Editorial: Privacy a price for public service

Coun. Colin Plant’s reaction to Coun. Dean Murdock’s decision not to run again perhaps sums it up the best.

“Sad for Saanich but happy for [Dean Murdock] for making a decision to put his family first and not run for council in 2018. I will miss your wisdom and collegiality.”

On one level, Murdock’s decision is regrettable, because Murdock’s absence will likely dilute the pool of candidates vying for votes on Oct. 20. To be clear — this commentary should not be read as a critique of current and future candidates. Each of them will undoubtedly present themselves to the public with a distinct set of skills and strengths beneficial to Saanich, and if byelection held last fall has any predictive powers, voters will have a long list of candidates before them, when they step into the voting booth.

Murdock’s decision also opens up another seat on council and therefore contributes to one of the necessary conditions of local representative governance: a steady stream of new faces with fresh ideas, not unlike Murdock himself, as he acknowledged in his announcement. “I am so grateful to the Saanich voters who took a chance on a 27-year-old young man all those years ago,” he said.

Woe the system, political or otherwise, that does not rejuvenate itself both in terms of policy and personnel.

This said, the category of candidates, who will combine a measure of youth and with plenty of experience like Murdock, will likely be small.

Yet Murdock’s decision is entirely understandable in light of his personal circumstances. “I have two wonderful children who will turn [nine] and [six] this year,” he said. “I’ve been a [councillor] their entire lives, and I’ve missed a lot of bedtimes and family dinners to attend meetings and community events.” This sentence highlights but understates the personal sacrifices of political office and points towards a familiar but increasingly irreconcilable tension between the private and public.

The public, on one hand, demands more and more of its representatives, who in turn have to deal with more and more complex files in less and less time to meet expectations. On the other hand, elected officials have to balance their growing public responsibilities against the constraints of a society that insists on optimal performance in all areas of life. Ultimately, these contrasting demands are bound to conflict with each other.

Yes, nobody forces anybody to run for political office. The choice is theirs. But if we applaud those who shoulder the burden of office, we should also congratulate them for stepping away on their own terms, while thanking them for their service.

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