By Brad Hodge
Published: Feb. 11, 2012.
It’s hard to believe, sitting here in February, that as recently as November I was a candidate in the recent local election. I have to say it is most definitely a life experience, the kind that really should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Why? A whole lot of reasons.
I had lived in Squamish 12 years before my run. I had always had an interest in politics and batted the idea around; however having come from a small town, I felt a need to ‘earn’ my ‘seniority’ here.
I know I would have been annoyed if some newcomer showed up in “my” town and ran for office claiming all kinds of things needed fixing.
I didn’t grow up here, didn’t attend Howe Sound Secondary, didn’t work at Woodfibre. Wasn’t here when this or that happened or the grocery store used to be over there. Small towns will do that to you. On the one hand, you are living in a very close knit community with all the benefit that brings. On the other hand, you are forever a rank outsider to some.
After that 12th year, or fourth election cycle, I felt it was time to put my money (literally) where my mouth was. I would find out just how many people knew and/or liked me and what I had to say. I would forever have my name on the historical record, however briefly, a few of my words noted for all time.
The first thing I learned about the process was the cost. Man, is it ever expensive to run even a simple campaign. $500 will buy you a base set of signs (beware though, there are people who hate signage and spare no opportunity to complain about the ‘eyesore’ that erupts for a month every 3 years). Then there’s advertising. A full page ad in the local paper, once, is $1100.
I opted to run a Facebook campaign, paying by clicks. That ran almost $1000 right there! Then there’s your sign permit fee (which you get back, if you retrieve all of your corrugated ‘children’. It can really get up there! A few grand is a minimum.
One thing that hit might right away out on the trail was how badly outgunned I was there. People say that doesn’t matter – I say it doesn’t dictate outcome, but it helps. At least one candidate had enough money behind them to commission a private poll!
The second thing was time. Man, you never have enough of that. There are 17,000 people in Squamish, 11,000 eligible voters spread out over many thousands of households. You just can’t hit them all. You can’t even get close. And the last couple of weeks of the formal campaign are the worst.
Event after event. ‘Debates’ (they weren’t really debates at all this year, with 23 candidates in the field), organizational anniversaries, open house invites. You almost need a second self to share the load with.
This is another area where better financed and organized candidates tend to clobber you – having extra boots on the ground waving at people and distributing flyers is huge .
And you lose a lot of time with your family. Especially if you’re already working a regular job!
Another thing is pressure. It is there every day. Every group, every voter, not knowing who will win, reaches out to yank you into their camp. In the space of three weeks I had about a dozen demands on me.
A ‘candidate profile’ for Squamish Speaks. A contract from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Commitment requests on mass transit. You can hardly get to them all. I skipped a bunch, some probably to my detriment.
It’s really tough to put yourself out there. Especially for someone like me – I am no social butterfly, and I do not share the interests of the most vocal groups among us. I’ve never met a bike I didn’t despise, and outdoor activity to me is taking a short walk to the park with the kids. Events? Parties? I’m out cold by 11 p.m. most nights, and I don’t drink.
I never in my life had the desire to stand out. I didn’t raise my hand in class much. I revelled in my anonymity. I like routine, and I much prefer to come home to family than play baseball or climb rocks. Right out of the gate, I was out of step with big chunks of the community.
I would say the hardest thing though, and the thing I liked the least, was the self-censorship aspect. Everyone goes into politics with the best of intentions.
That ‘stay true to yourself’ cliché is the advice everyone gives you when you become a candidate. But it is not that easy. Anyone who tells you it is has never actually run for political office.
In any election, there are always highly motivated groups that always turn out to vote. We saw in the final results this year that only just under 5000 people voted out of the eligible 11,000 or so. Those people are the ones that really matter on election day, and they are very vocal, and very careful about who they vote for. As much as you might try, you do tend to find yourself tailoring your message to those certain groups. The temptation to agree without precondition is always there.
You want to say what’s on your mind, but you’re also terrified of causing offence. Really, elections generally are a popularity contest. You don’t want to be unpopular. It’s only human to feel that way. Not only can it hurt you politically, but it can follow you back after the election and hurt you personally too, especially if you run a small business like I do.
Small towns can be pernicious that way. Out on the trail, people assumed because I was an advocate for one thing (like affordable housing) that I agreed with their laundry list of beliefs also. I sort of found myself liking people until they started ranting about something I really did not like or agree with.
Keeping my mouth shut involved many sessions of running head first into trees. The ones that are bent in Arrowhead Park? That was me. It also became painfully clear to me that despite my self-consideration as a generally intelligent and thoughtful guy, I am no intellectual.
I discovered I had precisely zero interest in sitting through endless conferences, group-thinks and so on. I’m a doer – I like jumping into things and figuring out as I go. Sometimes that’s bad, sometimes that’s good. But it’s who I am.
That’s not to suggest the process is bad, by any means. In fact, it was a ton of fun. Getting out with my kids, waving signs at traffic and making generally an ass out of myself was wonderfully cathartic for me. Being stopped by complete strangers who recited everything they liked about my platform, even offering to plant my campaign signs on their lawn was incredibly uplifting.
And it was great making little speeches in front of audiences, being asked every week for your opinion on given topics. It definitely was a boon for my business – both in the sense that it elevated my profile, but also gave me the courage to do more as part of my overall sales function than I was willing to before.
I pushed myself harder than I ever have and I’m proud of that. I learned just as much about myself as I did about my community.
Would I do it again? That’s another question. Publicly I’m committed to running again in 2014, but with the adrenaline down and all of the many questions the campaign raised for me, I’m not as certain.
When I first announced, I immediately felt a small pang of regret – my three daughters are still under 11, but the years are going so fast. Council is the ‘part-time job’ that isn’t — being elected would have taken a lot of time away from family.
I would have had to miss things like our evening wind downs and some school events.
I’m also not quite sure if I am in sync with my electorate. When I moved here, Squamish was small and blue collar, rough and tumble. I liked that. Lately it’s become bigger, more gentrified, more urban chic. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make that adjustment.
The focal point or brand Squamish seems to be pursuing is outdoor recreation, but I’m kind of the last guy you’ll see out on the slopes or trails. I tend to lean towards industry and business; owning a small business myself, I’m much more sympathetic to economic needs of business and the burden of taxes than many of my peers are.
I consider myself a classical liberal – I believe socially people can do what they want, but I also believe in free markets, free trade and limited government. The latter positions put me sometimes dramatically out of step with much of my own generation and especially with younger generations.
Finally, having ‘lost’ my first election, I’ve lost my fear of losing a little bit also. I’ve realized I really don’t care if I’m popular, not if it means saying or doing things I don’t believe. I’m not sure I’d be so good at controlling my impulses next time.
On balance though, it was a life changing experience. I recommend doing it at least once (or getting involved in some other form of community service) just as a component of your civic duty, and/or as a life learning exercise.
It will change your perception about politicians, and the process in general, forever, good and bad. Squamish is the only place I’ve ever called home this long, but out on the trail I got to know it so much more intimately than I’ve ever gotten to know any place.
My kids have grown up here, and I did a lot of growing up here myself. When I leave, I definitely miss it. I love it in my own way. Running for office I think was the first sign that I’m really committed to being here for the long haul — at least until I’m rich enough to indulge my Magnum PI fantasies over in Hawaii.
I don’t know that I necessarily need to be on Council to make a difference – there are a whole lot of community organizations out there with a lot less of the inertia that haunts Council, some of which I’ve already joined. 2014? We’lll see.