"What everyone ‘on the left’ should pay attention to is this: they are saying, ‘we would rather have a guy on crack than a Mayor that raises our taxes’." — Rick Mercer on the unexplained popularity of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
And they’re off!
May 1 is the official start of silly season. Brandon’s municipal election campaign is underway, and as I write this week’s column we have two confirmed candidates for mayor, in Rick Chrest and Shari Decter Hirst.
Now I’ve been waiting to write this column for months and make no mistake, it’s not just directed at Rick and Shari. In fact its directed to all city councillors, elected members of RMs across the province, it’s directed to MLAs and MPs and anyone else who thinks it’s a good idea to run for public office. Because as we’ve seen this past year, politics has changed. Even the politics of four years ago when it was Shari vs. Dave, the landscape has changed. And these changes have left many in politics and the media scratching their heads. And while many will roll their eyes or scrunch their nose at the mention of Rob Ford, heed these words: there are some things Rob Ford can teach us, and for those willing to listen, you might just win because of it.
As the civic election season gets underway, I present the five things Rob Ford can teach those running for office this fall:
Get out in front of a bad story
If something is bad, own it. Get out in front of a camera or microphone and explain yourself the best you can. It may fall flat. You may be embarrassed. You may look like a tool, but voters respect someone who admits they "messed up" and will move on quicker than someone who stays silent during crisis, or worse lies about it. When the news about Rob Ford and his alleged drug use broke, he needed to get to the media right then and there and not weeks and months later. Even locally we’ve seen mis-steps and gaffs and goofs, that should have been nipped quickly. Say something you shouldn’t have? Apologize and explain. Didn’t pay your taxes? Apologize and explain. But all this has to be done quick and done publicly. This way you take control and make the whole incident "old news" for those coming late to the party.
Learn to use social media; the real media is not your friend
Traditional media is not interested in your accomplishments or your dreams for the future. They want to be there to take the picture when you fumble the football. You get to introduce yourself, but then they want controversy, conflict and drama. And I should change the "they" to "we." After all, I’m part of the media too. Here’s the deal: if you and I created a TV show where 10 people gathered every week to sing folk songs by camp fire, nobody would watch it. I’m sorry, but an ambulance and six cop cars at the end of my street gets more gawkers than little Johnny selling lemonade so he can get an operation for his dog. It’s just the cold hard truth, and media outlets know this. That’s why social media engagement is so critical. Yes, you will have people that challenge you. Yes, there will be people who criticise your platform and yes, some are even rude. But it’s no different than in real life. You simply do the best you can and face it head on. And if you don’t feel you’re great at social media, get someone on your team who is. (Locally, Larry Maguire’s team are doing textbook SM right now, whoever is doing it. Drew Caldwell needs help with his.)
Remember who you work for
Rob Ford returns every phone call he gets, although some media outlets like to report that a handful of voters fall through the cracks and the "every phone call returned" program is exaggerated. So what if he returns 95 per cent of his calls? As long as politicians strive for 100 per cent and get close to that number, isn’t that why we voted for them? And its not only access by phone. Politicians should be aware that correspondence by email and social media is the new way things are being done. It is important you show respect and respond to as many people you represent as possible. Being on "social media" then not being social with your constituency is not acceptable. In fact it’s elitist.
You can misbehave in public, but not with public funds
The goal is to not misbehave at all, but the conservatives nearly lost the Brandon federal by-election last year in part because of the spending scandal in Ottawa. (Among other topics on voter’s minds at the time.) The thought of "self-entitled waste" at the federal level had people mad, really mad. And they should be. Alberta’s Premiere had to resign because of it. Why is that once elected, so many politicians (at every level) feel it’s their duty to scoop money out of the government purse and have a party? You are not movie stars. You are not celebrities. You are public employees. And you work for us. In Ottawa, some Senators may go to jail because of the "rock star" entitled behaviour. My thought is anyone misspending public funds should be investigated by police at any level. In fact, I call out right here right now that anyone running for anything in this province from this day forward, post all spending for anything and everything online. It’s MY money, paid for by MY taxes. Want to see how much toilet paper was spent at city hall? Go online. How much were sandwiches at the last meeting? Go online. This is MY money. OUR money. Bought gum with my money? I want to see it. All finances should be made public and transparent.
It’s all about taxes stupid
As Rick Mercer said at the start of my column; like him, hate him, or embarrassed by him, Rob Ford could win again. And quite frankly that is amazing. Or is it? Voters are desperate. We desperately want someone to keep an eye on the balance sheet. Allow me to put this way: Your financial advisor gets money from you each month. He doesn’t tuck in his pants, and his tie is always loose. You go to see him at his office on Saturdays and he smells a bit of booze. Others tell you his house looks like it’s not well kept and he’s always shooting his mouth off. But you’ve just got your RRSP statement in the mail. And for the fourth year in a row, he’s getting you 22 per cent return on your investments, because above all else, he’s got YOUR money on HIS MIND. Personally, things could be falling apart, but the guy is a financial whiz and your buddies are lucky to be getting five per cent. And while some might say "I wouldn’t want a guy like that handling my money", I’ll tell you what: most of us would LOVE to have him handle our money. But remember, one person needs to lead them team around the table to make this happen. Mayor is not King or Queen of a city. (For the record, "your worship" should be tossed. It should be Mr. or Ms. Mayor.) Regardless, it is all around the table who are responsible for keeping finances in line.
At the end of the day, you have a budget for your home, your car, your power, your gas, your food, etc. Prices of things go up. It’s a fact of life. Some things go down, but that is not realistic.
Increase is something we all must prepare for. But gas jumping from 1.19 to 1.50 a litre prompts strong reaction, and if gas stations were politicians, they would never see the light of day.
Rob Ford has kept tax increases in Toronto at roughly two per cent or less each budget he’s been in office. You have a budget for your home, and our elected officials have a budget for the city, the province and our country. If you balance your books, why can’t they?
Sure you’d like everything your neighbour or co-worker has. Sure you’d like to go on vacation. Sometimes you can afford it and sometimes you can’t. Its time we get real. Its time to look at treating taxpayer money with some respect.
Is Rob Ford a buffoon? Sure.
Man-child? I would think so.
Does Rob Ford have demons and issues? It sure looks like it.
But will he be elected again? Polls show it’s close. And after this circus side show, how will the ‘establishment’ react when he wins again?
And he probably will. Because he may not respect himself, but he sure as hell respects his voter’s tax dollars.
JOKE THIS WEEK
Two politicians on the campaign trail encounter each other near a roadside diner, and decide to have a cup of coffee. They shoot the breeze for a while, and then get up to leave. "You know why I'm going to be elected?" guy asks, pulling a wad of bills out of his pocket. "It's because of my generous personality. I always give the waitresses a big tip and ask them for their vote."
"That a fact," says the other, "I always ask them to vote for you too... but then I tip them a nickel."
Leah Bold Recknell
Derrick L Genaille