I was recently asked why I was going to a public outdoor breakfast where UCP MLAs would be in attendance. A day or two later I was asked why I’d attend a NDP pop-up park event.
I’m not partisan. I have voted for different candidates from different parties for the 28ish years I’ve been able to vote. More often than not, I have voted based on research about my local candidate rather than the party leader, although the leadership aspect has influenced my end choice. I have voted for people I believe are the best option, or in some cases have values that align best with mine on key issues of the time. Sometimes I’ve voted because they seem like good people and would bring a good change to our government.
Municipal politics is designed to be non-partisan. Councillors are supposed to make decisions based on the information in front of them, their experiences and expertise. They are also supposed to incorporate feedback from constituents and other stakeholders. Sure – everyone has their biases and some have stronger leanings than others. But the job requires councillors to be open minded, demonstrate leadership and most importantly – represent their ward as a whole.
As a prospective councillor, part of my campaign is about getting out and talking to as many people in the ward as possible. Regardless of background, political leanings (perceived or actual), or level of engagement. Why? Because if elected, I will represent everyone. Young, old, conservative, left, centre, rich, poor, dog lovers, cat lovers etc. Everyone. So to me, it makes sense that I go where people are, say hello, and find out what matters most to them.
No one wins with divisive politics. Running the city isn’t a tournament with Team A and Team B battling so only one succeeds. It shouldn’t be about choosing sides, with one side being “good” and the other “bad”. Left vs Right. We’ve seen that happen in all levels of government and where is that getting us? We need to work together to see solid, sustainable, lasting results. We can’t be wasting energy on fighting each other at every turn. That divisiveness trickles down into communities, traditional media, and social media. It affects relationships with stakeholders and more. When we operate in a world of winners versus losers, I’m not sure any of us are actually winning.
Sustainable economic development requires political stability. Divisive politics, polarization, populism - whatever you’d like to call it - are a threat to this. It takes up time and energy which generally means that attention is taken away from other priorities (actual things that help Calgarians). It also makes the government seem difficult and unpredictable to work with, making investment in growth related projects from external stakeholders less likely. In a professional workplace setting we don't only listen to those who voted the same as us in the last election. A co-workers qualifications or credibility aren't tied to that either. You don't only respond to customers who share your opinions. So why would we do that when running a city?
For Calgary to be successful, everyone needs a voice. Not just those who are the loudest, or those with viewpoints that align the most with the elected representatives. We need to bring people and ideas together to have better outcomes. This also will improve trust and engagement, which make us stronger as a city. It’s not always easy to find that balance, but the end result is more often than not, better.
Does that mean I have to support or agree with other political viewpoints, all the time. Absolutely not. But I do have a responsibility to openly engage with others and learn their perspectives, and understand what matters most to them and why. I have a duty to factor in everyone’s needs and wants as best I can and have that reflected in my decision making. I have to consider all the ideas and proposed solutions to find the best outcome. So as a prospective councillor, I am getting out there – at the doors, at events, online, and at meetings-- to listen. To everyone.