‘A cure for cynicism:’ Experts explain why voting in municipal elections matters
As British Columbians prepare for municipal elections in October, residents should consider how their vote will influence the overall experience of living in their community, said David Black, professor of communications at Royal University. Roads.
Voters can select councilors who share their views on what life in the city should be like, Black said. Cities are immersive spaces and people use language like the “vibe” or “livability” of a city to describe the experience of being there.
“Municipal politics is kind of a cure for the cynicism that people might feel about provincial and federal politics…People often feel a little alienated and feel like the world is out of control,” said he declared. “It’s at the municipal level that you live inside the choices you make.”
Black said the day-to-day issues of local government require collaboration — and a more organically democratic culture. He called it an accessible, available and personal politics of the people.
However, residents may find it difficult to determine which candidates share their priorities.
For the most part, each candidate has their own brand and set of ideas, which may seem unusual to voters who follow provincial party politics, Black said. Even when organizations create platforms for a candidate like a party would, the decision-making process within a city council requires a mayor and council to compromise, Black said.
The procedure for voting in a local election is similar to provincial and national elections, but the significant differences in municipal politics may seem odd to some voters, Black said. For one thing, most municipalities don’t have candidate polls before elections, so people are more likely to use their intuition to decide who to vote for.
“It’s more art than science, I would say, at the municipal level,” he said.
Royal Roads University sustainable community policy expert Ann Dale said local governments are on the front lines of big issues and emergency preparedness.
Local governments are best placed to develop emergency plans tailored to the specific needs of their region. This is more important than ever with climate change increasing the number of wildfires, floods and heat waves, she said.
Cities also make decisions about infrastructure, such as pavement, development and green spaces. Local governments have the power to make communities more beautiful because they create the bylaws that say how and where things are built, Dale said.
Dale said voters should vote in every election. When voter turnout is low, leaders don’t have to think about what most people expect of them, she said.
“I think we live in a situation of minority rather than majority government. And a healthy democracy requires people to be engaged and empowered. So people have to ask themselves, why do they feel so deprived that their vote doesn’t count ?” said Dale.
If you want to be part of the silent majority, don’t vote, she said.
Black said individual votes are more influential in municipal elections than in provincial elections because the total number of voters is smaller. Additionally, cities like Victoria allow residents to select up to eight councillors.
The 2018 municipal elections in Victoria saw a 43.5% turnout among registered voters. Black said it was a good turnout for a local election, showing there was a good level of competition.
In contrast, less than 21% of eligible voters voted in the three BC municipalities with the lowest turnout in 2018. In the 2020 provincial election, 57.75% of eligible voters voted in the province.
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