The “Who Cares” Election

I will be voting today. Ontario is holding elections province-wide, as voters in each municipality choose their mayor, councilors and school board trustees. By the time you read this I may have already cast my ballot.

I live in Ottawa, the national capital. We do things big here, and people are interested in what goes on in the federal government (which also happens to be the largest employer in the region, 110,000 people). There is a certain amount of interest in provincial politics too, as Ottawa is Ontario’s second largest city and feels as if it is always being slighted by the province, playing second fiddle to Toronto. But it seems as if no-one really cares about the municipal election.

Municipal government directly affects people’s daily lives, yet most voters probably wouldn’t be able to name the candidates running for councilor in their ward. (Just for the record, I can name three, and know there are at least three others since I have seen their signs when I walk to the bus stop.) Municipal election voter turnout is always less than for federal and provincial votes.

I saw a sign the other day for a candidate whose name I didn’t recognize, running for city councilor. A week before election day shouldn’t be the first time I see a candidate’s name. I should make an effort to be better informed and they should be better at getting their names out there.

Democracy is a funny thing. It is imperfect, but it more or less works so we keep doing it. I sympathize with new candidates who are trying to get their names known, especially those facing a popular incumbent. It takes a lot of hard work, coupled with some good ideas.

The hard work part is easy, the good ideas perhaps not so much. Municipal campaigns here are more or less devoid of party politics (officially anyway) and have lower spending limits, making a run for public office far more manageable for the non-professional politician. That means you are likely to get people with some crazy ideas, but perhaps that helps create a healthy democracy.

Before the last election, four years ago, a group of concerned local citizens offered their advice to any candidate who desired it. They had experience in politics, media and fund raising and helped equip candidates with the tools they would need to run a viable campaign. They did not offer the same services to candidates in this election, and perhaps the quality of those running for office has suffered as a result.

One aspiring councilor in my area wants to have video cameras installed at all bus stops, in the interest of safety. It is technically possible to do, of course, if you don’t mind spending the money. But Ottawa has 5,800 bus stops. How much would it cost for the hardware? Will the feed be monitored in real time, and how many people will that take? What are the ongoing costs? I suspect that candidate (whose flyer had several spelling errors) really isn’t ready yet for elected office.

Yet I find her ideas more palatable with her big, uncosted ideas, than at least one alternative, the guy running on an accountability platform.

I’m a big fan of holding politicians and civil servants accountable, but I don’t think the solution is the introduction of Sharia law at city hall. He also wants to legalize marijuana, crack cocaine and heroin. The city does not have the constitutional authority to implement such a program. Scratch one candidate for not being smart enough to know that.

Today I’m going to go out and vote, then sit back and see who agrees with my choices, and see if anyone does care.

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