After two terms as mayor for the Town of Golden and two terms as a councillor, former politician Christina Benty came to Invermere to share what she learned about municipal politics, what aspiring candidates need to consider and how voters can best evaluate their slate of candidates.
Ms. Benty was the guest speaker at an Invermere Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday, April 26th. Her audience included business representatives, past and present politicians and at least one aspiring politician who intends to seek office in the fall election.
When Ms. Benty was first elected to council she said she had “no idea” of the range of services the town provided and the extent of the responsibilities required of her.
Ms. Benty’s advice for those seeking office is to attend council meetings, to become familiar with the responsibilities and to pay attention to the limitations of local government. A major challenge facing municipal governments is investing in aging assets like the community’s water, sewer and road systems.
She also said aspiring politicians need to be prepared to listen to people wherever they go.
“There’s no way of getting through a grocery store quickly,” she said.
Ms. Benty asked the audience to consider two types of candidates: one who is smooth and promises tax cuts versus one who is thoughtful, who forms opinions after researching and runs “on a platform of stewardship.”
The audience broke into groups to discuss the question and seemed to agree that the second candidate would be a better representative but that the first might have an easier time getting elected.
“This community tends to be known for grandstanding,” one audience member told the gathering.
“Don’t be fooled by somebody who gives you quick, slick answers,” Ms. Benty said. “You don’t want someone who has all the answers but someone who is curious and interested and wants to learn.”
Other unwanted traits include being unprepared, being impatient, holding to ideas instead of being open to new information, blaming others, trying to make everyone happy and only listening to those who share the same opinions, she said.
Making promises is another red flag to watch for because no single councillor or mayor has the authority to unilaterally set council’s direction, she said.
As the municipal elections approach, she recommends that voters ask their candidates good questions – like what research they have done, what their sources are, if they have attended council meetings, and what services they would cut if they want to lower taxes.
Electing “thoughtful, curious, engaged, well-researched” candidates is to everyone’s advantage, she said, explaining it is good for businesses, for residents, for the local economy and for visitors to have a well-run community, where the water keeps running, the toilets keep flushing and the roads stay maintained.