In 2011, I ran willingly for municipal council in my small town. I wanted to experience life as a candidate. From the beginning, I knew the odds were not in my favour. Six council seats, five incumbents, 19 candidates. Not exactly a horse race. In hind sight, or as a good friend of mine would say, kind sight, it was a good thing. Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted.
In 2014, I was reluctant. Campaigns, as I learned in 2011, are hard work and hard on the budget. I’ve always wanted to serve in public office. The question I needed to ask myself was should I risk the time and money again or stay focussed on the path that matters most to me, my family, my living, my life. I had actually ruled it out, truth be told, until a friend of mine walked up the stairs to my office with nomination papers in hand. “Here Louise” she said. “We are days away from the closing date and not a single woman has put her name forward for councillor. Please think about it.” It wasn’t the first time in October that someone commented that I should run. “Why?”, I thought. I tried that last time and I didn’t win. What would be different this time? But then, I kept thinking. And ultimately, walked over to city hall and filed my papers.
Twenty or so minutes later, the local newspaper’s facebook page posted something along the lines of “Louise Wallace Richmond files nomination papers for council. We have a woman in the race.” That’s how small towns work. News travels fast. This had been a matter of some concern in the days prior. Three incumbents, three open spots, no women candidates. Better odds, this time, I thought. But in my career, I’ve never played the woman card. And I’m grateful to my grandmothers and my mother for forging a path that meant I’d never had to worry about that thus far. An odd turn of events. So off we went, designing campaign materials and signs, setting up private appointments and public meetings, updating websites and posting messages on social media, answering e-mails and taking phone calls. Here we go again, I thought. But something changed. In the lyrics of Joni Mitchell “but something’s lost and something’s gained in living life everyday”. I had learned. And I took those lessons with me to the campaign trail.
Running for office in municipal politics in a small town is still, thankfully, not really about your positions or your political leanings. It’s not about left or right. It’s about what you can bring to forward motion. It’s not about slates or party politics, it’s about people. And surprisingly, it’s not always about the candidates themselves. It’s about team work. In 2011, I ran alone. In 2014, I ran with people I care about and people who care about me. My neighbours canvassed the neighbourhood with me. My office colleagues help put up signs, Fellow candidates encouraged me. In fact, they helped put each other’s signs back up after windy nights and wayward sign smashers. Total strangers stopped me on the street to shake my hand in thanks for putting my name forward even if we didn’t share a point of view. I met with business leaders and told them how much the union contributes to the local economy. I met with unions leaders and told them about how important owning a business was to me. I told special interest groups I couldn’t change legislation that was impeding their goal. I told the audience at the all candidates forum that being on council was a job for which I wanted to apply and I thought I was qualified to get the job done. I said publicly, on our community radio station, that our town could be a tough place to earn a living but we are full of talent and good will and we have an important role to play. I chose to challenge them rather then placate them. And it worked. When my mom friends congratulated me on running, I was careful to remind them that if they wanted a mom on council, they would have to do the hard work. I’d filed my papers. The rest was up to them. They took up the challenge. It worked because people want to participate and make a difference. While the voter turnout belies this, I really think it’s because we haven’t done a good job of reminding them of their power and influence. Our fault, not theirs.
On election night, friends showed up to share the news, good or bad. I didn’t do this in 2011. I isolated myself. About 35 minutes after the polls closed, the first text came through “You’re In”. And to be honest, I’m not sure who was more excited, my friend or me. We did this together. In the days following, so many people have congratulated me. I’m careful to remind them too, that even as a candidate, I only had one vote. They did the work even if I won the coveted one spot of six.
On December 1 at 7:00 pm in council chambers, I will take my place at the table. And I owe it to those who took their voting responsibility with honesty and humility. Nobody wins alone. I learned that. And for the next four years, I will never forget it.