A municipal election is coming up in Manitoba on October 27, 2010, for the elected officials who are rightfully described as those “closest to the people”. One of the things sometimes forgotten during election campaigns, however, is that each candidate’s competitors are people too.
Although mudslinging is typical of almost any election campaign, it is always a bit disheartening to see some of the insults and downright low blows that are frequenting the headlines these days.
- In Brandon, a male candidate expressed his derision of a female candidate by saying he doesn’t want “someone in a pink dress representing him”.
- In Portage la Prairie, one mayoral candidate distributed a flyer visually depicting a competitor as a pirate on a sinking ship and an outgoing councillor as a rat.
Why do so many of today’s politicians seem so incapable of pinpointing what really matters to voters? Author Maribeth Kuzmeski, in her article “Vote of No Confidence” points out that contrary to what they might think about themselves, many of today’s politicians are terrible at connecting, which makes it very difficult for them to build and sustain quality relationships with potential voters.
“A primary reason many candidates haven’t given up on negative campaign ads is that they often work,” says Kuzmeski. “Negative ads can be a very effective way to turn the electorate one way or the other. What I think candidates should consider is what kind of connector do you want to be? What do you want the foundation of your relationships with your constituents to be? Remember, it’s a small world, and burning a bridge today may hurt you in the future. I think you build stronger relationships both in business and politics when they come from a place of honesty and positivity. Make sure you always take the ethical high road. Don’t make decisions based on how they might negatively affect your business or political career. Do what’s right and you will have nothing to be ashamed of and much success down the road.”
The most successful politicians heed this advice, and in many municipalities, their constituents reward them for it. While the democratic process is alive and well in Manitoba, there is no escaping the fact that a full 33 of 197 municipalities will not hold an election this fall because the current council was acclaimed (and in some cases there are vacancies). While it would be naïve to assume this means the electorate in those communities is completely satisfied, it doesn’t necessarily point to political disinterest or voter apathy as some might suggest.
For example, in some Manitoba municipalities, the reeve and councillors in all but one ward might be acclaimed. The remaining candidates, rather than prepare for a fight, have been known to meet for a cup of coffee and decided which one is best for the job – saving the municipality the expense of an election.
A rare occurrence to be sure, but it does happen. And isn’t it a little refreshing to see a group of like-minded citizens making a decision for the best of the community, regardless of their personal ambitions?
Kuzmeski points out that most of us would get fired (or at the very least severely reprimanded) if we talked about our coworkers to customers the way many of today’s candidates talk about their opponents. What today’s politicians need is a lesson in the all-important practices of compromise and collaboration.
“In business, progress is made through collaboration and consensus, and that should be the way things are accomplished in politics,” says Kuzmeski. “Just because you are saying something more loudly than your political opponent doesn’t mean you are forming a better connection with voters. Today’s politicians need to have a vision that looks past the next election. They need to be able to show voters that they will be able to work well with others regardless of party. They need to focus on what is best for their constituents rather than beating their opponents.”
Visit the AMM website here to view the list of nominated candidates and to see the results on election night.