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Opinion, Dave Dale: Keeping my hat out of the council ring

Serving North Bay as one of the 10 councillors in the chamber 2022 to 2026 isn’t in the cards for me.
2019-09-20-north-bay-city-hall-crop-(campaigne)
North Bay City Hall and Council Chambers.

Last fall, I shared with readers that a political role was being contemplated over the winter and a decision would be revealed after my 57th birthday (which was yesterday, and thank you to those who extended best wishes).

My September 7, 2021 column described how a nasty ‘civic duty’ bug had infected me with fever dreams running for a North Bay council seat. It was my way of being transparent so the words woven into opinions between now and then could be weighed and measured more accurately, keeping such a potential pivot in mind.

Whenever journalists swung over to the dark(er) side of politics, I always wondered with cynical intentions how long it had impacted or shaped the way they conducted their business beforehand. It was important to me that I didn’t pull the same move when it came to such a thing.

Exploring the idea of becoming a city council candidate was an interesting exercise. It required introspection and research into various aspects of the commitment and role, or at least everything that I could imagine was involved. Does my skill set expand the capacity of the group and provide positive potential for the city? Will I be able to function within the legal constraints and existing policies? Do I have the personality traits suitable for public service in this modern era? Can I subsist on the remuneration and if not, does a councillor position and the attached constraints dovetail with other employment?

A great many conversations were had with politicians, former municipal staff and residents interested in the issues of today. Supporters of the idea indicated a willingness to assist such a campaign, and others warned me against it.

Many hours were spent poking around in the tea leaves, contemplating the pros and cons and likelihoods. And during this time of navel-gazing, federal and provincial elections came and went – which did little to encourage a move from outspoken observer and part-time political pundit to actual politician.

Not long into January, I was already telling close friends and associates I had stopped leaning toward running for a council seat. By spring, it seemed unlikely and I shared that publicly in a video, although I was intent on waiting until after the provincial ballots were counted so I had as much pertinent information as possible to inform my decision.

One of the key stumbling blocks is that I still want to pursue journalistic passions and story-telling initiatives, which would be hindered by becoming a city councillor. For starters, running for political office pretty well erases the objective veneer a journalist needs to report on governing bodies. Once you throw your hat in the ring, win or lose, you are marked as political and there is an erosion of future opportunities in the news field. It’s more of an issue if you are nominated to run for a political party provincially or federally, and a bit less if its apolitical municipal duty but there is no denying a drop in media capital.

Some would say my column-writing, which reveals and revels in the natural bias we all wrestle with as human beings, already negates my value as a news reporter. I would counter that notion by pointing to the many examples of where I managed to produce a fair and balanced story regardless of my subjective opinions. I’m confident, if ever required, I can still do that job – but it becomes much harder and near impossible once you seek voter support to win an election of any kind.

Another factor adding to my decision to not run was the potential for my other employment to generate numerous conflicts of interest as a councillor. One example is the Back in the Bay Magazine I publish through my Small Town Times Production business. It ranks high in my professional accomplishments and I want to continue it as a quarterly product. Unfortunately, the lion’s share of revenue to cover production expenses is through advertisements purchased by local businesses. I can only imagine the troubles that would arise because, as a journalist, I used to keep notes on which councillors did what business with who in case I could catch them in such a fix.

It would also be very awkward trying to sell ads, putting business owners and myself in an uncomfortable position, as well as put too much of taint on the story selection.

So, basically, running for North Bay city council was likely going to limit my employment opportunities whether I won a seat or not. And if I did win, the viability of continuing a publication that serves the city and its residents in a positive way, would be threatened – or lead to an inability for me to fully function as a councillor.

There’s also the question of being able to honour the confidentiality agreements that come with hefty penalties when broken, whether during the term or after when I’m writing tales tall and small down the road. And, these days with Integrity Commissioner contacts on speed dial, how long do you think it would take before one of my off-hand comments cause a costly and painful probe? It’s a sticky wicket, being an elected official these days – especially if keeping your tongue tied doesn’t come natural.

That’s a lot of ‘cons’ to consider when you’re not independently wealthy and need to work for many years to come – especially considering that council pay (about $27,000) is substantially less than average household earnings in the area. That’s not a bad sum if it were a part-time commitment and other avenues of employment could jive with it, yet that’s not the case. The time required to serve as a councillor these days is basically a full-time role if you’re actually doing the homework and attending the unlimited number of meetings. I even considered selling my hacienda and moving into the city until I saw the rates for renting went through the roof.

Obviously, the cost of living is going up substantially and even though it will be challenging to earn the equivalent of a councillor, in my case, I have to leave the door open if something more lucrative comes along. I’d have too much egg on my face if I resigned mid-term on council to pursue more lucrative options after being so critical of others.

It’s a different calculation if I was running for the mayor’s job, though. It pays a bit better and has a more appealing cost-benefit analysis outcome. Hmm.

I’m joking. North Bay couldn’t stomach yet another mayor who lives outside the city limits, that would make it three in a row.

But if nobody steps up to give Peter Chirico (former deputy mayor, federal Conservative candidate and current North Bay and District Chamber of Commerce president) a run for his money, count me in as a shadow candidate willing to debate him on his mayoral platform. That would be fun and worthwhile.

The bottom line: I consider myself less suited for politics than required to be a successful city councillor and I can contribute to the community more as a journalist, columnist and story teller. That's how I see it.

Dave Dale is a veteran journalist and columnist who has covered the North Bay area for more than 30 years. Reader responses meant as Letters to the Editor can be sent to editor@baytoday.ca. To contact the writer directly, email: davedale@backinthebay.ca or check out his website www.smalltowntimes.ca