Fifteen years ago, around this time of year, I made a rare appearance in the Pique offices and asked Bob Barnett what Pique was going to do about the election.
"Sell some ads... I hope," was, as I recall, his answer. Hard as it may be to imagine it now, Pique in those days was as close as you could come to being a non-profit operation and still be considered an operation at all.
"That's not what I meant," I said. "What I mean is, are we going to endorse candidates in the election?"
Bob wasn't sure and didn't seem comfortable with the idea. I spent the next 45 minutes haranguing him about how I thought it was a newspaper's duty to endorse candidates running for election and if we didn't, we weren't doing our job. Haranguing Bob has always felt a bit like whipping a puppy to me so I left his desk feeling sorry I'd brought the question up and reminding myself I lived in Canada now and needed to stop being so pushy.
But the political junkie in me believed I was right then and, as much grief as it's earned me over the years; I still believe I was right. This is probably a good time to say mine is a minority opinion. While Pique is okay with me, as an independent columnist, endorsing candidates, it is the paper's editorial position to make no endorsements.
It's not a stance with which I agree... still. Why? Because there are still a discouraging number of uninformed voters who will, notwithstanding their unwillingness to spend the time finding out about the candidates for themselves, cast a ballot. I don't believe it is everyone's duty to vote in an election. Frankly, I'd prefer uninformed people not vote. I do believe it is everyone's duty who is going to vote to put in the effort to figure out which candidate(s) best reflect their values and beliefs and then vote accordingly.
Is that elitist? Maybe. Too bad? Blind voting doesn't further the cause of representative democracy. It reduces it to the old sexist joke about choosing the candidate with the largest breasts or the one who has the nicest eyes. You don't do anyone any favours by casting an ignorant ballot and far from doing your duty, you abdicate and mock that duty.
Endorsements help bridge that gap though. Columnists and editorial staff do not generally make endorsements lightly. They take the time to interview candidates, look into their backgrounds and, in the case of incumbents, voting records. They ask tough questions and listen to answers and observe the multitude nuances of non-verbal communication that goes on unconsciously while a person speaks. They do not endorse people because they're friends with them. In fact, they generally stay as far away from that as possible.
And after all the work, they argue amongst themselves until they come to a consensus. Then and only then do they endorse candidates.
That's not to suggest you should vote the way someone at some paper tells you to vote. But if you find yourself in general agreement with the editorial stance of a paper and find its opinions often reflect your opinion, then you're far better off considering its endorsements than voting blindly. Concomitantly, if you think the paper or the columnist is full of it, you know who not to vote for. Either way, the direction is valuable and a service has been performed.
So having said that, I have the painful job of saying I'm not making endorsements for council candidates this time around. I apologize for that; it's my bad. Some of the candidates are too close friends and I have business dealings with at least one. I don't believe my judgment would be coloured by that, but it establishes the appearance of a potential conflict of interest and the appearance is just as deadly as the real McCoy.
What I will share is some of the characteristics I'm looking for in council candidates. I want councillors who have demonstrated commitment to this community in some way other than simply being resident here. I want people I've seen on committees and task forces and boards and volunteering for things that have needed volunteers.
I want councillors who have had some real world experience grappling with tough problems, difficult people and tight finances. This next council isn't going to be a good place to learn those skills; it's going to be a place to demonstrate them.
I would prefer councillors who are going to have to find the time to do the work required of them to be good councillors, not people who need a job. Whistler has part-time councillors, at least in part, because we don't want full-time ones. While that may sound tautological, it isn't. It's a choice to have citizen representatives, not career politicians. Council should never pay enough to be someone's job. Get in, make your contribution, get out.
I want councillors who have struggled to live here - even if that struggle is in their past - because they understand why people are so pissed off when they see what they perceive as waste in the ways their tax dollars are spent. One of the unique aspects of this town is the fact we've all chosen to live here. Living here isn't easy and I'm not sure it should be. The payoff is spectacular and nothing that good should come easy. But the sacrifice and effort to stay here, and be a part of making this town what it is, should be respected by the people elected to steer the ship of state.
I want councillors who understand politics is the art of the possible. Not the best, not the most rational, not the cheapest or most expensive but the possible. What's possible is what your residents will buy into. What they'll buy into is what's possible. Now that is a tautology but one the architects of projects made unnecessarily divisive, such as pay parking, have failed to grasp.
I especially want councillors who will play well together and who understand that reasonable people can reasonably disagree, but still find a way to move forward and compromise. I'm tired of 4-3 councils, councillors sniping at each other and mocking each other and generally acting like children who should be given a permanent time-out.
At the end of the day, the only them is us... and we're all in this together.
I don't know about you but this "us" is going to put politics on hold this weekend and indulge in all things Cornucopia. Hedonistic? Perhaps. But who deserves it more than me? Well, you for one. See you there.