Sunday, November 1, 2009

Some Post-Election Thoughts

The election is over, and we have a new council. Changes to four of the nine seats, which might change the dynamics. And three of the new councillors are women, which will provide some long-needed gender diversity to what is often termed as an old boys' club. I think that an election that results in significant new blood, while maintaining some veterans is a good thing - you end up with a good mix of experience and new perspectives, which is healthy for any organization.

If all members of council are wise, they will pay attention to the issues that were raised during the election. I heard a lot of questions about our increasing debt load, deteriorating infrastructure, the new bridge, and the lack of openness of council. We need to do what we can to answer those questions and change our behaviours, quickly.

Those of us fortunate to be returning shouldn't take our re-election as blanket endorsement of our actions over the last term - the significant number of votes that were directed towards an individual with no council experience, and with relatively little life experience, told me that there were people out there who wanted to plant a vote somewhere, but who weren't willing to select either of the experienced options, no doubt remembering Jerry Garcia's line that choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil. And those of us who were fortunate enough to be acclaimed need to be aware that it might not have been the right time or place for potential challengers - it doesn't mean that everyone in our wards agrees with everything we have done over the past three years.

And we can't ignore the fact that most eligible voters in Prince Albert chose not to vote. I don't know what the answer to voter apathy is - I suspect that it isn't one single answer, but several. Four acclamations may be seen as having reduced the reason for voting in half the city, but I don't think that that's the only reason for the low turnout.

I don't think that it's that getting to the polls is particularly difficult. Electronic voting may be worth investigating, or setting up more polls, but honestly, people had several days to find a few minutes to exercise their right, and many didn't. In Saskatoon, advance polls were set up in malls, and their turnout was also pretty pathetic.

Perhaps part of it is that people didn't like their choices, that there wasn't someone particularly inspiring to vote for. Not every election can feature a Barack Obama, who can ignite crowds with energy and a sense of being part of positive change. That doesn't change the responsibility of the individual to study the issues, make a choice, and vote. Actually, you don't even have to study the issues - the only questions that you're asked as you register have to do with where you live, and for how long. In fact, we had a brief moment of levity when we went to vote, when Guthrie turned to Andrea (who had finished casting her ballot) to ask which school board he was voting for - knowing nothing about it didn't stop him from voting (although he did recognize some of the names on the ballot, apparently).

I think that a large part of voter apathy comes from the feeling from many people that, no matter who they vote for, once the election is over, their concerns will be forgotten, so why bother. That's important for each member of council to remember - getting elected is one thing. Being an effective member of council, truly representing and standing up for your constituents, even the ones who may not have voted for you, is a whole new game. But that's the game we're into now.

Perhaps if we all do our jobs well over the next three years, the next election will generate interest, excitement, and the sense that getting involved in leading the city is a worthwhile endeavour. More candidates, more interest, more clearly discussed issues and options, should result in more likely engagement of voters.

To the new faces around the table - welcome. Don't forget the people who elected you, who are now trusting you to represent them. They are now your bosses, and will have the opportunity to fire you in three years if they feel ignored. Treat your vote at council as a trust that shouldn't be violated, and don't let others around the table try to influence you in doing anything but following your own conscience when you vote. Learn the actual rules of the game, and don't hesitate to follow them, even if others at the table get a tad cranky. The democratic process has evolved over time in the way that it has for good reasons; it can serve us well if we remember that.

November 8 will be the first meeting of this new council - I'm looking forward to my fourth term. And don't worry - I won't be agreeing to the third reading in the same meeting if I think that further discussion and public input is required.

"Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." - Winston Churchill

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