Your community needs you

Gerry Phelan
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A challenge to a citizen from a sitting town councillor got me thinking. He tweeted, “put your name on the ballot and stay out of the gutter.”

This year’s election campaign is underway.

St. John’s Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff has called this period as we approach the next municipal election, the silly season, suggesting in a CBC interview in January that “things tend to become political and you don’t always get the best decision-making in that context.”

We’ve already seen the political gloves come off at St. John’s City Hall over the harbour fence. Expect more of that in the days to come. In election years, councillors are more conscious than ever of the need to appease and please, and in the short months before polling day they can act like kids in a sandbox in the last days of summer.

The municipal election is 20 weeks away, but for those pondering a foray into the most visible level of politics, it’s decision-making time. Spring is upon us. By July, we’ll be head-first into the campaign. Building a team, defining issues, raising money and arranging time off to knock on doors are all things that take careful consideration, and now’s the time to do it.

Many of those considering putting their name on the ballot are carefully watching the incumbents. It is often easier for a potential candidate to take the next step if they know they won’t face someone already in office.

Several familiar faces won’t be seeking another term at the council table in St. John’s, so that’s opened up an opportunity for some changing of the guard.

We’ll have our share of pothole politicians, those who will run on a particular cause. The harbour fence, for example, may already have ignited a fuse under some who might otherwise have stayed off the radar. Parking, snowclearing and  development in the city will also be cornerstone issues.

Some candidates are hard at it. At least one has been knocking on doors for months to try to — as he put it — earn, not win, a ward seat.

The St. John’s council chamber is more of a political fishbowl than ever. Can you imagine going to work every Monday and looking across the table at the person who wants your job?

It’s got to be uncomfortable to be Mayor Dennis O’Keefe, sharing the debate and decision-making with Sheilagh O’Leary, who wants him out of there. Both have served the city well, but it will be a long summer.   

There are rumours that we will see political parties participate in this campaign. The NDP involvement was hinted at almost a year ago, when federal leader Tom Mulcair, during a visit to the province, said he’d be “back to help make sure that Sheilagh O’Leary is the next mayor of St. John’s.”

There’s a suggestion that some in the Tory ranks are set to use their organization to try to stop the New Democrats from seizing more of the political landscape, especially all the attention that goes with the job of mayor of the capital city.  

Not every town will be as fortunate as St. John’s in attracting nominations. Numerous communities have people who commute for work to other provinces or parts of our own province and may not be available to serve.

In 2009, approximately 2,000 candidates put their names forward for municipal office. It was heralded as a wonderful turnout, but more of us must be willing to take the plunge.   

Talk to your friends and neighbours about the things that matter in your community. If you’ve been peeved at some traffic issue, a council decision or a municipal service that sucks, now’s the time to make sure your plight is heard. Better still, get involved.

Our councils need more than business people, educators and retirees. They also need cabbies and daycare workers, clerks and contractors.

It’s the mix of people with vision, dedication and determination that can make for good council decisions.

There are 144 days until Sept. 24.

Now is the time to consider making a difference.

Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster. He can be reached at

Organizations: CBC

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