The human side of politics - it can hurt.

opiniongreen 100x100By Shannon Gillies

September 18th, 2018


Shannon Gillies was a candidate in the 2010 municipal election.  She was new to political theatre – all she had was some ideas and a conviction that the Burlington she cared about was undergoing a change which she didn’t think all that many people wanted.

Little did Gillies know than that the change she sensed in 2010 would mushroom and result in a 24 story structure opposite city hall – and that was just a starting point.

Gillies write the Gazette with these comments:

“We’re at that point in the municipal election season where things start to get nasty and the gloves come off. Suggestions are made about candidates being in it for themselves, or for developers, and not for residents. Nasty comments from anonymous accounts are made on Twitter. Facebook posts are shared about how our city is being ruined which riles up the others and they all tsk tsk about it over their lattes without really knowing the facts.

“What people tend to forget at this heated point in the process is that candidates are human beings and they’re rarely up to anything nefarious. Every single one of them is a human being. It doesn’t make someone a bad person just because he or she has a different opinions and views and approaches than you. No one runs for office because they want to ruin their city.

“I’ve been there. Eight years ago, I was a total rookie and had no idea what I was doing. What I did know, is that I wanted to make my community better. I thought our downtown was dull and frankly, quite crappy and I wanted to make it better, so I decided to run for council. Unfortunately, no one knew who I was, I didn’t have much community experience, I was too shy to knock on every door, voters didn’t agree with my views, and I lost. That’s fine. I deserved to lose. That’s how elections should work.

“What people should know is that running a campaign is hard. There is an unimaginable amount of learning in a short amount of time. Campaigns are also emotionally draining, physically exhausting, and can take a real toll on a marriage. I’m always fascinated that so many people think that taking contributions from developers is a huge sin. I would’ve gladly taken anyone’s money! Anyone who thinks someone would work his or her butt off and sacrifice their family for months only to sell their integrity for $750 or $1000 dollars over a four year period is a fool. But I digress. Instead, I spent over $10,000 of my own money, which my husband still hasn’t quite forgiven me for.

“The absolute worst part of running for council, and what I wasn’t prepared for, was the condescension and the cruelty. I was told on numerous occasions that my campaign was “a good experience” for me or told with a patronizing smile that maybe I should try running for school trustee instead. Someone said I shouldn’t have worn a pink suit for my campaign photo. I was told I didn’t exactly look like a Councillor and was asked on numerous occasions why I didn’t have children. Lack of experience aside, I was employed, nearly forty years old, university-educated, knew my stuff, and was adequately articulate. These comments were unwarranted. But alas, that’s politics.

During the campaign there was a personal family matter that kept me away from the city. I considered dropping out of the race but decided to stick it out. I tried my best to complete the endless number of questionnaires that candidates receive from various community groups but was completely overwhelmed. I couldn’t get to the doors. I didn’t have a team and was doing everything myself.

I had to be at a hospital feeling very distressed – someone close to me was  big health challenge. It was an awful time. One day, while I was in a waiting room at the hospital, trying to catch up on campaign matters on my laptop, I got an email suggesting I was in bed with developers (I think because I had written something that was pro-intensification), and that I hated trees.

What?! Have you seen my yard? I love trees!

“The angry email ended with a wish that I have a miserable life and not ever enjoy a successful career in politics. In retrospect, it was a dumb comment I should have ignored, but at the time, under the circumstances, it caused me to run to my car in an underground lot and break into tears. I couldn’t understand how people could be so awful. I know better now.

“My point is that we’re all stuck on this earth together and we need to be kind. It’s fine to have political disagreements and we should absolutely have political disagreements. But let’s just remember that all candidates are human beings, with lives separate from election campaigns, and are made out of flesh and blood, not steel.”

Shannon GilliesShannon Gillies is a frequent contributor to the Gazette. We welcome he insight and candidness. Besides the trees on her property Shannon has a couple of rabbits about the house. She looks just fine in a pink suit.


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7 comments to The human side of politics – it can hurt.

  • steven craig gardner

    Great piece you should run workshops for newbee candidates help them avoid any mistakes you had to learn the hardway. I wich you were running in my ward this time. The little bit of your platform you mention speaks to me and I can’t seem to find others with the same viewpoint. Our downtown is still dull and quite crappy not quaint.
    Thanks for taking the time to share your story.

  • Diane Gaudaur

    Thank you Shannon. This is a timely message. Let’s not discourage good people from entering politics.

  • Concerned Citizen

    Very well said. To open up old wounds and share with others isn’t easy. NOBODY should be treated that way. Now maybe it’s time for you and your friends to practice what you preach.

  • A much needed perspective, it is easy to get caught up in the frenzy and to lose our objectivity.

  • Stephen White

    Thanks for sharing your perspective Shannon. Your comments and observations are very sincere, heartfelt and thought-provoking.

  • Michael Jones

    To add to it having another Candidate’s Campaign Manager sending out questions to their competition to get feedback on issues and not disclosing who they are working with. We spend time completing and then discovering on Facebook who they are. I guess fun and games of elections. Transparency is such a big component of this election.

  • Michael Jones

    Great article. I can relate at this point in the campaign of Ward 2. .Everything but the pink suit anyway but if that’s what the voters I’ll try it on for size. For me why did you pick orange for your colours, are you NDP or copying another candidate..Nope just my favourite colour Being out every weekend and my 5 daughter year old daughter says I miss you on the weekend also makes it tough. I hope people reach out to all the candidates to get the most qualified person for the job…Thanks for the candid article on campaign life.