RANT: Why 'show up or shut up' is a reasonable response to public consultation attendance
We’re roughly a year away from our next municipal election, and I’m prepared to bet a great deal that the word you’re going to hear most from candidates (especially new ones) is ‘transparency’ – as in, the current council is being less-than-transparent, obfuscating, running a defacto dictatorship at YOUR expense.
It’s a political tactic as old as politics themselves – demonize the people you hope to replace and create a common enemy in the eyes of voters by pretending your predecessors had something to hide. Never mind whether said tactic is fair, accurate, reasonable or researched, I guarantee it will be used ad nauseam regardless.
This is problematic on a variety of levels, in my opinion … not least of which is that, of the many, many public consultations this calendar year into the next, the majority of candidates will have attended fewer than three such events, and some won’t have attended any. I literally mean, not one single one. While still rallying behind the battle cry that council makes decisions behind their backs. (Although there are always a handful of candidates with attendance records well above par, which is, in my opinion, a significant mark in their favour.)
The worst part of said tactic is, every single election, a significant portion of the electorate actually falls for this blatant, time-worn, destructive manipulation.
The simple truth is that things get done by people who show up (or at the very least, participate), and while pretending to have been hoodwinked might ease one’s guilt for not paying attention over the previous four years, it’s a self-indulgent, dishonest, potentially very-damaging approach to self-governance.
It could be argued that the next four months will see an unprecedented opportunity for residents to have a say and help shape the city and its priorities for years to come: there are public consultations and open houses slated regarding the budget and five-year plan, water/sewer rates, rezoning to allow for a medical marihuana production facility, the waterfront development process, and more.
These meetings are historically very poorly attended. With a list of eligible voters hovering at around the 6,000 mark, the city is still lucky to have a turn-out in the 75 – 100 range – and that’s considered a riotously successful event.
My point being this: It is critical for people to attend, either in person or via online feedback options on the city’s website, and to participate in offering input, asking questions, etc.
But that’s not all.
It is also critical to pay close attention to which of your candidates show up, and which ones can’t be bothered to be there but still throw around the word ‘transparency’ as the only significant plank in their election platforms, a plank they’ll use to beat the electorate into submission, while battering incumbent officials with same.
Anyone who can’t be bothered to show up, educate themselves, and participate – not to mention hold their candidates accountable for participation – can’t cry at having been left out of the process without being less-than-transparent (read: wildly dishonest) themselves.