As British Columbians prepare for October’s municipal elections, residents should think about how their vote will influence the overall experience of living in their community, Royal Roads University communications professor David Black said.
Voters can select councillors who share their perspective on what living in the city should feel 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 in it.
“Municipal politics is a kind of cure for the cynicism people might feel about provincial and federal politics … People often feel a little alienated and feel like the world is out of control,” he said. “It is at the municipal level 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 challenging to figure out which candidates share their priorities.
For the most part, each candidate has their own brand and set of ideas, which can 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 on a city council requires a mayor and council to compromise, Black said
The procedure to vote in a local election is similar to provincial and national elections, yet the significant differences in municipal politics may seem strange to some voters, Black said. For one, most municipalities have no polling on candidates before the election, so people are more likely to use intuition to decide on who to vote for.
“It is more art than science, I would say, at the municipal level,” he said.
Royal Roads University expert in sustainable community policy Ann Dale said local governments are on the front lines of big-picture issues and emergency preparedness.
Local governments are best suited to make plans for emergencies that fit the specific needs of their area. This is more important than ever with a changing climate increasing the number of wildfires, floods and heat waves, she said.
Cities also make decisions about infrastructure, such as pavement, development and greenspace. Local governments have the power to make communities more beautiful because they create the bylaws which say how and where things get built, Dale said.
Dale said voters should cast their ballot in every election. When there is low voter turn-out, leaders do not have to think about what most people need from them, she said.
“I think we are living in a minority rule situation rather than a majority. And healthy democracy demands that people are engaged and empowered. So, people have to ask themselves, why do they feel so dis-empowered that their vote does not count?” Dale said.
If you want to be a part of the silent majority, do not vote, she said.
Black said individual votes are more influential in municipal elections than provincial ones, because the overall number of voters is smaller. Additionally, cities like Victoria allow residents to select up to eight councillors.
Victoria’s 2018 city election saw a 43.5 per cent turnout among registered voters. Black said this is a good level of turnout for a local election, which shows there was a healthy level of competition.
In contrast, less than 21 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballot in the three B.C. municipalities with the lowest turnout in 2018. During the 2020 provincial election 57.75 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballot in the province.
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