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OPINION: Look beyond candidates’ catchphrases

Take 'hiring' process seriously when voting in a new city council, says guest columnist

BY SHARON B. SPEEVAK

The News Bulletin is presenting a series of guest columns co-ordinated by the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce and the Our Nanaimo voter engagement group.

It’s hiring time. Every four years, we get to exercise our right to hire nine people who will manage the $180-million organization known as our city. We will benefit or suffer because of what they do, or fail to do, over the next four years. It is important to hire the right people.

But how does one deal with the onslaught of 43 candidates for nine positions? It’s a bit daunting, so let’s break it down.

The first place to start is to know what you’re looking for. You can’t hire the right person without knowing what knowledge, skills and experience are required for the position. Fortunately, Our Nanaimo, a non-partisan group, has put together a candidate evaluation tool in the form of a handy checklist of assessment criteria. Check it out on their website and add anything you think may be missing that’s important to you.

Now you are in a position to shortlist the candidates using the criteria required for the job. This can be tricky because what a candidate says they care about, what they will do and how they will do it may not, despite good intentions, be accurate or true. Buzz words like teamwork, honesty and leadership are just that, words. Catchphrases like “I will listen to the citizens” are usually substitutes for true action plans. By definition, contentious issues mean that citizens do not speak with one voice but have conflicting views about the matter. Listening to citizens is not a divining rod leading to the right choice, but just one step in a long process of decision-making.

So I suggest looking at what a candidate has done, rather than what they say they’re going to do. What have they done for their community in the last five years? If they truly care, they should not be newcomers to the arena of civic contribution. Have they demonstrated the required skills, commitment and personal integrity they claim to possess? Have they built or participated effectively in teams of diverse people and displayed integrity in the heat of conflict?

Also be wary of the one-issue candidate. For example, homelessness is a serious matter for Nanaimo at the moment. It impacts those who are homeless, those who come into contact with the homeless, the vitality of our downtown core and the demands upon our police, health and social welfare systems. But it threatens to hijack our upcoming election, much as the Colliery Dam issue hijacked the 2014 election. One-issue candidates emerge and take up the banner of the cause of the moment and are an easy choice at the polls – they’ve been in the news, have name recognition and their position on the issue wins our favour. However, some are one-dimensional candidates running on a single issue, and may not be prepared or sufficiently committed to address the much broader range of issues that now, and will in future, face our community.

This brings us to the final step in the hiring process. Please get out and vote – but vote smart. Your city’s future depends on it.

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