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Running for office is terrible, but you should do it anyway

Being a news junkie who is outspoken on social media, I get asked all the time if I see a future for myself in elected politics.

Being a news junkie who is outspoken on social media, I get asked all the time if I see a future for myself in elected politics. My answer, invariably, is an emphatic no – an answer which often surprises the questioner. If you have so much to say, they ask, and opinions on just about everything, why not try to make a difference?

The answer is not only have I likely disqualified myself by opining in situations where skilled politicians would know to shut their trap, it is simply not a process I have any interest in. It may have some appeal to other people but to me the process of becoming an elected politician seems like tough business. You have to really prepare yourself for an emotional rollercoaster that is more likely to end in disappointment than in the halls of power.

First you have to get through the nomination process – which a number of Yukoners are doing now in the lead-up to this fall’s territorial election. While many candidates are acclaimed, sometimes two or more individuals vie for the opportunity to carry the party torch in a single riding.

And the sense of personal rejection one risks by seeking to get nominated can be even worse than losing in a general election. Losing a nomination means being passed over by your own political fellow travellers and, unlike in a general election, it is difficult to rationalize your defeat by noting that “this is a conservative riding” or “the party’s message just didn’t catch on.” At the nomination stage it is all about you. And while the time investment is generally much smaller than a full election campaign, and the actual results are sometimes kept secret by party organizers, losing a nomination smarts nonetheless.

Then, if you are lucky, you have to fight the general election and beat at least two other people to win your riding.

The factors that go into winning an election vary, of course. Sometimes winning the riding itself is relatively easy in so called “safe seats” (although it is questionable whether such a thing exists in the volatile electoral climate in the Yukon). But when a seat is safe, the party nomination is more likely to be an intense, even bitter, fight (see above).

But winning very often isn’t that easy. Winning elections isn’t just about knockout debate performances and intelligent policy. It’s about knocking on lots and lots of doors almost every night at the risk of irritating families sitting down for dinner or putting their kids to bed. It involves long hours of crunching data to identify your vote. And while some people obviously thrive on the process it is one that doesn’t have much appeal to me.

In the Yukon getting elected often means putting up some of your own money as well. Our ridings are small and so are the pools of donors who are willing to fund campaigns. Most candidates end up funding their own.

And then what if you win? If you are elected to federal office you’ll be travelling to distant Ottawa for weeks at a time away from family and friends. If you are elected to the Yukon legislature you may be faced with a pay cut, depending on what you did before taking office, if you don’t get a seat in cabinet or occupy an opposition leader’s chair. You may be among those unlucky few people who get passed over for cabinet while everyone else gets in.

And to top it all off, you get to deal with endless snark from us armchair critics who pop up once a week to tell you everything you’ve done wrong. Then you get to do it all over again in four or five years.

No thanks. Maybe it is just a matter of personal taste but elected politics has very little appeal to me. I suspect that most people who try their hand know that it is not all glamour and coronations. Those who don’t will quickly learn a hard lesson.

But we still need people who will do it. Democracy demands it. Without people who are willing to give it their all, risk personal embarrassment and, in some cases, be the human face of no-hope campaigns in unwinnable ridings, the system would collapse.

And now that I have spent several hundred words telling people why it is such an arduous and potentially humiliating process, my hat comes off to all of the people who put their names forward for public office anyway. You have far more courage and more conviction than I could ever dream of and, win or lose, you have done our community a great service and you ought to be proud. Kudos to you.

Kyle Carruthers is a born-and-raised Yukoner who lives and practises law in Whitehorse.