Painful Truth: How to win an election, maybe

Today, for absolutely no charge, I’m going to give some advice to all those folks who are running for local office this November.

Like all free advice, it’s probably worth what you paid for it.

I may not be qualified to offer any words of wisdom, considering I’ve never run for office myself, and that I have ordered my friends and loved ones to have me committed if I attempt to do so. I’ve seen too many campaigns to think it’s much fun.

On the other hand, I’ve been to more council meetings than most mayors in this province, I’ve seen dozens of politicians rise and fall and sometimes rise again, and I’ve watched campaigns with the glee and frustration that most people save up for playoff season. If nothing else, consider this a primer on how to get my vote. Every vote counts, they say.

• I don’t care that you are a happy fuzzy person

The profiles of most politicians, and this goes right to the top, aim at reassuring us that they just love families and low taxes and a good economy. Congratulations. You like the stuff that LITERALLY EVERY OTHER HUMAN BEING LIKES! Who cares?

I know there’s some psychological stuff at work, that this can be part of the “Aw shucks, I’m just an average Jane-or-Joe” routine. I don’t care. I’ve seen it too many times. We’ve all seen it too many times. Stop telling us you’re in favour of things being good. So are we. This leads us to my second point.

• Make specific promises

“I like families!” says every politician since the Greeks were picking which bearded toga-wearer was getting which job. That’s cool, buddy. But what are you going to do about that? Are you going to cut taxes on playground equipment and school clothes? Are you going to raise taxes to build more parks and ice rinks? How much are you gonna raise them? Anything else you’ve got planned?

We see too many candidates at the local level who run on a record of being heavily involved in the community, but seemingly have no clear plans or ideas. Your list of promises can be short (“Cut taxes!”) or long (“Here’s my four-year plan. If you’ll turn to appendix two, section seven…”) but please, tell me you want to run SO YOU CAN ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING!

• Tell me true stories

Now that you’ve told me what you’re actually going to do, tell me why you’re going to do it.

This is also a place for specifics. You want telling details. You want stories that only you can tell. They can be your own, they can be the stories of your family, your friends, your neighbours, but they must be true.

You want a new hospital in town because your mother had to spend an hour on the road for every appointment to see her oncologist? You want more daycare spaces because you raised two kids as a single parent?

You grew up in a neighbourhood with no parks and you want better for your grandkids? Those are the kind of stories that win elections. You say what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it, and why. And nothing sticks in our heads like a story. Nothing.

• Be human

Candidate Robot is not a fun candidate. Candidate Robot has a pat answer for everything, but they all go back to his five talking points, over and over and over. Even if you tell your true stories and you have real goals, you can fall into this trap.

It’s okay to sometimes look a little frustrated, or to say you don’t know the answer to something. It’s better than grinning and hitting Talking Point Four again.

So for everyone running this fall, I admire your guts. You’re braver than I’ll ever be.

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