A challenge to the new council

By Dorothy Dobbie

The civic election brought big changes to the city of Winnipeg. Judging by the overwhelming majority given to Brian Bowman, I think it is safe to say that we are all looking forward to fresh ideas and new approaches.
Right now, the big challenge is the learning curve. With a brand new mayor and seven new councillors, there is a lot of learning to do. Many are busy getting advice from friends who have been there before. Listen to what they have to say and use some of it as a lesson for what not to do.
It will come as a surprise to some to learn that there is no job description in politics. You pretty much have to set your own agenda and decide on your own priorities, keeping in mind that, yes, you are there to represent your ward, but you have to do this while keeping the good of the whole city in mind.
This is no easy task and in old-style politics, it wasn’t necessarily considered a prerequisite. You voted with your ward, pacified the “ward bosses,” and kept funders closely in mind. (Nor were some of those funders shy about making their needs known, according to stories I have been told by former councillors.)
Hopefully, things have changed, but even so, the temptation to listen to the squeaky wheel will be great and can soon overcome objective planning and strategizing. You get lost among the trees and lose a sense of the forest.
As a former politician (even though it was only Ottawa), here are some thoughts that might help.
Learn to compartmentalize. Put your ward duties in one pile, and your greater civic duties in another. Answer calls, but set aside private time for you and your family.
Ask, ask, ask. Make sure you understand the answers. It’s not that civil servants want to deceive you, but they have the benefit of corporate memory and have been dealing with issues for a long time, so they may not give complete answers unless you probe harder. You have important policy decisions to make and you can’t do this responsibly without getting the full story.
Listen, listen, listen. Listen to your constituents, to the civil servants, to your colleagues, and finally, to your own heart. If you are really paying attention, you will see patterns that others miss and you will be better able to handle the big issues with equanimity.
Step back to see the big picture. Get a big picture in your mind so that you can determine how the specifics of your committee work or other initiatives fit into the puzzle.
Think before you speak. The media is looking for the pithy quote and will often try to goad you into saying something ill-advised because you are ill-informed. Don’t. We have seen more than one new councillor fall into this trap and never crawl out of it.
For the returning councillors, take this influx of new blood as an opportunity to find new approaches. Even if you tried something before and it didn’t work, maybe another angle will change that. You can learn as much from your new colleagues as they can from you.
This is an exciting time for all councillors and for us citizens. As a team, you can do great things for our city and for all of us. We are counting on each of you to take this mandate seriously – to step up to the plate and make good things happen.

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