When I launched my campaign for city council in ward 11, I promised to talk at length and in specifics, about the issues. I would avoid platitudes, equivocation and non-answers.
I'm also a voter in this year's election. And as a voter, I am growing increasingly frustrated that many candidates do not share my commitment and openness to real discussion about actual issues.
Every four years we make our best guess at a candidate that will represent us (well, 34.5% of us anyway) and there are no mulligans or do-overs. If we choose a candidate without understanding their perspectives on the issues and it doesn't work out for us, that's the ballgame.
A history of public conversations about issues on a candidate's website is critically important. It's common practice to expunge all social media history before an election. Tight message and image control tends to lead to success. If you don't give voters something to disagree with, less will tend to disagree with you.
But I find the whole practice rather insidious. If we elect candidates based solely on their face and their name on a sign, can we really be surprised when disillusionment with our politicians occurs? Electing a face is what many candidates are hoping voters will do this October as many of them simply choose to not have a platform at all.
Of course, there's a flip side to this argument: a councillor represents those in his or her ward. Listening and representing constituent concerns is a huge part of the job. But we also have to remember that the entire point of electing a representative is so that constituents don't have to read every document and report. We elect representatives because we trust them to make the decision that's best for the city in our stead.
We elect them to lead.
If a candidate's entire platform is based on listening, that means their performance is directly tied to the amount of work that you are willing to do during their term. It means when you don't read the reports and send an email about a particular issue, you have no way of knowing if the councillor aligns with your viewpoints. It means you can't trust them to do the right thing without holding their hand.
Labour Day has come and gone. Election signs are sprouting up across the city. And an astonishing number of candidates simply do not have a platform. Many that do have a "vision" or "platform" fill it with empty words like "I will ensure honest and accountable government" or "I'll be a strong advocate for the ward". It seems lost on them that only discussing their important issues in private with no record is the least accountable way to get elected. Can't break promises that no one can prove you made.
Saying without bias which of the 70+ candidates running have sufficient issue-based platforms is impossible. I'll tell you that I could count them on my hands. Counting the number for your ward will be left as an exercise for the reader.
The polls open in 41 days. There's no reason for a platform to be secret.
Let's stop giving candidates a free pass and start asking all candidates hard questions about issues. Let's require those stances and characterizations to be public. Let's require our candidates to show leadership.
It's the very least we can do.