We can fix municipal government by voting

Following is a column I wrote for the St. Catharines Standard. It was published on April 1, 2018 (but it’s not joke).

This municipal election, more than any other I can think of in the nearly 25 years since I have been old enough to vote, [you] need to vote. We all need to vote.

More than voting, though, everyone who is eligible to vote needs to educate themselves about both the issues that are important to their municipality and our region and each of the candidates running to represent us.

Each of the three times I have campaigned, I have encountered people at the door who have said they do not vote in municipal elections. It has always been mind-boggling to me that people do not vote in the elections that most directly impact their daily lives. It is our municipal and regional councils who make decisions about our property taxes, water rates, road and sewer construction, policing, firefighting, etc. This apathy about municipal elections is a significant contributor – if not the entire reason – why we have the municipal and regional councils we do today.

We have a government body with regional politicians on it that sued a private citizen. We have a regional councillor who named almost every other regional councillor in a lawsuit. We have a police board who encouraged a police chief – with an $870,000 handshake – to retire early, presumably so they could hire their own police chief. Expenses that have been charged back to us, the citizens, are out of control. I would be shocked if the number of complaints to various municipal integrity commissioners were not unprecedented in comparison to previous terms of council.

It is easy to reduce this to the common refrain about all politicians being bad or corrupt or greedy or whatever adjectives you choose to use, but that is simply not true. We have some councillors, at both the lower tier and regional levels, who are bright lights in this currently dim arrangement. We have had people run for local and regional councils who are bright, energetic, full of integrity, and want to serve their communities, but who have not been elected either due to lack of name recognition or lack of money to run the campaign necessary to compete with some of those who were elected.

I do not agree with the cliche that the voter is always right, but I do agree with the one that says we get the government we deserve. When voter turnout averages just 41.3 per cent across Niagara region, with St. Catharines at just 34.3 per cent, we have to acknowledge that the vast majority of us are not being represented, and this has never been clearer to me than this last term of council. We did this to ourselves. But we can fix it.

Candidates will start registering for the October municipal elections in May, and I know that many of you will be tired of elections, because we also have a provincial one in June (about which we also need to get educated and ensure our voices are heard), but that simply is not an excuse.

Learn who the candidates are. Find out what they stand for. Ask them what they hope to accomplish and how they plan to do it. Do not feel obligated to vote for the maximum number of candidates permitted (for instance, six regional councillors in St. Catharines) if you are not certain that you want all six of those people representing you. Do not forget to get to know your school board candidates.

Whatever you do, please do not vote for anyone simply because you recognize the name. In fact, that could be the very worst reason to vote for someone this time around.

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