It’s a Friday evening in November in West Kelowna. Around 40 people have gathered inside the Westbank Lions Community Centre.
They’re not there for a social gathering, or to hear someone speak. They’re there to talk—and to be heard. And the man doing the listening is Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola MP Dan Albas.
The meeting is one of many town hall gatherings Albas—and, to be fair, other federal and provincial elected officials in the Central Okanagan—hold throughout their constituencies over the course of a year.
The gatherings speak to the access Canadians have to their elected officials.
Often seen by many as only available during election campaigns, the fact is local politicians make a point of tapping into the thoughts of their constituents on a fairly regular basis, in a variety of ways. The problem is, the vast majority of constituents do not take advantage of that.
As a result, many often claim they are not listened to and when they are, politicians do not act on their advice. But there’s is a difference between not having the opportunity to be heard and not agreeing with what’s being said.
In Albas’s case, his riding is fairly conservative so the messages he gets are often compatible with the positions of his party. But not always.
On Friday night, challenged by former provincial Green Party candidate and constituent Robert Stupka to urge his party to sign a memorandum of understanding with other parties in Ottawa to work together on fighting climate change, Albas demurred. He said he believes climate change is real but would prefer to see individual provinces deal with climate change rather than a federally mandated solution such as the planned federal carbon tax.
But unlike what we see when it comes to similar exchanges between constituents and their political representatives south of the border, this one was measured and respectful. In Canada, we may have political differences but that does not mean the other side is “the enemy.”
Sure, we have political protests in this country and we’re not immune to harsh words and political barbs and rhetoric. But changes in government do not lead to the divisiveness we see in the U.S.—not withstanding the current Trump-inspired mayhem. And that may have to do with the access Canadians have to their politicians.
Just look at our selfie-loving prime minister. He’s not shy about wading into a camera-wielding crowd of Canadians to have his picture taken with them. Heck, he has even been known to grab a camera and snap pic or two himself. It’s not something you would see a U.S. president or a British prime minister or even a German chancellor do.
So next time you hear your local politician asking for input, give it.
There’s no point complaining you are not being listened to if you have nothing to say.
Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.
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