you is your relationships with those you love, and the fact that the 65% of voters who DIDN'T vote for your party in the election now call you all sorts of nasty things, and refer to you by your last name only. "Everyman's a sycophant", the educated ones claim. "He's just a mental midget, holding onto his seat by sheer luck alone.".

But you keep at it, and 2 years later, you're rewarded with a junior cabinet post in a mid-term cabinet shuffle.

So now you're working from 6 until 11 - 17 hour days, only 4 of which happen in front of cameras. Your wife starts an affair. Your kids start calling him "dad", and you "Joe". You get seen having a late-night meeting with a single MP, and the papers scream bloody murder about the affair you're having. It's in the paper for 4 days, until Paris Hilton stubs her toe. You've gotten a raise, though, and if you can hold onto your seat for a few more elections, you can count on a government pension for the rest of your life. Every opposition MP makes nice with you behind closed doors, but calls you an incompetent yes-man in front of the cameras.

You keep your nose to the grind-stone, though. A year later, your ministry announces plans to build infrastructure in British Columbia. You fly out, coach, to attend the ground-breaking ceremony. While you're there, in front of the cameras, protesters scream obscenities at you and accuse you of doing nothing and working 4 hour days, 4 days a week, while suckling at the taxpayer teat. Then, with cameras rolling, one walks up to you and slams a pie in your face, protesting the government's stance on climate change/Native land claims/Middle-East peace initiatives.

Sounds like fun. Where do I sign up?

And we wonder why it's so hard to get well-intentioned people involved in the system.

- E.S.


Kirk Schmidt said...

Try to discourage me, will you?!?

Actually, my wife and I discuss often the sacrifices that will need to be made if I happen to win Calgary West. Not just right away, but when we have kids, and how daddy being away for half a year will affect them. We know the perils of politics.

It's like that short story, "The Most Dangerous Game." If you decide to play, you become the hunted - humans hunting humans.

Here's the thing. I play the 6/49 on occasion, despite being trained as a mathematician who knows exactly what the odds are. However, despite the 1:14M odds, I play because there is a chance, albeit remote, to win. You can't win if you've got 0:14M odds - you can't win if you don't play.

The same goes for politics. There's a lot staked against me, being a politician, being an independent. But the good guys can't win if the good guys don't play. Sometimes, despite the odds, it's worth taking a chance.

Enlightened Savage said...

Kirk: As I've stated before, I wish you all the best in your pursuit of the seat in Calgary West. Every once in a while, just as a lark, I think maybe a decent person who truly wants to help the average citizen SHOULD be voted into office. It'd be a nice change. ;)

Indeed, many of the complications I listed in my original post would be less likely, or at least less severe, for an Independent candidate such as yourself.

The parties would spend less time trying to dig up dirt on you, the speeches would involve far fewer barbs (they'd be too busy dismissing you and playing "scorched earth politics" with each other), and the hours involved with serving in cabinet would not be so much a concern (although, in a perfect system, opposition and independent members SHOULD be able to serve in cabinet, as their expertise dictates).

For those members of E.S. Nation who call Calgary West home, I'd encourage you to check out Kirk's website, at

Even those of you who DON'T live in the riding should check it out - it makes you wonder what kind of shape our country would be in if everyone had the kind of balanced, bi-partisan and non-dogmatic (admittedly, not likely to be a word) approach to governance that Kirk exhibits.

Remember, Nation: Volunteers can come from anywhere, and Independents need all the volunteer help they can get. Helps make up for all the fat corporate donations the party candidates get just for showing up at golf tournaments.

- E.S.

Allie said...

So true. So sad. Drives me crazy when seemingly well educated and mannered people have to "attack" politicians to justify their own beliefs... makes you wonder what really makes an "activist." If people really want to change things they should actually get involved, instead of whining from the sidelines (or throwing pies like its kindergarten again).

Enlightened Savage said...

Much as I'm generally loathe to quote H. Ross Perot, a "Perot-ism" of his springs to mind whenever I see or hear about one of these self-righteous, self-proclaimed "activists" whining and attacking people to "bring attention" to their pet issue:

"The activist is not the man who says 'the river is dirty'. The activist is the man who cleans up the river." - Perot

Stephen Carter, Carter McRae Events said...

Excellent post ES. I challenge anyone who slags pols to run themselves. They generally back away slowly...


Anonymous said...

I'll second that motion. Chief in line for the put-up-or-shut-up should be some columnists (Graham Thomson, Lorne Gunter, Neil Waugh, etc. etc.) or paid-by-the-word "think-tanks" (yes, I mean you, Pembina Institute). Many of them are quick to point out problems from the safety of their typewriters, but I doubt many would have the balls to do some honest-to-goodness doorknocking.

Yet, all is not lost. I do run into some people on a not-quite-regular-basis (often young, but not necessarily so) who do seem genuinely excited to throw their name in the ring, and appear to have altruistic motives for doing so. We should be encouraging these people.