Rights and Responsibilities

Remembrance Day has just passed; the day to remember why so many young men and women were willing to give their lives to defend our allies, to preserve our way of life, and to preserve our democracy. I really wish our citizens would think about these things from September on, especially during those years when municipal elections take place. So here is my rant about the latest city election. Please know this isn’t about me, it’s about an alarming trend across Canada.

First let’s look at what your municipal government (council) does. It provides local services, facilities, safety, infrastructure, libraries, parks, community water systems, local roadways and parking. Really this list just touches on the basics, there is much more done and your councillors are the ones who are easiest to reach when you need help with city issues. Council makes the final decisions on how your taxes will be used.

So my question is, why are municipal elections virtually ignored by the vast majority of the people eligible to vote in a city?  My city had a whopping 24.26 percent voter turnout. One quarter of the residents have decided who will lead, or setback, the city’s progress. Do folks not care how their tax dollars are spent or how their city is represented? Councillors are the politician’s who are closest to the populace. They make the everyday decisions about whether or not your neighbourhood park gets new, safe playground equipment, if the city bandshell is safe for entertainers, if a pier is insured so you can fish.

I’ve heard so many excuses for not voting, most are just ridiculous. Here are a few: -politicians are all a bunch of crooks. No we aren’t. I don’t lie, cheat or steal and neither do the people I worked with on council.                                                                                          -I thought you’d win anyway. Really? It’s harder to win without the votes.                       -The poll was too far from my house – It’s guaranteed that any candidate or a member of their team, would have driven you to the poll and back home again. We want people to vote!

All that said, what can we do to encourage residents to get out and vote? That is the big question. Some folks complain that they didn’t hear from or see a certain candidate. To that I say that it’s difficult to knock on every door. We did actually have two candidates who did just that and I have to tell you, both were very good candidates and neither got elected. There goes that excuse. Candidates are very accessible, there are info cards, lawn signs, lapel buttons, names, addresses and phone numbers are posted on the city website or available by calling the clerks’ office. We don’t all have access to your phone numbers unless a list with those numbers is made available through a political party or a realtor list.

To help voters, our city had six advance polls, in apartments of over one hundred eligible voters, special polls were held in the building lobbies. Nursing homes and seniors’ residences had special polls. On election day the polling stations were open for ten hours. Are there other things the city can do?

All these efforts are for nothing though, if people don’t go out and vote. So my conclusion is this. The residents of a city have to take some responsibility too. Take an interest in what your community has to offer. Our city offers the opportunity for folks to participate in consultations on just about all major projects and the budget. It’s important to get involved! I am a firm believer that it boils down to education. Formal or informal, it doesn’t matter. I’d like to see school groups tour city hall, what better way for those grade five or six students to get an awareness of civics. Continue that with the grade ten students forced to study civics for a half a credit. Encourage councillors and staff to visit schools to tell the teens about the importance of municipal government. They just might go home and have that discussion with their parents. Take the time to email your minister of education to tell the government to expand civics courses in high school.  Encourage your current or past councillors  to get out to service clubs, colleges, and universities, special interest groups, and new Canadians and talk about the importance of voting. I don’t think these things have to wait for an election year, we don’t get too much of a break between elections anyway.

We have to tell everyone why they need to vote. People need to know it is a Responsibility as well as a Right and they must know why. Complacency will cause our democratic system to deteriorate to a point of no return.

-m –Oh I thought you’d win anyway. Really

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