Idea-shy mayor’s race: playing for time, or putting us to sleep?

In lieu of fresh thinking, will candidates rely on the old stand-by?

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It’s true that elections are no time to debate policy – between the hot button-pressing and the sound bite speaking, no one seems to want to do any actual big-T Thinking. But municipal elections are slightly different than their provincial or federal counterparts. Candidates can register as early as ten months before election day, so they can start spending money and get their message out to prospective voters.

With six months to go, it’s still early, so it’s not too surprising we haven’t seen much from the front-running mayoral candidates about their vision for Ottawa. But perhaps it’s time they started throwing out some ideas. Six months is long enough to get people talking. By the time September rolls around, schedules become packed, the media starts paying more attention, and candidates have less control over the debate. So why not get ahead of the game and set the agenda while you still can?

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of action on the policy front. Or even the dialogue front – social media does offer opportunities to engage the public in dialogue. So far tweets about attending community events and canvassing in various neighbourhoods abound (if indeed candidates are on Twitter at all), but little else. Hardly a dialogue. Not a very engaging monologue, either.

I’m not suggesting mayoral candidates crowdsource their election platforms (although that would be an interesting exercise). But if Jim Watson (for example) intends to “outline a thoughtful and affordable plan to help restore the city’s sense of purpose and stature…. a collection of ideas and plans generated not by one person, but by a community” (http://www.jimwatson.ca/issues-en), wouldn’t it make sense to use the tools available to him to make his process a little more transparent?

Platform development isn’t easy. You need to find the right balance of issues, differentiate yourself from other candidates, appeal to a diverse voter base, keep it simple and snappy enough to be remembered and robust enough to get past the wonky folks like me. Add to that a collection of supporters and a campaign team with different interests (and likely a hobby horse or two). It takes time. I get that.

But in the meantime, why not strike up a conversation? Throw out some ideas? Because being Mayor is not just about listening and gathering ideas. It’s also about leadership, and leadership means not being afraid to offering an idea of your own from time to time.

UPDATE: Jim Watson launched his campaign yesterday. Although his website doesn’t indicate it, the Ottawa Sun reports that his speech gaves a glimpse into Watson’s platform priorities: “Among his key campaign planks will be economic development, ending homelessness, dealing with urban sprawl and creating a greener nation’s capital.

He also spoke about rolling out the red carpet in Ottawa in 2017, when Canada turns 150, vying for events like the Grey Cup, the Junos and the NHL’s outdoor Winter Classic.”

The Sun’s Sue Sherring also reported that Alex Cullen plans to relaunch his campaign next month.

So, we have some clues. Now to add some substance.

photo by Nick Farnhill