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Comment: Your ultimate voters' guide for the civic election

A commentary by the vice-chair of Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria, a citizens advocacy group for municipal taxpayers.
Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria vice-chair Stan Bartlett offers suggestions on picking candidates in the upcoming municipal elections. CHRIS YOUNG, THE CANADIAN PRESS

Pundits say this fall’s municipal election will be a transformative one. They are right.

With eye-watering food and housing costs, mounting transportation challenges, the condition of our roads and public-safety concerns, voters are looking for prudent and hard-working politicians with solutions.

The winds of change are ­blowing briskly in ­Victoria, Saanich, Langford and ­elsewhere. As a result the membership and power base of the Capital Regional District will also change substantially.

So, this “ultimate voters’ guide” provides guidance for those gnashing their teeth and scratching their head.

Voters often turn to past performance in order to decide if they want to re-elect an incumbent politician — but past performance doesn’t predict anything.

The CRD and Victoria ­operate a voting website dashboard where residents can easily check out attendance and voting record on various bylaws and issues. The alternative in other municipalities is to painstakingly review minutes or video recordings.

In any event — as with investments — past performance does not necessarily predict future performance.

Also, divisive party politics locally hasn’t got a great public reception or voter interest in past years.

In Victoria, the electoral organization Vancouver Island Voters Association (VIVA) has the nebulous goal of ­“supporting candidates who think ­critically and welcome healthy debate on public policy that leads to ­practical, common-sense ­solutions for citizens.” In ­Langford, Community First Langford will square off against the Langford Now slate.

Surely councils are elected to represent everyone and the greatest number of residents. Voting for one common view diminishes the independence of a representative and can close down debate. There’s no ­guarantee anyway that your slate may vote the same.

Take a look at Vancouver and Surrey, where party politics has brought rancour and dysfunction to the Lower Mainland for years.

Elections often see the same names on the ballot. Usually they are fringe candidates trumpeting one issue while splitting the vote and having very little hope of getting elected.

Remember perennial protester and mayoralty candidate David Shebib, who ran for mayor in all 13 capital region municipalities in 2014? The only municipal hall he liked was North Saanich because it had an edible garden in front.

Then there’s former prime minister John Diefenbaker. He was elected as a municipal councillor at 25, then lost one election at the municipal level, two at the provincial and two at the federal level.

Taxpayers are starting to learn about the exploding capital and inherent interest costs of renewing municipal infrastructure. Municipalities need all the money they can find to revitalize pricey infrastructure.

If a candidate managed an organization or business budget, they’re much better qualified and less likely to focus on pet projects. Grumpy Taxpayer$ found out that in the past, few local politicians have bothered to develop financial skills through courses offered by the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

Municipal mandarins spend much of their time ­debating budgets. But there’s only so much money and difficult choices need to be made.

In recent years local ­governments have strayed from the traditional role of adequately funding quality essential services and critical infrastructure.

How does your potential candidate feel about wasting money on musical staircases, ping-pong tables, urban spinning benches and trading cards? Is ­righting social wrongs and identity ­politics their priority?

With a cost-of-living crisis, fiscal discipline is more important than ever. Not every candidate has the hide of a dinosaur and can take the inevitable flak from an unpopular decision.

Passing laws and managing budgets in the tens or hundreds of millions is serious business that profoundly impacts our lives.

Voters should avoid trivial or one-issue candidates who can’t put together a broad platform with their priorities for improving the community. Are their views expressed clearly on their website and handouts?

Pleasant personality aside, it’s critical to know what they stand for and if they have the ability to do the job.

Several lifers — those ­serving 25 years or so on councils — aren’t running again. This gives councils an opportunity to refresh with new ideas, points of view, abilities and energy brought to the job.

Hopefuls usually don’t stand a chance if a professional politician is back again. Perhaps candidates should serve a maximum of two terms, then take a hiatus for a term to get a reality refresher before running again.

In the end, the critical ­factors in choosing a leader are the intangibles.

Is the candidate trustworthy with an abundance of ­integrity? Why are they running for public office? Have they been ­passionately involved in the community? Have they broad-based life experience?

Do they have the endurance to attend endless meetings? Have they read the Governance Review Report, the most important document to come out of the City of Victoria in years? Do they have energy, commitment and a sense of humour?

It’s your chance to shape the vision of your neighbourhood in the most over-governed region in the world.

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