Following municipal elections across the country, Counsel’s Johanna Chevalier, a former two-term Councillor for the Town of Caledon and Region of Peel, pens a congratulatory letter to newly-elected municipal Councillors… and includes a few tips from the trenches.

Dear newly-elected municipal Councillors,

Congratulations on your election victory. You’ve done what so many yearn to do, which is to make a difference in the communities you call home. While most of those who consider public service choose, for one reason or another, not to move forward– because of work, time, or family commitments, or fear of metaphorically standing naked in the Town Square exposed to the slings and arrows of public criticism – you were one of the brave ones.

Be proud! You paid your fifty dollars to the Town Clerk to formally register your candidacy; it wasn’t just fifty dollars, it was a down payment of your courage and conviction. Then you put yourself out there in a campaign – a truly humbling experience to stand at someone’s doorstep and, in a 30-second conversation, ask for their faith in you. (And it’s especially humbling when that door gets slammed in your face.)

Now you’ve won! You’ve put forward your vision for a healthier, more prosperous, inclusive community. For some, you put forward a vision of change. For others, you offered a steady hand. Voters have made their choice and, if there’s anything our democracy has taught us,  it’s that voters always have the final say.

Looking ahead, be warned: Agents of change are rarely celebrated, and building on the successes of the past will always encounter resistance. Despite the challenging days ahead, stay positive, stay pragmatic and – after reading your Council agenda, studying an issue, listening to your community and casting your vote – go home with your head held high. Yes, public service comes with a price, but never a price on your head.

Faith in your voters should always be fundamental. Never talk down, never dismiss a legitimate concern, and above all else, remember to always listen. We were born with two ears. Politicians need two more. Remember to always bring your leadership and to never stop fighting for our families. Remember to always strive to unite our communities – there are still too many who would rather divide. Bring about change that can make our world a better, safer place for our loved ones. These are priorities I know we all share.

Hearing your pitch at the door during the campaign allowed residents a glimpse into your life and your family; it allowed voters a chance to connect with you. You saw everyday workers, your neighbour, your best friend from high-school, and complete strangers new to the community – and everyone got the same chance to cast judgement on you. Yes, knocking on doors is important. Knocking on doors wins elections. However, knocking on doors also puts you in touch with the real lives of your constituents. So don’t stop. Keep knocking on doors, or find other ways to stay connected with your constituents. It will keep you grounded and make you a better Councillor.

When the voting closed, you were able to put down the voters list, hang up the phones and draw comfort from your team. I hope you’ve been able to take a few days to celebrate the victory. I also hope you’ve taken the time to reach out to the candidates you defeated. They have the same passion, commitment, and desire to serve that you do. They probably have a few good ideas to share. Listen with an open ear.

Most importantly, spend a little time with the family and friends you’ve been ignoring (by necessity!) over the past few months of the campaign. Huddle in their affection and repeat after me…

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelt

Good luck. And one more thing – the hard work is just beginning.

Johanna Chevalier, Associate Vice-President, Counsel Public Affairs