A high-ranking municipal official and politician says he is concerned there could be a low number of candidates running in the upcoming elections in Manitoba, because many have been scared away from the idea of public life and service after what they have seen and heard over the last two years.
“We hear more and more people saying, ‘you can’t pay me enough to do that job, or ‘there is no way I want to stick my neck out and expose myself and my family to that, and all that comes along with it,” Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) president Kam Blight said on Wednesday.
“And that’s definitely concerning.”
The deadline to submit a candidacy for the upcoming municipal elections in Manitoba is Tuesday, and although a full list of candidates for mayor, councillor, and school trustee positions won't be available until after that deadline, Blight says he has heard enough to have him and others concerned that candidate numbers could be low when voters go to the polls on Oct. 26.
“We won’t know until the deadline what the numbers are going to be, but just from what we are hearing, there is reluctance for people to put their names forward,” he said.
According to Blight he has seen in his position with AMM and also as the Reeve of the RM of Portage la Prairie, how the last two-and-a-half years of the COVID-19 pandemic and COVID restrictions and lockdowns “amplified” anger and division in many communities, and subjected municipal officials to increasing anger and hostility.
“Emotions have been elevated since COVID-19 hit, and they continue to run high for some, and some have been at a breaking point because their livelihoods were affected,” he said.
“But it’s something we had to deal with well before COVID. We are the government closest to the people, and people know who we are, and where we live, and how to contact us.”
He said the job can also be challenging because municipal politicians are more visible than provincial and federal ones, so they are sometimes left dealing with complaints about things they have no control over.
“Anytime decisions come down from the provincial or federal governments people come to us first,” Blight said.
“But I also understand that is part of the job, because sometimes people just want to express those frustrations and they just want to be heard, and want their concerns to be taken seriously by the powers that be.”
Has has also watched in his time in municipal politics how social media has made it easier for people to level personal attacks against politicians and public servants.
“Social media changed everything,” Blight said. “Anyone can sound off on an individual without thinking about the effects this has on the individuals themselves and on their families and their children, and if people feel the need to type these things than go ahead, but think twice before you hit that send button.
“Take a step back and put yourselves in their shoes.”
Despite many of those challenges Blight, who has been Reeve of Portage la Prairie since 2010, will run for reelection on Oct. 26, seeking a fourth consecutive term.
Blight, who stressed he was speaking to the Winnipeg Sun in his capacity as AMM president and not as a candidate, said that for him and for many the positives of public service still outweigh the negatives.
“You can offer a lot of positive change for your community, and that is really rewarding because decisions we make at this level affect everyone’s daily lives,” Blight said.
“It’s rewarding because decisions made at this level matter.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun