What Are We Voting For?

On November 19, 2011, British Columbia voters get a chance to cast their ballots for local government councils and school boards.  Past experience suggests that in most local areas, something between 25 and 30 per cent of voters will take the opportunity.

In my home town of Maple Ridge, perhaps 25 people will step forward to contest six municipal council seats.  Four or five members of the outgoing council will likely be re-elected; one has retired.  In other words, the hopes for the newcomers are slim, and the best odds lie with members of past councils who are recycling themselves back into political life. 

Some candidates will stress the need to create local jobs.  Others will focus on trimming the fat at City Hall.  Nathan Pachal, a writer at South Fraser Blog in Langley, notes that candidates are in danger of exaggerating what they can accomplish as local councillors, and has written the following admirably brief letter to local newspapers:

With the municipal elections around the corner, many people will put their name in
the hat to run for council. While it’s great to see people involved in local
politics, when it comes time to put an “X” on the ballot we should be electing
people that will make a positive impact in our community. Running for council
is not an easy task and we should be voting for outstanding members of our
community that are active in making our neighbourhoods better. It is easy to be
swept away by candidates, both new and incumbent, that promise lower taxes,
improved service, and sun in the winter. We need to be voting for people that
have a vision for our community that is grounded in reality.

A couple of observations:

First, municipal councils have the power to protect or enhance or wreck both the natural environment and the built environment at the local level, so I would urge all readers to vote early and vote often.

Second, I’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who is serious about opening up a process where voters are engaged in setting the municipal budget.  I don’t just want to hear about the biases of a candidate who believes that he or she has all the answers.

Finally, my 2011 tax bill tells me that 46 per cent of my property taxes are going to the municipality.  Another 24 per cent goes to the Metro Vancouver authority (remember them?), which is governed by a delegated batch of mayors and local councillors.   The attitude of candidates and sitting municipal councils to Metro appears to be, like that of the general public, one of bemusement or apathy.  I’d like to return to this point in future posts.  (All urban voters in B.C., by the way, are paying for a Regional District government tht floats above their municipal government.) What do you think?

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