What you need to know if you want to run for your local council

·4 min read
Allison Habkirk served a term as the mayor of Central Saanich and two terms as a councillor. (Submitted/ Allison Habkirk - image credit)
Allison Habkirk served a term as the mayor of Central Saanich and two terms as a councillor. (Submitted/ Allison Habkirk - image credit)

Allison Habkirk thought she knew what she was getting into when she decided to run for council in the District of Central Saanich.

She had worked as a town planner and said she had a good working knowledge of the processes in the municipal workplace. But when she started work on the other side of the council chambers after being elected, she was struck by how difficult it was.

"It looks easy: We sit around a table and we make decisions," she said.

"But actually, there's a lot of hard work, a lot of thinking, a lot of time spent talking to people, talking to the citizens, your constituents, wrestling with the different opinions around the table."

Habkirk served two terms as a councillor and one term as mayor before she was voted out in the 2005 municipal election.

Curtis Hicks/CBC
Curtis Hicks/CBC

Since leaving local politics, she has been leading workshops for municipalities and residents from across B.C to help them better understand the requirements of a job on council.

While October's municipal elections — and the Sept. 9 deadline to submit nominations — are still months away, a number of veteran municipal leaders, including Mayor Ken Christian of Kamloops, have already said they won't be running again, prompting others in the community to consider stepping up.

With that in mind, the Kamloops and District Chamber of Commerce invited Habkirk to town to provide some advice for people considering a run.

Habkirk also spoke to Daybreak Kamloops host Shelley Joyce about what it takes to make a successful and effective member of council.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

What was it that made you want to do the job in the first place?

It was just really this notion that I lived in this wonderful community I really had come to care about, and that I thought I could contribute, that I could make a difference.

I had something to give and I think that's the motivation of most elected officials. So, I think most local government elected officials in British Columbia really come to the job with high aspirations and really just a spirit of generosity and wanting to contribute or to give back as people.

What kind of things do people need to know before they put their names forward?

They ought to know that it is a tough job and it will take a lot of time and a lot of energy and a lot of soul-searching ... you need to remind yourself all the time that you're not the decision-maker, you're one of a group of decision-makers, and that all decisions and all authorities of local governments are exercised through collective decision-making.

That's after you've run an independent campaign telling everybody you're the best person for the job. You have to transition from that to working with a group of people so you need to have good listening skills. You need to have good critical-thinking skills. You need to be able to process a lot of information quickly — take a look at your agenda of your local community and you'll see it's hundreds of pages, sometimes thousands of pages.

Is it realistic to work a separate job at the same time?

I think you have to. Most local governments in B.C. really pay what I call an honorarium. You can't survive on that.

What kind of financial commitment is required to run?

Typically, you need to pay for your campaign. We don't have political parties at the local level in B.C., with a couple of exceptions, so it's about gathering your friends and your supporters together, raising some money, putting in some of your own money, and paying for the campaign, which is not tax deductible. It's coming out of your pocket.

Small-town mayors and councillors were thrust into the national spotlight, and even onto the world stage, because of climate disasters. How much do you think people running for office need to prepare for that?

I think up until a decade ago, they'd never have thought about it. It's such a rare occasion that you'd have to deal with an emergency of that magnitude ... but really, across the province, you have to really ask yourself if you're up for that job. The municipal councils and regional boards have a really, really important role to play in emergency management as the leaders of their community, as the communicators in their community. It just has to be part of the job now. You need to be prepared for it.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting