My political career is over. I’m a washed-up politician even before I’ve started. Three months ago I succumbed to the encouragement of valued friends to run for election to municipal council. That was nice of them to draw my attention to the opportunity but it was precipitous of me to have embraced it. I had just retired and I suppose I fashioned that I needed something to keep me busy. Recently however I came to my senses and withdrew my nomination. The venture seriously conflicted with my initial retirement plans, specifically spending the winter on Hilton Head Island, SC. And I discovered there were far more council, committee and sub-committee meetings than I had expected. Through research I discovered the cost of flying back to attend those meetings was prohibitive.
I have of course known politicians throughout my life. I recall having met Lester B. Pearson on the Village Green in Rockcliffe Park many years ago when John Turner (whom I also met at the same gathering) was a rising star. As a first-year law student in Ottawa I worked closely with Jeffrey Lyman DeWitt King when he was elected as President of the Liberal Party of Ontario. More recently two of my cronies who became federal members of Parliament visited me in Almonte. Naturally I have known most of the local municipal politicians during the past thirty-nine years.
I always admired politicians for endurance of what I imagined to be a rough road. For that reason alone I was wary of politics. Occasionally when I amused myself to contemplate the possibility of public office I hastened to remind myself that one’s life is subject to scrutiny. I am generally not up to the task of defending my character. Certainly I knew that everyone else might suffer the same risk but I hadn’t the arrogance to presume I could rise above it. I was a back-room boy if anything, not a front-line guy. Nonetheless I eventually hardened myself to that reality.
During my three-month career as a candidate for election I made an effort to acquaint myself with local issues and prominent personalities (people who carried social weight or who governed important organizations in town). Meeting people in my political capacity put a new light on them. Many of them I knew personally yet their character changed notably in this new context. All of them had an agenda (as one might reasonably expect). Some were far more socialist than I ever imagined. Some were very clear about their expectations to the point of being uncompromising. It didn’t take me long to recognize that I risked losing my independence.
Luckily for me I didn’t become submerged in the election process. The election was still a long ways off (October 27, 2014) and coincidentally there had been a provincial election in June so the electorate wasn’t up to much additional canvassing at the time. Even though I had already arranged to print 2,000 election brochures for myself I discovered two typos and therefore did not distribute them. I planned to have the brochures re-printed but decided out of an abundance of caution to wait until nominations were closed (September 12, 2014) in the event that the current candidates were acclaimed without a contest. Of course I ended dumping the original brochures in the recycle bin.
Although it had no direct bearing on my decision to withdraw my nomination, recent events in Almonte had the appearance of influencing what I did. A proposed hydro-electric development on the Mississippi River in the heart of Almonte had run into vocal opposition and the local Council was being blamed in large part for it. While the Mayor (Jack Levi) was the brunt of most of the invective, Council as a whole was taking a palpable hit. Council was being portrayed as having abandoned the interests of the public in favour of the proponent (Jeff Cavanagh). All in all it was not a good time to be a Councillor and anything which derogated from the current popular sentiment was seen as political suicide. I suspect that the scuttlebutt which attends my withdrawal will connect it with this issue though like everything else in politics its significance will hold sway only temporarily before being forgotten entirely.
It is of course the privilege of the masses to mock their betters. Being on the outside looking in is by far the more comfortable view but I confess I have considerable sympathy for the Councillors. If the events leading to the approval of any decision were re-enacted it is questionable in my mind whether anything would ever change. Imperceptibly circumstances alter and each small event triggers its own modification. I will however be spared the embarrassment of having to rewind or reconsider any political decisions (other than the one to quit). Certainly I will miss not having the opportunity to include public office in my obituary.