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Politics is Hard Work
30/09/2003

I have been working for the Miller-for-Mayor campaign for a few days now, and have been involved in three events, including a volunteers' party.

One observation I've made -- one that really shouldn't have surprised me nearly as much as it did -- is that politicians work hard. Very, very hard.

I have seen David Miller working very hard at several events, and then rushing off to another one, and another one, etc. It's easy to imagine that he's only working when I see him, but from what he says and what others are saying, he seems to be working this way practically from the time he wakes up until he goes to sleep. Seven days a week. Since January.

Now, I do believe that I've selected the best candidate to work for. However, I'll give the others credit too, because I assume that they are also probably working similarly-intense schedules.

This all brings to mind a few questions... Should we be concerned that when it comes to charting the course for governance of our society, some people have dedicated themselves so completely, while most of the rest of us do little more than mark a ballot? What motivates these people to work so hard? Are they sufficiently rewarded? Should we, and can we, do anything to redistribute the load of participation, by getting people more involved? I'm sure the political scientists out there have lots of theories about these things.

My first take is that the motivation question seems to be key. Seeing a candidate put in a superhuman effort makes me wonder what could possibly make them dedicate themselves so thoroughly. A friend suggested that important politicians probably don't work any harder than significant CEOs. This may very well be true, but they don't get enoromous pay packages either.

Certainly there are intangible benefits -- for both the politicians and CEOs -- and they include the feelings of self-worth, contribution, and power. Leaders can also be driven by a vision of how things should be, or a distaste with how things are.

What about me? Well, after watching this campaign for a few days, it sure seems like it's not for me. I already feel "too busy". Being a political candidate or leader looks simply insane. But, what motivates me to do the little bit that I am doing? I thought about it for a while and came up with the following story...

I grew up in Windsor, and frequently visited Detroit -- both for work and play. There's no other way to describe it: Detroit is tragic. The old part of the city was once beautiful and home to nearly 2 million people. It is often said that Detroit looks like a war zone. In places this is actually the literal truth, such as the blocks of ruins in Brush Park. Detroit's population has been falling for years and is now approaching 900,000.

If it wasn't depressing enough driving around in a city that was once great, my experience in newer, suburban parts of Metro Detroit were just as miserable. All there seemed to be was 24-hour traffic on miles of highways from nowhere to nowhere. Maybe it's irrational, but I derive some happiness from a beautiful environment and a sense of community. Beyond sustainability considerations, I just simply enjoy being able to get things done in my life by walking around the neighbourhood.

Moving to Toronto, I was happy to discover a city that seemed to work. It's about lifestyle, and to explain it in detail would be too much here. The point is that the dramatic contrast between the two places makes it clear that there are choices... there is relevance in the decisions we make, because clearly not all outcomes are equivalent. This became all that more clear to me when the Harris government began making changes that I felt were moving us precisely in the wrong direction. I've been angry with them ever since the 1997 megacity amalgamation and downloading.

Anyway, we can make a difference. Get out and vote on Thursday. And, again on November 10 for the municipal elections in Ontario.


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