A voter’s dilemma: Ideas or candidate?

By Gene Balfour

Recently, I cast my votes for ward councillor and mayor of the City of Kawartha Lakes, and did so online for the first time.

This is my first municipal election in Kawartha Lakes because I moved here in July, 2016 after the last election. Before voting, I faced a conundrum as to how I would vote. Ideally, I would prefer to vote for a person who I assessed to be the best candidate with the best ideas, but they don’t always come in the same package. My dilemma, then, was whether to ‘vote candidate’ or ‘vote ideas.’ I did both.

In the case of ward councillor, I voted for the man about whom I know the most since I have had personal and successful dealings with him in the past. However, his ideas concerning the role of government are not aligned with my own; there is another candidate who stands for ideas that are more consistent with my own.

In the case of my mayor vote, I chose the ideas of a man who presented a vision of the local government that I prefer even though he has little chance of winning the election.

Why did I vote ‘ideas over candidate’ for mayor? I have run as a political candidate in six elections (five provincial, one federal). As a Libertarian candidate, I have never held any illusions about winning my riding. My sole purpose was to be the ‘proxy vote’ for any and all voters who desire what I desire and for which I stand — less government at all levels, lower taxes, and limits of the range and number of responsibilities that governments assign themselves via legislation and the massive budgets required to enforce hundreds of thousands of regulations.

With the steady growth of governments over the last several decades, it is clear than none of the politicians who were ever elected to public office had any serious intention to restrict the excessive scope and authority of our governments.

I know from experience that there is a portion of our voting population who want what I want. Theses citizens, however, have never been offered this electoral choice unless a Libertarian candidate was available on their provincial or federal ballot, or an advocate for direct democracy was present on their municipal ballot.

Their votes for these options can only be counted as stated preferences if the choice exists; if not, then their preferences will remain invisible and not eligible for legislative attention. Not very democratic, eh?

Ideas are important and our ‘democracy’ is based on them. Also important are the people who possess the skills and mandate to implement ideas in the enormously complex maze of rules and relationships that they must skillfully and knowledgeably navigate at City Hall, Queens Park or on Parliament Hill.

For me, I generally choose ‘ideas over candidates’ for top leadership positions because most candidates don’t offer what I want and I am not prepared to compromise my principles. This means that I cannot support a candidate for any leadership role — such as a mayor — who may be qualified and capable but who has publicly stated an intention to focus on mandates that I oppose. In effect, I will not vote against myself by voting for someone who promises more government programs and partisan spending initiatives rather than to reduce the size, scope, or cost of a public administration which would better serve the public by doing a few things very well rather than too many things poorly.

Why did I ‘vote candidate over ideas’ at the councillor level? I chose ‘candidate over ideas’ because I view the job of ward councillor as a front line position taken on by someone who will be generally accessible to me so that I can personally solicit his or her support for matters that are important to me and my loved ones. There does not appear to be any advantage to a councillor who holds partisan, political views in order to serve constituents effectively.

Since I have confidence in presenting my own ideas, I am comfortable to reach out to a councillor — especially one who truly sees the role of councillor as being the voice of individual constituents at City Council — to seek support.

We are told often that voting is our right and not to be squandered or considered lightly. I don’t always agree with this. There are too many people who possess no interest or confidence in politics and, as such, may vote merely on superficial factors. For many, voting is treated as a popularity contest rather than as a legitimate job interview by a committee of our fellow citizens who have pressing and diverse needs and interests.

While Winston Churchill once said, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter,” we ‘Internet-age’ citizens have no excuse to be ill-informed concerning matters that affect everyone.

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