"What do you want?"
"Well, I was told outside that..."
"Don't give me that you snotty-faced heap of parrot droppings!"
"Shut your festering gob, you tit! Your type makes me puke! You vacuous, toffee-nosed, malodorous pervert!"
"What? I came here for an argument!"
"Oh! Oh, I'm sorry! This is Abuse..."
- Monty Python's "The Argument" sketch
As the campaign for Whistler Council heats up and citizens with various bold visions for Whistler's future come out of the woodwork, it's a sure bet that we're in for an argument. A debate would obviously be better, but reasoned arguments about municipal priorities will help to define our candidates and give informed voters (e.g. voters who care about more the one issue that affects them) something to mull over before they fill in their ballots on Oct. 20.
Unfortunately for anyone running, there's a good chance you'll take a wrong turn on the way to an argument and land up in abuse. Apparently when you work for a fractional amount of someone's tax dollars, people have effectively bought the right to berate and belittle you as much as they want on the public stage.
For a while now, people have been going way too far on social media and elsewhere when it comes to discussing our local issues, taking very personal pot shots at sitting councillors for making decisions they disagree with. Sometimes our more conspiracy-minded trolls will allege things that are completely untrue and unfair. You know who you are...
Fine, you might say, politics is a tough game—if you can't take a hit, then get off of the ice.
But is tough really what we're looking for? Do we really want nothing but mayors and councillors who have a combative "bring it on, asshole" mindset making all of our decisions? Wouldn't a few intelligent, sensitive people who want to give back without turning neighbours into lifelong enemies be good for our town?
The cratering of our political dialogue is undoubtedly having an effect on participation—especially among potential female candidates, who have been the most turned off by the negative language and anger surrounding politics.
In the 2014 municipal election, there were just two candidates for mayor and nine candidates for six council seats. Only four out of 11 names on the ballot were women. Believe or not, that's on the high side.
The previous election in 2011 was a bit of an anomaly when it came to participation, with locals energized/enraged by things like pay parking, Olympic spending and inconvenience, and years of consecutive property tax increases. That year, there were six mayoral candidates and 25 council candidates, but only four of all those who ran were women. In 2008, only one of the 18 candidates running for mayor or council was a woman—the lowest number going back to the 1980s.
The reality is that while we may have good candidates to choose from in 2018, a lot of potentially great candidates won't even step up because why would they?
Who needs a job where people go beyond simply disagreeing with you, and insult and criticize everything you do on a personal level? Where people say the worst things about you on social media and get away with it? Where you risk losing friends because you did your job and made a single difficult decision they disagree with? When council meetings themselves are about as fun and comfortable as an extended family Thanksgiving dinner during a federal election year?
It's not a bad thing to follow local politics and have your own strong opinions on council decisions, and to get involved in the debate—lordy knows I do it to an unhealthy degree. But I've also followed politics enough to know that the politicians I don't agree with aren't villains or part of some vast conspiracy against me. Anybody who steps up for public office is worthy of respect, even if you respectfully disagree at times.
Here's hoping for a clean campaign followed by four years of polite, productive bickering. And if you can't be polite you can you please do the next best thing and shut your festering gob.