We come to the end of another election season; ask around and you’ll generally hear the same sentiment. From coffee shops, to pubs, restaurants and house parties, even just stopping to chat on the street; some people didn’t realize they missed voting day, but commonly most people are extremely disappointed with the outcome of the Revelstoke City Council elections. In fact, if only 37% of voters went to the poll, this indicates that 63%, an overwhelming majority shares the above opinion.
It’s easy enough to remember the overwhelming public criticism towards our outgoing Council on a variety of issues over the past 3 years, including; mishandling of the Grizzly Plaza construction, Westside Gravel Pit, ballooning budgets and financial frivolity, the struggles of business (Benoit’s, Nanimahoo’s Gallery, etc), dragging feet on affordable housing, the list goes on and on. Nevertheless, Mayor David Raven (whom no one voted for, but I’ll get to that later) has been quoted as saying “The fact four of them were on Council before gives me the message that some of the stuff we are doing is good” (Revelstoke Times Review, Nov 19, 2011). So how did this disconnect between the public outcries for change and accountability and the ultimate results at the polls occur?
Sitting down for coffee with my friend Giles, who has been responsible for successful social media voting campaigns, we discussed a number of ideas which could lead to a more representative government, be it municipal, provincial or federal in years to come.
Lower the Voting Age to 16
More of our grade 11 and 12 students are engaged in the political process than most adults I know. They have been provided strong education in which they are taught the importance of voting, but are not given the opportunity for another couple years. Why not help teach the habit of going to the polls at an early age, which would ideally translate into greater turnout in years to come.
Canada would not be the first country to implement incentives for voting. Countries such as Argentina, Belgium and Switzerland (to name just a few) have been doing this for over 100 years. In Revelstoke, where many citizens feel overtaxed, wouldn’t a financial incentive such as a discount on your property taxes encourage many more to vote?
Let’s face it; if you haven’t heard of the Internet by now, you fail at life. Offering, secure online voting opens up another avenue for voters to express their choice. Considering the extent the internet makes up our online life, from bill payments and banking, to online shopping and socialization, it really would not be too difficult to make this a reality while ensuring security.
In the case of municipal elections, candidates are required by law to have a minimum of 2 registered voters nominate them. In the case of our recent mayoral acclamation, with 5,284 registered voters in Revelstoke, that means voter turnout was a measly 0.0004% if we round up. Just because there were no other individuals who ran for mayor, does not mean the general community has selected the incumbent. Further disillusionment and withdrawl from the electoral system is what occurs when one does not feel their voice matters. What if, in the case of acclamation, there was a “yes” or ”no” option on the ballot. In the case of a “no” majority, the runoff would go to the top elected city councilor should they choose to accept. Not a foolproof idea, but certainly something to consider, as acclamation is not a tenet of representative democracy.
Currently, candidates must adhere to strict financial reporting rules. What about other rules? As we saw during these campaigns, they were generally filled with lackluster engagement of the electorate. There were emailed responses to general questions that candidates responded to through the local newspapers. There was an “All Candidates” forum, renowned for its restrictions to voter engagement, only allowing 30 minutes of questions for 12 candidates! Finally, there were numerous street signs, implying that many candidates were running simply on the perceived strength of their names. No one I’ve spoken to was the recipient of any door to door canvassing. Some media stories highlighted the lack of engagement of candidates in attending community meetings they were personally invited to. Should there not be some rules beyond financial reporting, that requires candidates do more to engage their electorate? If candidates can’t be bothered to earn our vote during their own campaigns, what does that say about their ability to represent voters once they acquire a seat at the council table?
So where does the responsibility for implementation of these suggestions lay? Will the Union of BC Municipalities lobby on our behalf for these sorts of reforms to the Municipal Government Act? Unlikely. Will citizens rise up and through various means strive to make changes to a democracy to better represent them? Unlikely. When you get to the heart of the matter, the poor voter turnout and disappointing outcome to our recent municipal elections can be blamed on you. We each choose our own level of involvement and many of you chose the ostrich route, of sticking your head in the sand. It’s easier to choose ignorance over information, easier to do nothing than take action, and Revelstoke proved recently that they prefer the easy way.
John Devitt is a Revelstoke resident. You can read his column, exclusively in The Current, every Friday.
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