With the most recently-vacated seat on Campbell River city council now filled, the Mirror thought it would be a good time to look at what it takes to run for city council, and how a candidate can give themselves the best chance at success.
Sean Smyth won the seat in the recent byelection, and he thinks the key to his victory was outreach.
“I went in to all the businesses I could find that were set up for COVID-ness and able to have people just walk in, and just had a chat with the owners,” Smyth says. “A lot of them said that’s never happened before, and I really got to learn more about what the concerns in town are, and then I focused my campaign around those concerns.”
Michele Babchuk, who Smyth will replace on council after she was elected to the provincial legislature, says she thinks the most important thing for candidates to do is be passionate about being involved, and be prepared for the breadth of what the job entails.
“Most people become politically active because there’s a single issue that has spurred them there,” Babchuk says. “But once you get into that stream, it becomes very apparent very quickly that you’re part of a team. You’re one voice of five or one voice of seven, or whatever that dynamic looks like. I think most people don’t have an idea about the scope of things before they get there.”
Babchuk herself got into politics by running for school trustee, upset over school closures in the district.
“I was single-issue myself back in the day,” she admits. “But once you get on the board and realize there’s a bunch of other issues the board is dealing with and you’re working with a team and figuring out what your spot on that team is and how that team can work together, successful elected people learn how to do that.”
Mayor Andy Adams vividly remembers his journey into civil service, which began by joining the city’s development advisory committee. Joining a committee or commission, he thinks, is a great way for potential candidates to familiarize themselves with how things operate at City Hall.
“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” Adams says, “but I showed up at City Hall and was surrounded by all of the movers and shakers of the development industry … and it was a really, really good experience in how to get orientated to what City Hall is and how it operates – or as some people like to say, doesn’t operate.”
Adams also laments, in some ways, that social media has become the main way candidates get the word out about themselves these days, saying it’s best to meet people face-to-face and have a conversation, rather than just putting your thoughts out into the world and hoping they reach people.
“There used to be a lot more meeting people,” Adams says. “Whether it was individually or in small groups or in neighbourhood coffee conversations, it was about finding out what was important to people. You really got a personal one-on-one connection and could hear people’s passion. I don’t think you get that in today’s environment in social media. It used to be about getting that face-to-face, where you could look people in the eye and they could look you in the eye and go away and make a decision. That doesn’t happen now. Now it feels much more like a Facebook and Twitter popularity contest.”
But both Adams and Babchuk have the same advice for those who were unsucessful this time around: Have another go at it.
“In just 18 months there’s another opportunity,” Adams says. “When it’s one of eight, the odds are less, but with the next general election, you’ll have gotten some exposure, you’ve gotten some experience in being able to articulate what your position is … so no matter what the result is, don’t take it as a loss, take it as a learning experience.”
“The reality is that most people don’t get in on their first try,” Babchuk agrees, “and it’s a bit of a commitment to wrap your head around that and accept that if I don’t win this time, yes, I’m going to try again. If you’re going to go through the effort of doing up signs and putting together teams to work on your behalf, you’re already activated, and if you’re not successful the first time, give it another shot.
“Because they now have the experience and know what they’re doing in terms of running in an election, it would be a real waste to see them try once and give up.”
She also thinks that people who want to make a difference take a look around at other ways they can be of service to the public. After all, there are all kinds of boards and agencies that have an impact on the way things are run and direction a community takes.
“I suggest for people not just look at council, but if there are other interests that they have, there are other positions that are fantastic and they’re all very well needed in our community,” Babchuck says. “I’ve obviously been in the school trustee role, and a city council role and a regional district role and now in my current position (MLA) and each one of those has really given me a world of experience. So I suggest for people not just look at council, but if there are other interests that they have, there are other positions that are fantastic and they’re all very well needed in our community.”