So You Want to be a Councillor? A Primer for Those Who Might

A recent poll revealed that Canadians have quite differing levels of trust when it comes to different professions. While nurses and teachers enjoy the trust of more than 75 per cent of the public, politicians are highly trusted by a meagre 14 per cent.
It is in this climate of mistrust and suspicion that you must enter your nomination papers, hopeful of the opportunity to serve the people of Bowen Island. Unfortunately, if you are one of the first six who surge past the post on November 15th a few even more significant obstacles will be placed in your path.

Beware the Financial Rewards and Perks of High Office:

Councillors can expect to receive slightly less than the minimum wage for their time. The current salary of a little more than $8,000 per annum is likely to swell to just over the $10,000 mark next January (this may well produce cries of outrage in some segments of the community). For the next three years you will be expected to attend Council meetings every Monday night. You will pick up your package Friday, spend several hours reading it, and likely speak with your fellow councillors occasionally about items on the next week’s agenda. You may attend a weekend meeting – a site visit, or a hike through a proposed development. You will be appointed as Council representative and go to various committee meetings. There will often be additional meetings of various kinds, and occasionally public hearings about rezonings or Official Community Plan amendments. These are exciting opportunities for a typically angry mob to denounce just about everything that you have done, and occasionally to castigate you for your limited intelligence, your lack of commitment to democracy, and your desire to turn Bowen Island into an urban metropolis. You will find it difficult, not surprisingly, to separate Council from the rest of your life – the tasks and the controversies will colonize your mind.
You might wonder why those who are attempting to provide a public service – to create a community for all Bowen Islanders – are paid so little, in contrast to the sums available for those who pursue entirely private economic interests. This is a very good question, and one that does not appear to have a very good answer. Nonetheless, my three poorly paid years on Council, although they were not without discord and disappointment, were also inspiring, in a perverse kind of way. Should you be elected you will learn that your fellow politicians are not there to feed at the public trough (how could they? – it’s virtually empty), but are trying to do their best. You may disagree with them from time to time (or a good deal more often than that), but you will learn that they are there to try to do good deeds for Bowen Island.

Beware the Just Say No Coalition and the Perpetually Aggrieved:

When I first moved to Bowen Island about 30 years ago, I used to think that the most appropriate political strategy was to resist any and all changes. I revelled in the notion that we were an “unorganized territory” governed by the preserve and protect mandate of the Islands Trust. I still support the preserve and protect mandate of the Trust, but I am no longer interested in saying “no” to any and all proposals that might come before Council. This is an important issue – what do you stand for? It’s easy enough to be a proponent of slow growth, environmental protection, and a small caring community. You can happily and appropriately say “no” to the Golden Arches, billboard advertising or six storey apartment buildings. But what about a greater diversity of housing forms and more affordable housing: townhouses and apartments in Snug Cove? What about recreational facilities on Bowen Island, so that Islanders don’t have to ferry their children to West Vancouver for such activities, enlarging our already immense carbon footprint?
It’s curious how angry the opponents of progressive changes can become – watch out for the Perpetually Aggrieved. They will tell you, for example, that no one needs competitive sport, notwithstanding the reality that they view the politics of the Council chamber as something akin to an ultimate fighting competition. I have enjoyed a good deal more camaraderie and pleasant associations – striving together – on the tennis court, soccer pitch and golf course than I typically experienced in three years in the Council chamber.
But I digress. Don’t let me deter you from public service. I am very glad I served my time; it thickens the skin and improves one’s resolve. And if you are not one of the first six past the post, you can quite properly congratulate yourself on having made the effort to represent your community, notwithstanding the somewhat disturbing reality of such a task.

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