Election 2014: For Read, it was all about the message

Tactics, and a heartfelt message for Maple Ridge propelled newcomer in top spot

Nicole Read has been elected mayor in Maple Ridge.

Nicole Read has been elected mayor in Maple Ridge.

In the first moments after the polls closed Saturday night, it looked like Maple Ridge’s mayor’s chair was going to be filled by either a third-term mayor or a third-term councillor.

But just more than an hour after the polls closed, mother and business owner Nicole Read stood alone atop Maple Ridge’s political world.

Strategy, timing, tactics all helped secure a victory for Read, who got involved in politics after becoming frustrated with a lack of schools and services in her Silver Valley suburb.

“I don’t think you can do it if you don’t have an authentic message. I think a lot of it was the messaging,” she said Monday.

Read’s message was that, in Maple Ridge, it was time for a change and that the city no longer had to settle for second best and that it could have jobs and shopping and tax revenue and sidewalks and parks and places for people who pay high property taxes to kick a ball around somewhere near their house.

“There comes a moment in time when the need for change is undeniable,” she said in one of her ads.

“We need change,” she added Monday.

Read took that message directly to the voters through a range of media. She also door-knocked and talked to groups, but more than anything, it was appealing directly to voters.

Read knew she’d have to make in-roads to the entrenched support for two incumbents, Mayor Ernie Daykin and Coun. Michael Morden, who both wanted to be mayor

“For me, I believe that I need to be representing the people, the residents.”

That appeal came across in a variety of messages.

Read knew Maple Ridge parents commute to work, which means they don’t have time to get involved with local politics after hours and a draining drive back home from the office.

But those parents do have time to log on to Facebook, vent their concerns, and figure out who they want to support.

As people passed along messages and page likes and posts, her following grew. Read described it as organic, a natural process arising from ideas and feelings whose time had come.

“Social media was huge. Social media was a very important part of the campaign.”

Read’s Facebook page, Nicole for Maple Ridge, drew hundreds of posts. Her websitetook hundreds of hits.

“Social media was so important. That was the one thing we did that other mayoralty candidates didn’t.”

One post on her Facebook page would get 5,000 people engaged, while the page got 1,500 likes. Plus those numbers don’t reflect the number of people who just observe the debate. The Facebook group Council Watch also was a factor.

Still, social media can be a double-edged sword, with people telling you what they think, and it has to be managed carefully.

“It’s pretty important in today’s society. It’s a pretty effective medium. I think it’s becoming increasingly important in elections, to be able to use social media effectively.”

Read also had lawn signs and posters and bought ads in both local papers.

“My newspaper ads were really expensive,” she said.

“The other thing that really made the difference was with the Shaw Cable debates.”

That validated her ability as a candidate, she said.

During that event, Read outshone the other two leading candidates, Morden and Daykin, who didn’t debate as well.

One thing Read learned during the campaign was the importance of getting the opinion of youth and having their input into decisions. She learned that after making a presentation on leadership to Girl Guides and Scouts.

Read said earlier she isn’t worried about her political inexperience.

For the last three years she’s been project manager for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, aimed at healing the effects of the residential school system on First Nations. The company she founded, The History Group, has offices across Canada as it manages projects and researches for native bands. The company will keep running, but Read will step aside from the daily duties to focus on her new job.

“I think I’m a pretty strong leader. I’m a pretty good synthesizer of information.”

That will allow her to look at what’s working at city hall and what isn’t.

She says while Maple Ridge is growing, “We’re not really putting in the amenities that other communities have and had when they were at our population.

“We’re asking people to come here, but what are the services that we’re giving to enjoy inside our community?”

The question isn’t whether Maple Ridge can afford it, but rather if Maple Ridge can attract enough business and industry to raise more tax revenue to pay for the services.

“Yes, of course you can, of course you can,” she says.

“There’s no reason that Maple Ridge can’t achieve a better level of prosperity.”

“A lot of things have not been done that need to be done.”

During the campaign, it became evident that enough people wanted a change. People would contact her and ask how to help. Businesses took copies of her “Dear Maple Ridge Residents” letter to distribute.

“We had a huge number of people in the community, really strong support that was very organic.”

Two days after the victory, the achievement had sunk in.

A difficult campaign also required a difficult decision about where to watch the results roll in. Read didn’t know if she’d win and didn’t know if she wanted to be in the council chambers, where winners and losers watch numbers on the big screen.

It would have been more comforting at home or in the campaign office, surrounded by supporters. But she knew it was better to be in public, whatever the result, “even though we knew it would be really nerve wracking.”

“It’s a huge effort to win an election … to come out and beat two incumbents. I don’t think you can do that if you do not have an authentic message. I think people believe that this was the time,” and she was capable.

“It’s a really amazing moment, I think.”