Could New Year’s resolutions for better civic administration from 1921 still apply in 2017? In this week’s episode, you be the judge.

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Episode Transcript

New Year’s resolutions for better politics

Mark Coffin: You’re listening to a special New Year’s episode of On the Record, Off Script, the podcast.

My name is Mark Coffin, and I’m one of the hosts.

Happy New Year, Happy 2017.

2016, according to practically everybody, was a very bad year.

So, today we take a look back in time for some century old wisdom for New Year’s resolutions that could lead to “better civic administration.”

Thanks to Ontario democratic reform activist, Dave Meslin, who shared this on his blog a few years ago. We have a copy of Bulletin Number 84 from the Bureau of Municipal Research based out of Toronto (or at least it was based out of Toronto in 1921, back when Bulletin Number 84 was published).

Exactly how long ago was 1921? This long ago: the bulletin lists a phone number, and the phone number is 3-6-2-0. That’s it – just four digits!

The title of the bulletin is “Will 1921 be a new year in Civic Administration or will it be the same old year with a new number?”

The bulletin proposes twenty New Year’s resolutions: 11 for politicians and nine for citizens. And today, we’ll share them with you.

Okay, so first New Year’s resolutions for politicians.

The bulletin reads:

For a member of council or board of education:

Number 1: I will not speak on any subject unless I know something about it, and I will learn something about any subject on which I should speak.

Number 2: When I have said all I have to say of value on any subject I will stop talking.

Number 3: I will always confine myself to the subject on which I am speaking, and will not resort to personalities, no matter what the provocation, nor talk to the gallery, nor conceal my real sentiments in order to retain votes.

Number 4: I will keep on my mind the work in hand rather than keep my ear to the ground from tremors of dissatisfaction from interested quarters.

Number 5: I will vote on every measure that comes before the council or board, if necessary requesting the postponement of the vote until any required information may be obtained. I will not retire to the members’ room on the approach of a vote which I should like to avoid for personal or political reasons.

Number 6: In all my statements to constituents and colleagues, my yea shall be yea, and my nay nay.

[‘Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)’ Remix Music Plays]

Number 7: I will treat the funds of the city as trust funds, and shall not suffer any of them to be appropriated, without vigorous protest, for objects not in the general public interest, no matter what the effect on my political fortunes may be.

Number 8: In dealing with the annual estimates, I will consider the best interests of the city as a whole, and will not resort to log-rolling, overt or tactical and I will consider carefully the recommendations and statements of the official financial advisers of the city.

Number 9: Except in cases where the public interest requires it, I will protest against the conduct of any public business in private, either through the holding of private meetings or surreptitious meetings of cliques or factions to decide upon a course of action to be taken in public.

Number 10: I will speak and vote this year at the risk of its being my last year in council or on the board

And number 11: I will not vote to upset the recommendations of any department head until such department head has been given every opportunity to defend his recommendation and in my judgement has failed to do so satisfactorily. Neither will I consent to any actions being taken on matters requiring technical advice until such advice has been requested and obtained from the departments concerned.

And that’s it. Those are the 11 proposed resolutions for politicians from the Bureau of Municipal Research in Toronto, in 1921.

Reading through the list of the resolutions for politicians in 1921, it’s hard to think of any that wouldn’t still be relevant today and relevant in Nova Scotia, too.

So – we know some of the listeners to the Off Script podcast are MLAs and councilors or people who work for them; What do you think of these resolutions? Are they relevant? Do you already practise them, or do you plan to? Is there any bad advice in that list? Do you have resolutions of your own this year? Let us know by email at, or at the Off Script voicemail – dial 902.989.3668 and pick extension 101 anytime. We may share your answers on the podcast. You can also tweet us @SpringtideCo.

The Bureau of Municipal Research has also shared nine resolutions for citizens, which we’ll share with you after this message.

We have an invitation for you, to be a part of the special episodes here on the Off Script podcast. We know Nova Scotian politics is about much more than just what we hear from MLAs. We’re also interested in hearing your stories.

– Have you worked in and around politics in Nova Scotia?

– Maybe you haven’t but you’ve engaged in politics enough to collect a story worth telling.

– Do you have an interesting experience to share from the war room, the campaign trail or the doorstep?

– Based on your experience, what is something you think most Nova Scotians would be surprised to learn about our politics?

Here’s we’re looking for… We want to stay true to the spirit of the podcast – On the record, and off script – telling the untold, generally unspoken, but true and meaningful stories of Nova Scotian politics.

Short is good. We also like funny, but it doesn’t need to be funny.

As long as it’s something we can all learn from, and walk away a little more informed about how politics and democracy works in Nova Scotia, we’re interested.

So – if you’ve got a story in mind, you can share it in a few ways. If you do so via email, someone from the Off Script team may read it on air, and you can reach us at – that’s all one word –

Or you can share your story over the phone, at the Off Script voicemail – 902.989.3668 extension 101.

We can’t promise we’ll be able to do something with every story we get in response, but we will read and listen to all of them.

Alright, here’s the rest of this week’s episode…


The Bureau of Municipal Research from 1920’s Toronto proposed 20 new year’s resolutions – 11 for local politicians and nine for citizens. Let’s look at those last nine:

Number 1: During 1921 I will occasionally drop a note of commendation, commiseration or condemnation to my representatives in Council or on the Board of Education.

Number 2: I will not regard the interests of my ward above the interests of my city, and will not bring pressure on aldermen or trustees to secure special treatment for my ward, or locality which would not be a benefit to the city as a whole.

Number 3: I will not ask council to suspend by-laws for my personal advantage when it would involve a disadvantage to the city as a whole, nor will I support others in asking for such special treatment.

Number 4: In determining my actions as a citizen, I will obtain all the information possible and then make up my own mind without outside dictation, on the ground that I shall be one of those who will suffer in case of a mistake.

Number 5: I will study the estimates of the city as they pass through the various stages of amendment and adoption.

Number 6: I will try to do as much thinking about civic expenditures to which I contribute as about my private expenditures for service not paid for through the tax rate.

Number 7: I will not condone the brow-beating or contemptuous treatment of civic officials, while trying to protect the city’s interests, but any of my elected representatives, even if I may think such officials are mistaken.

Number 8: I will allow the results of my observations to affect my course when the times for nomination and election come around at the close of the year.

And number 9: I will be a citizen during 1921, not a parasite or mollusk or piece of blotting paper.

Somehow, the citizen’s recommendations seem a bit more outdated than the politicians… But what do you think, citizens? Do you have any New Year’s resolutions of your own that relate to how you engage in politics? Would you consider taking on any of these ones? Do you have suggestions for resolutions for your fellow citizens or politicians?

You can contact us using the information we already shared. Again, that’s if you want to do that via email.

902.989.3668 if you want to reach the Off Script voicemail.

Or tweet us @SpringtideCo.

We may share your answers on the podcast.

Here are two suggestions we got from folks who took us up on the New Year’s resolution challenge on Twitter:

Neil McEvoy (who goes by the twitter handle @IvanyActions) says we need “Honest reporting about Ivany Report progress.”

That’s the One Nova Scotia Commission report, also known as the Now or Never report. Neil goes on to say “It’s do or die time for Nova Scotia, the usual spin politics will spell doom.” He writes more about that on his blog.

Nancy Close – the community relations coordinator in Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s office, says a good resolution for the everyday citizen includes “knowing that you can make a difference” and she suggests you check out, an initiative challenging Canadians to do ‘3 things for their neighbourhood, their nation and their world.’

Mark Coffin: That’s it for this week’s podcast.

We’ve posted a link to the original list of resolutions over on Twitter. You can follow us and see that there @SpringtideCo.

We’ll be back from holiday on Tuesday January 10th with the first full episode of 2017.

In the meantime…

You can find shareable version of any episode you hear of the podcast by visiting On the Record, Off Script.

And you can also resolve to become a monthly supporter of the Off Script podcast. Give $3, $5, or $8 a month to make sure this podcast keeps coming.

And if nothing else, for 2017, be a citizen – not a parasite or mollusk or piece of blotting paper.


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