Letter: New Kelowna council should embrace democracy

No one would want to rain on the parade of those who have been returned to office.

To the editor:

On election night local media outlets asked the leading question, did re-election of all the council incumbents indicate public endorsement of what council has been doing?

The question appears to still be on Alistair Waters’ mind since he’s written about it again days later (“Re-election of Kelowna incumbents seen by winners as endorsement of status quo,” Oct 23).

No one would want to rain on the parade of those who have been returned to office, but Mayor Basran’s conclusion that “it’s hard not to see” the re-election of incumbents “as an endorsement of what council is doing” will be challenged by many.

The CBC’s Chris Walker pointed out a few days before the election that “shared interest” – but also “shared fear” of a vastly more conservative government led by Tom Dyas – is what drove a “nascent progressive coalition of yuppies, the LGBT community, local developers and a sizeable university population” to come together and support Basran.

If Walker is right, fear-based voting on the part of this “newfound” cohort is hardly reflective of an endorsement of everything the last council did or how it went about business.

In fact, a consortium of eight community organizations endorsed Mayor Basran for re-election, but refused to endorse a single incumbent councillor, saying their performance on issues such as democratic engagement, planning for growth, climate action, financial planning and transportation had not been up to snuff.

As for the mayor’s performance, we should observe that his share of the popular vote, 56.95 per cent, barely improved from his 2014 share of 56.7 per cent. Some analysts will think that whether or not his share increased, 56.95 per cent indicates strong approval of past performance and a strong mandate for his new platform.

Other analysts will say that an examination of eligible voters can also teach us important things about democratic mandates. In 2014, only 30.08 per cent of eligible voters made it to the ballot box. In 2018, the figure was 30.41 per cent. Both years, the mayor’s take was only 17 per cent of eligible voters. In those terms, there’s no indication whatsoever of strong approval.

A great question to ask at times like these is the standard one: why do so few people vote? The Samara Centre for Democracy published research findings years ago that showed that contrary to popular thought, most politically disengaged people are not apathetic, disinterested or ignorant.

Their research instead found that disdain for politics was related to a perception of a gap between what democracy should be and what politics is. Study participants said that politics was a source of frustration and disappointment. Their democratic expectations were dashed by the belief that everyday concerns of voters were disregarded once elections were over, and that government, bureaucrats and politicians worked for someone else, not for the electorate.

In a nutshell, the politically disengaged had concluded that political engagement is futile.

If Mayor Basran and the newly elected councillors would like to prove these folks wrong, the best approach would be to show they’re willing to listen to the objections and concerns of those who make phone calls and write comments on official social media accounts, those who pen letters to newspapers and emails to the elected, and those who show up at council meetings fired up with arguments.

In addition, there’s nothing stopping Mayor Basran and his cohort from establishing forums for public participation such as citizen advisory committees or regular town hall meetings. If our city representatives would work with the people they’re supposed to be working for, they might find a very different response at the ballot box four years from now.

They might then be able to say with no quibble from people like me that their re-election indicates a strong endorsement of past decision-making and actions taken and resounding support for another kick at the can.

Dianne Varga

Kelowna

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