Wanderings – Wagons, red cards, and ballots

Every summer there is a discernible moment in the air. It’s fleeting and when it happens it marks the beginning of the end. That feeling is like being a kid sitting on a wagon at the top of a hill. The wagon starts rolling slowly – it’s fun. Before you know it, the wagon is going too fast. You hit a bump. That’s when the realization hits that you’re eight years old and this wagon has no brakes. Wham! You hit a tree – only in this metaphor, it’s not a tree you hit, it’s the cruel bite of winter.

Last week, it was cool enough at night to have the windows open – giving my air conditioner a much-needed break. As I stood by an open window, I felt that change in the air. The first chill that reminded me of the not-so-long-from-now descent into winter.

While many Canadians embrace this change as it means they can return to the arena for their beloved sport, I mourn for green grassy fields cut to a perfect inch-and-a-half high, white field paint, and the resonating thump of a size-five soccer ball as it is struck by a cleat.

The fall season has benefits though. Not from the plethora of pumpkin spice flavoured baked goodies and abomination drinks – there’s more sport competitions. European football (soccer), NFL “egg ball”, the World Cup, NHL hockey, and even the local Jr. C hockey – all return or have already begun. This fall brings yet one more competition that is sport-like to me – municipal election campaigns.

Municipal elections are a different beast than their provincial or federal counterparts – and in many ways are better. There are no political parties. Even if some people running are known for different political stripes, that does not matter in municipal politics. People are what matter in a municipal campaign.

One of my favourite authors is John Boyko. Known for best-selling history books ranging from biographies of Canadian Prime Ministers to our country’s role in the Vietnam War, he is an award-winning historian, retired history teacher, and he is running for council where he lives near Peterborough. Recently he wrote online piece about five rules candidates should follow this campaign and it hit home.

First is that we are citizens. Calling someone a voter or taxpayer is not wholly accurate because citizenship means we have ownership of all parts of the process. We vote as citizens, we pay taxes as citizens, we use services as citizens, and we have rights as citizens.

Second, don’t offer a false choice. Things are not always binary yes-or-no choices. His example pointed to having a thriving economy or environmental sustainability. Many times you can have both sides of a binary decision – it just takes work.

My favourite point by Boyko is admitting your mistakes and being open to changing your mind. Politicians are human, they make mistakes like the rest of us. Sometimes with more information an opinion about an issue can change. Usually open communication and honesty about mistakes or errors in opinion lead to an easy resolution. We’re human, we make errors. Correct and move on.

Never underestimate citizens. Boyko pointed to former Prime Minister Kim Campbell who said that campaigns are not the time to discuss complicated issues. He disagreed, and I do too. Political campaigns at most levels in Canada have been devoid of big picture thinking for the better part of 25 years. Campaigns have been about getting elected and not standing for something bigger than yourself. The time for these discussions are absolutely during a campaign.

Lastly, and most importantly, is character. “Leadership is about character,” Boyko wrote. “In fact, in the final analysis, that’s what it’s about. Show it. We’ll recognize it. We’ll reward it.”

I look forward to watching the competition between candidates where I live, and the many election races I will be following this fall. The shots fired and points earned are only part of the competition. What I want to see are the ideas that come forward from those running, and how these candidates want to make our communities better for all citizens.

This should be a good show. Hopefully it is not focused on drama and infighting. I still have my soccer cleats and referee cards out – just in case. Game on!