The red-headed stepchild of democracy is shivering on the doorstep again. Most won’t open the door. Local government elections are always overshadowed by louder events, and this year is no different.
The “Occupy” nonsense, the teachers’ strike, the precarious economy and the media’s fixation on them are part of the problem. But let’s face it. Public indifference to local government has left it mainly to self-serving politicians and special interest groups. Community newspapers soldier on through the three years between elections to highlight issues and choices, but few people join the debate when it’s time to vote.
The recent Union of B.C. Municipalities convention demonstrated this. Local politicians love to tell senior governments what to do. They’d much rather debate smart meters or bad old Ottawa’s RCMP costs than talk about their own performance.
Most of the mayors and councillors on hand were unhappy with the province’s plan to appoint a municipal auditor-general to examine the efficiency of municipal spending. Just another layer of bureaucracy, according to these experts on the subject.
At the convention, I asked NDP MLA Carole James about this. A veteran of local government, she observed that it would be awkward for local politicians to go back to their communities and campaign against accountability. Candidates don’t want to talk about the fact that B.C. municipal spending, adjusted for inflation, is now growing almost four times as fast as population growth. Pay and benefits for municipal employees grow much faster than private sector rates. Not enough people care.
There are still things you can do to compare candidates. Please, check the Capital News website for recent surveys and stories on the local candidates, and take some time on Saturday to back the people who you think have the best experience, independence and understanding of the community’s needs.