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Local government can be the most responsive to voters

Posted October 4, 2014 by Erich Jacoby-Hawkins

Municipal elections are the poor cousin in our democracy. People pay much regard to national media – whether TV, newspapers, or online news digests – but the national media pays little heed to local elections except for the odd high-profile mayoral candidate who gains attention for a stunningly successful social media campaign or shockingly criminal behaviour. That leaves us with the local media’s dwindling staff and space to cover the particulars of local races.

And this is ironic, because local government can be the most responsive to voters, sets new tax rates every year, and provides much of our day-to-day public services, like roads, transit, recreation, and social benefits. You have a far better chance of reaching your councillor on the phone, or even having the mayor call you back, than you have of such personal contact with your MP or MPP. And since our municipal officials aren’t beholden to specific party platforms or leadership, you may have more luck swaying their point of view, or introducing a bold new idea into the process.

Although the Examiner ran this stock photo with my column,
Barrie actually uses touch-screen electronic voting.
This makes municipal elections important. Once the votes have been counted, the person elected will serve the next four years, with almost no chance of recall or dismissal even due to the most egregious abuses of office or common sense. So knowing about your choices before you vote is crucial.

One handy way is to compare candidates’ answers to the same questions and meet them in person at all-candidates meetings. To candidates, it may seem they have to attend many of these meetings, they may even find it a nuisance – which should be your first red flag, because the job of city councillor requires a seemingly endless regimen of meetings and consultations. So I would take very seriously the willingness of a candidate to attend as many of these events as possible.

One upcoming all-candidates meeting has a special twist. Hosted by Grace United Church (at 350 Grove St. E.) and the Barrie chapter of the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness, this event that starts at 6 PM on October 7 includes the special “Day in a Life” interactive role-play. Presented by Alliance members, it challenges participants to make it through a month’s expenses (rent, food, incidentals) without exceeding the fixed income of a pension, welfare, or disability cheque. All Barrie candidates for mayor and council have been invited to navigate a Day in a Life before taking their seats to answer questions from the public about their vision for Barrie.

A majority of candidates, including all in the mayoral race, are planning to attend this meeting, so this is a wonderful chance to come and see how they stack up. And because the debate format is always limiting, there will be a meet-and-greet afterward where you can talk one-on-one with candidates, in case you haven’t had a chance to meet them at your door. Refreshments will be provided by Grace United.

All questions will be taken in advance, so if there is something you feel should be asked or answered, you can submit it to Grace+Questions@politicallybarrie.ca to be put to the candidates for response. You can also leave questions at the event and we will ensure they are passed on to the candidates in your ward for personal response. Make an informed vote!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation
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