Today my Member of Provincial Parliament and the former Premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty announced his retirement from the legislature. He served for 23 years as the elected representative of Ottawa South and nine years as Premier.
There will be many people who offer comments on what they feel is his legacy. I am not going to do that in any significant way. Instead I am going to focus on his willingness to serve and public service in general.
In the interest of transparency I will disclose here that I am a partisan. I served as political staff in the McGuinty government for more than three years. As such you would be correct in assuming that I believe that our province is better for his service as our Premier. I did not enter into service as a political staffer as a member of the Ontario Liberal Party or as a partisan. I joined the party after being hired as political staff. My role was to serve as the link between Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) and my minister and to help MPPs resolve issues for their constituents. I worked with members of all parties equally without regard for their political stripe since we were all working to resolve constituent issues. I am still a member of the party and was one of the delegates who went to the recent party leadership convention. I was a supporter at the convention of our new Premier Kathleen Wynne and continue to be a strong supporter of hers.
With that disclosure out of the way, here is what I want to talk about. In spite of the current political climate in Canada I have the utmost respect for all those citizens who step forward an put their name on a ballot. It is not an easy decision to make. Deciding to run and getting elected involves personal and familial sacrifice, especially if one is elected to a level of government where the legislature is in a different city than the riding being represented.
Politicians are good people
In my experience people choose to seek elected office because they believe in an issue or in the concept of public service. They run to make a difference. They might be running in support of or in opposition to an incumbent or government. They might run with no expectation of winning, but with the intent of raising the profile of their issue or their party and to engage in the public discourse in their community.
If they win they face scrutiny and challenges to their decisions and motivations. They will work a full day serving constituents, sitting on committees, attending council meetings and debating in legislatures. Then when the rest of us are home with our families, they attend community meetings and events, they travel to get wherever they need to be next and they talk to their kids and spouses by phone or Skype. In spite of all the interactions with people every day it can be a lonely life hundreds or thousands of kilometers away from family. They also get the opportunity to work with other amazing people to make a difference in the lives of the people they represent. They can work to change laws and resolve problems for others. They can champion causes and give voice to those who seek to be heard. It is challenging and rewarding work.
Those who run are people just like the rest of us who work hard for something they believe in. They are not perfect and they make mistakes just like the rest of us. They do their best to make decisions that they believe are in the best interests of the people they represent. They make a choice to run for office and they accept the outcomes of that decision. It is an honourable decision and profession.
It frustrates me when people speak about politicians as if they were a different species. It irritates me when people complain that they don’t like any politicians or any of their choices in an an election. My answer to these people is always the same when I encounter them. Step up. If you don’t like your choices, if you don’t feel that the people who have put their names forward are worthy representatives, put your name on the ballot. Politicians are people who have made that choice, who have decided to take the risk of being rejected by the electorate and speak up for something they think is important. If you don’t like the choices on offer, step up.
Serving the public in an elected capacity is important. We elect these individuals to represent us in setting priorities and making decisions about our schools, cities, provinces and country. They serve to make our voices heard to the machinery of government. They can act as our scissors to deal with government red tape. They can eliminate or add red tape. They inform us about decisions and programs of government. They can engage us in the decision-making process. They serve as our voice to rail against government decisions we disagree with. They can help us to access our governments and services. They are us.
Some of them can even throw decent community events and barbeque hotdogs by the hundreds or give us the opportunity to have fresh-made naan.
So to Dalton McGuinty and all the others who put their name on a ballot, win or lose, I say thank you. I appreciate your service to your communities and your dedication to your passions. You make my world a better place – even if I disagree with you.
What would it take for you to make the decision to run for office? Have you ever run for election?