Eight people put their names forward for just one open seat in Campbell River city council chambers in the recent municipal byelection.
None of them had ever run for city council before.
What was it like? Would they do it again? After all, seven of them were unsuccessful in earning the spot, but there’s another election coming up in just 18 months where all seven of the seats at City Hall will be up for grabs.
Wes Roed, for one, will certainly be considering another run, although he admits being a bit jaded by some aspects of this one.
He quickly got over the fact that he didn’t win, he says, but there’s a lingering disappointment in the level of public engagement in the process. Less than 2,500 people cast a vote in the byelection, which is only 8.6 per cent of those eligible to do so.
“I have the time, the experience and the skill-set to give back, so I’d still like to do it. I still believe in service, and this community has been very good to me and my family over the years,” Roed says. “If I don’t, it won’t be because I’m disappointed with the outcome of this one personally, but I am disappointed with the outcome globally. Do I want to go through all that effort again for people to not even bother to go vote? I’ll have to think about it.”
Ken Blackburn feels the same way, calling the level of engagement he saw from the electorate when the numbers came in “disheartening.”
“We, as a community, need to talk about this,” Blackburn says. “It’s not healthy for community development to have such a low voter turnout. The answers to it are probably complex, so I’m going to suggest that we establish a community round table to look at what we can do about that in each of our sectors, whether social or environmental or business or from the city’s point of view.”
But can the community expect to see his name on the next ballot?
“It’s hard to predict life,” Blackburn says. “I mean, just look at this past year. But was it a positive experience? Was it worthwhile? Do I feel my time and effort was well invested? Absolutely yes. It’s a privilege to be able to talk directly to a community, and an election is one of the few times you ever get to do that.”
It’s not the last time we’ll see the name Steven Jewell on a ballot, either.
Jewell received only 14 votes in the by-election, but says he “thoroughly enjoyed it,” and will definitely be throwing his metaphorical hat back in the ring in 2022.
“When I saw how many people put their name forward for just the one seat, I knew there was a very small chance of me getting in,” Jewell says. “But it didn’t matter. It was about standing up and having a go. It’ll be nice next time because hopefully by then we’ll be able to go around the neighbourhood and knock on doors and all that. This time, obviously, we couldn’t do that because of COVID.”
Kealy Donaldson has made it clear she plans to be on the next ballot, as well, while also lamenting the lack of voter turnout, as does Laurel Sliskovic, the only other woman on the ballot in the by-election.
Sliskovic, however, says it’s too early to say for certain if she’ll run again, but she still thinks she would be a positive addition to council and would very much like another opportunity to represent the community in that way.
She also admits, however, that it’s a difficult decision for younger people like her to try to hold down a full-time career and fill a role on council at the same time.
“I think that might be why more younger people don’t run for council,” she says. “It’s not enough of a salary to make it a full-time job, but everything we’re told about it is that it’s basically a full-time job. But I’m going to continue to be my engaged self and we’ll see where things are at in a year’s time. I’m hoping that I’ll be in a position where I can run again, but it’s not an easy answer.”
She also agrees with Blackburn that something needs to be done to increase the political engagement of the community.
“Based on what I was hearing throughout the campaign, there’s a huge disconnect between what’s happening at City Hall and what’s happening with a lot of residents of this community,” she says. “The voter turnout certainly reflects that, for whatever the reasons, people aren’t engaged with what’s happening at city council, and we need that to change. People need to be connected in that way to where they live, and the fact that they’re not is super disappointing.”
Even Sean Smyth, who won the seat in the by-election, says he was disappointed in the level of engagement he felt from the community while going about his campaign.
“I talked to a lot of very bright, well-connected people out there who are just like, ‘ugh, government,’” Smyth says. “There’s a growing disenchantment happening, and I think that’s something that all levels of government need to address. Hopefully we can do that at least at the municipal level.”
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