The Devil You Know and the Status Quo (or Whoops I Did It Again!)

I ran for municipal council in our recent election … and just so I don’t keep you perched on the edge of your seat, I’ll just put it out there … I lost.

And that’s okay. I’m down with that. The great news is that 3 out of the 5 councilors elected in my township are female, and that’s a great step forward. In Ontario all of our municipal elections occur every 4 years, so just so you know what kind of celebrity this entails, this was the same election in which Rob Ford, sorry, I mean Rob Ford’s brother Doug, did not get elected as mayor of Toronto.

Once I had submitted my nomination papers I began to realize the limitations of municipal council. I lost some of my motivation to win.

I had decided up front, as I did when I ran for the Green Party in the last provincial election, that I wasn’t going to use lawn signs. We have an enormous riding and I’d have to spend a fortune on them to make any difference. And my attitude is that if you’re just going to vote for me because I have the ‘most’ or ‘biggest’ signs, well then I really don’t want to participate in that kind of democracy. The great news is that my friend John Wise, the organic farmer that grows the organic strawberries for our CSA, got re-elected, and he didn’t use signs either. John also got the most votes, which is even better news. So much for the sign theory.

I decided to use the ‘Anita Roddick’ school of promotion as the basis for my election campaign. Anita started the retail store “The Body Shop” when she was a single mom as a way to earn a living. As it grew she never advertised, and yet it became massively success worldwide. She tended to source natural ingredients for her personal care products, and when she found a sustainable source of say, cocoa butter in some remote village, she would promote this with local media and would inevitably get promotion for her store without having to purchase advertising. I met her many decades ago when she did a book tour and she was very much an inspiration for me.

So I decided that I had a certain profile in our community based on activities I’ve organized such as a number of Green Energy Fairs, along with the writing I do in the local paper as well as my Green Party campaign last spring. I might have printed a campaign brochure and put it in mailboxes but after the first All Candidates Meeting I realized two things. First that I would be only one of 7 votes on council and I would have to create consensus for anything I wanted to accomplish. I’m sure you’ve got a sense that someone who lives off the grid, homeschooled his kids, eats a plant-based diet, etc. etc. etc, I don’t always play well with the other kids in the sandbox, so this may have proven problematic for me.

Secondly, township councils have to work within heavy guidelines or constraints mandated by the provincial government. So it seemed challenging to want to move forward with an agenda that may be outside of council’s mandated responsibility.

If you’ve read my book “Thriving During Challenging Times” or followed this blog for long, you have probably realized that I believe that we are all, including our governments, in the midst of a period of abrupt change which will require outside-of-the-box thinking. Our weather is getting much more extreme, we have run out of easy to find oil and what’s left requires a whack of energy to get it out, and most of our governments are heavily in debt if not bankrupt, thereby limiting their ability to deal with these crises.

Last spring our township had the worst flooding anyone remembers. This requires a rethink of how we run our local government. Our township has an enormous number of roads to maintain, and a relativity small population to support them. I love living in a sparsely populated area, but it hurts our ability to raise taxes to maintain those roads. About half of all taxes in our township goes to roads. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on just diesel fuel alone so we have to rethink how much we can afford to put into our roads.

I made this central to my campaign platform – that we had to start reducing how much money went to roads. I suggested we start by rolling it back 5% in the first year. This would send a signal to staff and taxpayers that the days of constant tax increases to pay for increased services were going to end. I’m just not sure people wanted to hear this. This certainly was the case in our last provincial election. The Liberals, who have ruled for 10 years, have run up an almost $300 billion deficit. The Conservatives said that to bring spending in line with revenue, they would reduce the civil service by 100,000 people, which had grown by 300,000 in the last decade under the Liberals.

Voters gave the Liberals a majority. Apparently we either like the status quo or all the services the government provides. In Ontario, the government will provide $12 billion more in services than it will generate in revenue. This doesn’t seem to faze anyone. I guess when you look at the fact that Canadians are up to their eyeballs in debt, like Americans were in 2007 before the collapse, it’s understandable we don’t mind our governments behaving the same way. Or maybe that’s why we’re so comfortable with that debt because our role model is doing it.

At the All Candidates Meeting I discussed how severe weather as a result of climate change required action on our part and that peak oil with the number of road miles we have to maintain required action. I just don’t think voters want to hear this. They want shiny happy stories, and I’m afraid I won’t tell those stories.

I also made a commitment to get our fire stations provided with proper backup power generators. Right now in my town if there is a power outage, which often occurs during severe weather like ice storms, basically the only way the fire station can keep the lights on is if our volunteer firefighters bring in their own generators. That’s pathetic. And sure, rural people should have their own independent power systems. But some people can’t afford them. And sometimes, older residents don’t have them or have family they can rely on to help them out. So I believe our community should have one place where people in distress can go to get warm and seek refuge from the elements. And so off I go to figure out where to find money for a big ‘ole generator for our fire station.

I learned an enormous amount about municipal government running for office. I learned a lot about provincial government running in our last provincial government. Now all that’s left to learn a lot about is federal politics …

4 Responses to “The Devil You Know and the Status Quo (or Whoops I Did It Again!)”

  • Gerrit:

    Good on you Cam. You’d have our vote! Best wishes.

  • I know you have given your address in the past so I could send a donation and I need to ask for it again. Thanks. Your friend in Alaska.

  • Robert Haskett:

    Cam and Michelle,

    I applaud your commitment to the cause, that being, of course, the survival of human civilization. Not only have you chosen to embrace a sustainable lifestyle for yourselves, thus setting an example for us all, but also you do your best to inform the rest of us about the consequences of climate change, the end of cheap energy, and the looming debt crisis, among others, despite the fact that most of us do not want to hear about these things.

    I expect that by the time today’s children reach middle age (say, 40 years from now), the fossil fuel era will be, essentially, history, and if insufficient renewable energy has come online by then, they/we will be living in a civilization in serious decline, and quite possibly chaos.

    Keep up the efforts to inform the unaware majority of what we are facing and the transformation required. Although it is difficult to be elected with a platform, however much it is based on reality, that contradicts what most of us want to believe, just running for elected office is an opportunity to enlighten more people, especially one’s neighbours. Despite the gloom that I sometimes feel – especially when I see which candidates and political parties so many people cast their votes for (I live in Toronto) – I remain optimistic.

    As you know, the first stage of denial can last a long time, but eventually the reality of our predicament will be more widely understood, and then we can hope that an unprecedented age of co-operation and commitment to conservation, sustainability, and the environment will ensue – hopefully in time to salvage the best of our current civilization.


    Robert Haskett

    PS Although I do not have your energy to become politically active, I am pleased that the transformation of our rather ordinary Toronto house into a net zero energy home is almost complete.

  • Good for you Cam! I decided to do my civic duty and vote, and as I started out by knowing nothing about any of the candidates, I made my choice logically:
    – I wasn’t swayed by how many lawn signs they put up or how many leaflets they delivered: I just went by their profiles and platforms published on the city website
    – I eliminated anyone who talked about “growth”
    – I eliminated anyone whose platform consisted of nothing but slogans and had no substantive policies
    That actually got rid of about 90% of them, and I was left with only five candidates I could vote for. Four of them lost; one got elected.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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