What makes for a good local politician?
That’s an important question now that municipal elections are almost upon us.
One way to determine who we should vote for is to study the leaders of the past to ascertain which ones were exceptional and, more to the point, what made them so good.
First you want a hard worker. Some of the best leaders we’ve had down through the years were those who burned the midnight oil. Ken James, the Tory MP during the Mulroney administration, constantly hounded federal officials in Ottawa about the need to locate a coast guard facility in our riding. His tireless efforts were eventually rewarded, bringing a number of good jobs to our community.
Andy Brandt did the same thing at Queen’s Park, putting in countless hours to make both Sarnia Bay Marina and Highway 402 a reality. Had these men been content to cut ribbons and kiss babies, none of those projects would have been approved.
You also need people of vision. As mayor, Brandt dreamed of revitalizing downtown Sarnia. His successor, Marceil Saddy, pushed for amalgamation with Sarnia Township.
It’s important, too, for politicians to understand they are in charge of the store, not the hired help. One of the best school board trustees ever was Jack Fullerton, who made it abundantly clear to the bureaucrats that they were there to do the board’s bidding. Former Lambton MPP Lorne Henderson was the same at Queen’s Park. He didn’t ask civil servants to do things, he told them to do them.
From my prospective it’s also crucial that elected officials keep learning after they get into office. A good example of someone who did just that was the late Marg Stacey, who led the old Moore Township council (known today as St. Clair Township) back in the late 20th century.
Marg was an urban person from Corunna. She knew diddly squat about life on the farm. But she didn’t try to fake it, frankly admitting at a meeting to discuss drains that she didn’t know much about the subject. The farmers on hand respected her honesty -- and her pledge to find out what she needed to know about the subject.
You also want a moderate person who is not a radical liberal or conservative. Look for candidates who listen to what others are saying and ask a lot of questions. They’re the ones who don’t go into every debate with their minds already made up. And they’re more likely to make compromises in order to get things done.
Finally, I think we should also give consideration to those who have the courage to take a bold stand. The unification of the urban Sarnia area would never have taken place if Jim Mason and Mike Stark had not had the courage to run for Clearwater council on pro amalgamation platforms. At the time, it looked like mission impossible, but they won and helped change the community for the better.
The candidate who speaks in vague terms about “giving back to the community” usually doesn’t have an original idea of his or her own. Or if they do, they’re afraid to express it.
So there you have it. We need to find nine curious, flexible, hard working, innovative men and women will stand up to the hired help and make a courageous decision from time to time.