No, experience isn't a dirty word


(Brockville council candidate Phil Deery speaks at the podium while other candidates listen during the first Brockville all-candidates meeting at the Brockville Arts Centre this week.)


Any all-candidates meeting worth the time will leave its share of loose strings: ideas and topics on which one cannot pull for lack of time or space.

One such string I will not leave unpulled.

In his opening remarks in the council candidates portion of Monday's meeting, Councillor Jason Baker proudly stated he is running on his record.

He then added the following: “It puzzles me that experience is being treated as a negative in this campaign.”

The first ten lines of all council candidates' brochures will likely say much the same things, said Baker, referring to the usual promises about job creation, community building, effective budgeting and the like.

What matters more, Baker stressed, are the next ten lines: the ones outlining the candidate's qualifications.

Experience is not the only qualification, but it does count for a lot.

It didn't take long for critics online to take aim at Baker for these remarks, while other council candidates – of the newcomer variety – used them as a convenient foil while reiterating their slogans about change.

I do not wish to endorse any specific candidate in this space.

I have no reticence, however, in agreeing with Baker's general point about experience.

The old, familiar throw-the-bums-out reaction to our city's current ills has great cathartic value. It's also a useful form of protest.

If put wholly into practice, however, it would have the entirely opposite effect to the one desired.

Interviews with candidates who have never before sat on council all eventually end up at the same stop sign: the place where the candidate admits he or she does not have the answer, and will not have the answer until voters put him or her in a position to crack open the books.

There's nothing wrong with admitting this. Not admitting it would cause distrust.

That's because the job of municipal councillor, even in a relatively small municipality like Brockville, is a complicated one.

New councillors need a planning director to explain what a provincial policy statement is, and how it might affect the next condo application.

They need operations directors to explain why the pipes under one street need to be replaced before any others, and to outline why one project is likelier to get grant money than another.

They need water systems administrators to explain to them what a SCADA is and wastewater systems administrators to explain what secondary treatment is.

Perhaps most importantly, they need finance people to explain what can and cannot be done in municipal budgeting.

If we were to, so to speak, throw the bums out and stack the council with nine newcomers, we would end up with a collection of sincere and multi-talented folks who, for the first year at least, would be governed almost entirely by city staff.

I don't doubt these folks would be quick learners, but do we want them all to be learning at the same time, even quickly, with decisions like the OPP costing just around the corner?

Instead, the ideal outcome of any given election is a mix of experienced and rookie politicians.

The seasoned veterans are there to continue navigating the complicated waters of municipal governance, while the newcomers are there to suggest that, while the former might know better how to drive the ship, they might want to think about changing directions.

Knee-jerk reactions by voters rarely yield the best results, which is why, before deciding which politicians to throw out, it is important to read past the first ten lines.