You may have noticed a change in the air this spring. As the snow has slowly melted and the draining waters have ebbed from our curbs and gutters, the air feels different. It's stiff, with a rancid, unseemly nose. The air cuts and burns as you wade through your day, and things this spring feel... fetid.
This is a rare air for Red Deer. The mountains to the west usually waft in the freshness of new growth as the wind rolls across the foothills and into our midst. The northern winds on the other hand, make things crisp and bright; cleaning our senses.
So why this year? Why has the freshness of spring and the crispness of the north foresaken us this year? Why has the air turned rank with the odious renderings of the contents from a thousand stagnant sewers?
Why, it's an election year of course. This is the time when metaphorical bright lights are shot out with BB gun-wielding thugs, bent on creating fear, sewing disdain, and championing false revolution. This is the time when the fringes of the population temporarily lose their minds - or perhaps they lost their minds long ago and simply choose this occasion to reveal that fact. Regardless, we have reached that tri-annual orgy of name-calling, hand-wringing, and the general demonstration of a lack of understanding of how work gets done in a municipality.
This year, I'm pleading with my fellow citizens to elevate the political discourse from the muck and mire that a new set of voices have dragged it down to. You see, the Gang of Eight is so bent on telling you what's wrong - as they perceive it - that they've neglected to tell you what they'll do right. They're so bent on wailing about bike lanes and their perception of what it means for a government to be "accountable" that they have forgotten to show what their vision of a future looks like.
I expect big things from my Council. I expect them to be articulate, intelligent, and honest. I expect them to have ideas for our future. I expect them to be big thinkers and to be the progenitors of concept-level ideas. I expect them to get work done, without stooping to the level of micro-managing the City bureaucracy. Mostly I expect them to be involved, and to have come from a background of civic engagement and involvement.
So, to that end here is my plea to my fellow citizens. Please ignore the fear-mongering, the blame casting, and any party who is dividing issues into black/white, good vs bad sides. Ignore anybody who is incapable of having a nuanced, balanced, and dare I say reasoned conversation. Ignore anybody who cannot demonstrate an understanding of what the role of Council is, as defined by the Municipal Government Act.
Instead please ask these two questions of every candidate for council. Ask the questions at election forums, in letters to the editors, in posts to their Facebook timelines, and on their Twitter feeds. The questions are as follows (one of them I asked last week, on Facebook):
1. Tell me your vision for our community. I don't want to hear negativity or blame-casting. I want to know how you picture Red Deer in the future. What will we become? How will the Nation see us? How will we as a community contribute to each others' well-being.
I want to see what happens when you let your imagination run wild. Be bold.
2. Show me what you have done for our community. How have you contributed to Red Deer being a better place? What are your volunteer commitments? What civic committees have you sat on or contributed to? What service organizations do you belong to?
Any good candidate for Council will be able to give eloquent, complete, and concise answers to these questions. They will be able to demonstrate a past track record of direct-action work, aimed at making things better for the community at large; especially for those most in need.
If we all ask these questions. If we all listen to the answers. If we all steer away from rhetoric, blame, polarization, and easy answers, then we can truly make progress.