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Opinion: Fewer folks are willing to run for Squamish council this time. Wonder why?

From all appearances then, this gig has lost its lustre.
What can be done to encourage more folks to run for office locally, in your view? Let us know with a letter to the editor: [email protected].

Who knows where the time goes? Here we are, full throttle into another civic election campaign.

But the candidate roster for this most recent tilt has taken on a decidedly threadbare appearance.                                                   

During the 2014 call to the polls, 20 councillor candidates and three mayoral contenders tossed their hats into the ring.

A review of the numbers for the 2018 civic election indicates that 22 candidates for the office of councillor entered the fray, and five ran for the big chair at muni hall.

Fast forward to 2022, and we have three mayoral candidates and a meagre 10 contenders looking to become councillors.

In other words, a grand total of 13 candidates are running for office.                                                                                             

Incumbent councillor Doug Race is throwing in the towel after four terms on council.

When contacted about the low turnout, he said, "The number of candidates is a surprise to me. The number running for mayor is not unusual, but to have only 10 running for council is quite remarkable."                                                                                                                     

Given the prevailing mood of public discontent over the past four years, fuelled by the unprecedented changes this community has experienced, why are more concerned residents not ready to help right what many pundits view as a listing ship?

Coun. John French believes the general desire to enter public life as an elected official has tanked because of the online abuse politicians are experiencing at every level of government.

"The tactics used by [the anonymous] Squamish Voices is the best local example of this. The direct attacks on four members of council using misinformation is unacceptable," he said.

"Also unacceptable is the refusal of the person or people who wrote and produced the Squamish Voices content to attach their name to the opinions."

In addition, "extremists" are creating divisions that undermine civil dialogue in this community, he said. As a result, "people with political aspirations are seeing this and thinking carefully before choosing to bravely enter the political arena. Far more people are choosing to stay in the private sector."                                                                                                                            

No doubt, many viable candidates are turned off by a political landscape that has at times morphed into a social media cesspool. Last April, Mayor Karen Elliott, who will not be running for municipal office in this election, told The Squamish Chief she was concerned about the online intimidation to which she and several other members of council have been subjected.

"The fact that there's four of us who are consistently targeted, you know, it makes me wonder: What are those votes where the four of us made the same decision without the other three? Why these four? And so, I think that makes me feel that whoever is funding this is absolutely connected to and interested in the outcome of Squamish decision making and election outcomes," she said.                                                                                          

According to councillor Eric Andersen, another reason the candidate count has bottomed out in Squamish is because "council work is onerous. Perhaps we have more difficult times ahead expected, for families and businesses — and potential candidates."

In a similar vein, incumbent councillor and mayoral candidate Armand Hurford said, "The high time commitment of a council position and the subsequent concessions needed at one's place of work or career, in general, are perhaps viewed as too impactful and too much of a risk to take for many people." Additionally, during the ongoing COVID pandemic more than a few political leaders were vilified and some were hounded out of office. He said that negative political climate "would cause any reasonable person to question the risk/reward of stepping forward."                                                                                                                               
From all appearances then, this gig has lost its lustre.

Despite the gloomy assessment, Andersen and French are asking voters for another four-year stint at the council table besides Hurford.

Councillors Chris Pettingill and Jenna Stoner, who have been the targets of an ongoing social media assault and snail mail smear campaign, are also seeking a second term on council.                                                                                                                 

After everything is said and done, whether holding public office is still an attractive proposition is entirely in the eyes of the beholders.

Helmut Manzl is a long-time Squamish resident and political commentator for The Squamish Chief.


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