Barb Higgins is a well-known personality in the Calgary region, given she has spent 21 years at the anchor desk at a popular TV station. The public knows her through her journalism, professionalism, and integrity in front of the camera. For that, I can not criticize her in any way, shape, or form.
A few months ago, Ms. Higgins announced her resignation from the TV station and launched a campaign to be elected Mayor of Calgary, following, she hopes, in the footsteps of former Mayor (and also former Premier) Ralph Klein.
All that is fine and good. She’s a resident and citizen of Calgary, and, like anyone else, has every right to ask for the support of the voters in an election. Her platform differs only in minute ways from the platforms of the other two leading candidates, Ric McIver and Naheed Nenshi.
What that means is then, is when I cast my ballot on Monday, my decision will be based only partly on platform (I can not, and never will support a socialist), and also on personality.
When one becomes a politician, one has to expect to receive some criticism. All the candidates have received it, both positive and constructive, and also hostile and negative. I admit I have not attended any mayoral forums, both due to time constraints and also due to the fact that political forums I have attended in the past were reduced to partisan heckling and jeering from those in attendance, which meant they were a waste of time.
The test a person must face is not in the nature of the criticism one faces, but in how one handles the criticism, both fair criticism (easy) and unfair criticism (difficult.)
On October 14, two incidents came about which have solidified my decision that, in my opinion, Barb Higgins’ path should not lead to City Hall. Not, mind you, out of any personal dislike to disdain for Barb as a person, but based on how she handled some hostility.
The first incident of the day occurred early in the morning, when Higgins participated in an interview on CityTV’s Breakfast Television, with Mike McCourt:
Mike McCourt’s questioning stands on its own. I think his phrasing and method of questioning Higgins says more about him and his personal style than it does about anything else, however, when you look past the inappropriate phrasing of his questions (such as calling her former campaign manager a “political screwup”) he does raise two valid points:
(a) Whether or not she has undue back-room political influences (a question she handled very well, and I personally think is highly unlikely) but, more importantly,
(b) Her judgement in choosing people to work for her – which, when one is in a leadership role, is a critical issue. A good leader always chooses people smarter than they are for positions of management, and an initial choice of a campaign manager who also is attempting to run a business while voluntarily managing her campaign does indeed call her judgement into question.
Points (a) and (b) above are really beside the point I’m trying to make. After the interview was over, off-air (and you can see Higgins is unhappy by the way she slams her papers down on the table in front of the camera at the very end of the segment) she approached a group of people who, before the McCourt segment, had conducted a town-hall-style session with her in the studio. Higgins claims some were rolling their eyes and sneering at her while she was answering the questions, but that does not excuse her decision to ask, “so, who crapped in the cornflakes this morning?”
Higgins reportedly berated them for a few moments before moving on with her campaign for the rest of the day.
I can understand her being angry. She was blindsided by two questions worded very unprofessionally. A campaign is also a very tiring thing to go through as the candidate — late nights, early morning, barbs and criticism being thrown at you from all sides, people demanding things, microphones and TV cameras stuffed in your face at every opportunity, the list goes on. However, Higgins made the choice to campaign, and she has to accept that this is what happens. As a journalist, she’s covered enough campaigns to know what to expect, and she should also know that, as the candidate, one has to rise above it.
Also, if she thinks the campaign is tough and tiring, it won’t get any better for her if and when she occupies the Mayor’s office at City Hall. Every decision she makes will be scrutinized and criticized. Her early mornings and late nights won’t stop. She’ll have to deal with a city council that is very diverse in opinion and ideology, and hidden agendas will be all over the place. Everyone wants something, and if they can manipulate you to get what they want, they well.
Such is politics.
Later on in the same day, Higgins dropped by QR-77 for a half-hour interview. (Found here.) I find a few key points in the interview to be quite notable. It is clear that Higgins’ nerves are getting frayed at this point in the campaign. At 5:25, a call from “Reg” gets taken, where Higgins is asked if Calgarians are going to have to wait for it to cost $20 million to get Calgary out of its deficit. Higgins’ first response is, “well you can answer that as well as I can.” Not, I think, a good beginning to her response. She does go on to answer it, and answers the question quite well, but probably not the best first sentence.
The next caller, Keith, at 6:56 in the segment, accuses Higgins of ducking the media, and asks her directly if she will attend a debate on the CBC, “tomorrow.” Higgins claims not to be aware of any debate, so Keith presses the point by suggesting she ask her campaign manager. Higgins’ response is that she won’t be seeing her campaign manager for a couple of hours. The host of the show, Mike Blanchard, tries to cut in, but Keith speaks over him, saying that today’s discussion was initially meant to be a debate, but now isn’t, and goes on to accuse Higgins of being of the reason.
Higgins’ response isn’t good. She gets combative with the caller, saying that she has events scheduled, and asks him if she’s suggesting she cancels the events so she can attend the debate. Mike Blanchard, ever the diplomat, moves the debate to the more important point – not when and where a debate is going to happen, but that there hasn’t been one. Higgins simply expresses that schedules are busy, and that her campaign volunteers had asked the media outlets to coordinate to get a debate arranged.
I don’t think the mechanics of a debate really are at issue – that’s for the various campaign managers to handle. A candidate has more important things to worry about rather than dates and times of theoretical debates. The point here is Higgins’ method of responding to the caller. As above, she got annoyed and combative rather than keeping her composure.
Returning to her judgement in people for a moment, I wonder why her campaign manager wasn’t there. Not in the studio, of course, but at the station with her. As the campaign manager, your job is to run the campaign. You. Never. Leave. The. Candidate’s. Side. Ever. Email, text messaging, and various other technologies have improved contact and made campaign management simpler, to be sure, but the job still involves ensuring the candidate is where they need to be at all times, and also to deal with questions and issues such as the one Higgins had to deal with regarding the purported CBC debate. Had he been there, he could have provided her with the information she needed. As the candidate, the responsibility for choosing the campaign manager rested with Higgins, and him not being there when he was needed reflects badly on her.
Assuming Higgins is elected Mayor on October 18th, everything she says will be scrutinized. Every decision she makes will be examined. She will be criticized each and every day for every possible thing she can be criticized for. If she coughs into her hand rather than her elbow, someone will point it out and make political hay out of it. That’s the way of things.
If Higgins can’t keep her cool when she’s put in the hot seat and subjected to close scrutiny – legitimate scrutiny such as questioning her ability to select people capable of doing the job they’re selected to do, or questioning whether she is ducking and running from attending a debate, then how is she going to keep her cool when the real work begins, and she starts trying to balance the city budget?
No, Higgins, I’m afraid, is not ready for City Hall. She’s a highly respected professional journalist, who, as her 21-year record in Calgary proves, does her job extremely well; but the stress of working under a hard deadline in a newsroom is significantly different than the stress and scrutiny she would be under as Mayor; and I don’t think, based on the events of October 14, she is the right person for the job.
Higgins’ path does not, I believe, lead to City Hall. Hopefully, it leads back to the TV station as before, where she will be highly respected and loved by all of Calgary.