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Municipal governments make most of the decisions that directly affect people’s day-to-day lives. Decide on Monday who you want at city council to make those decisions.

council 100x100By Staff

October 21st, 2018

BURLINGTON, ON

Our colleagues at CATCH – Citizens at City Hall in Hamilton published a very appropriate piece earlier today.

Well worth reading – it tells people just who it is that butters our bread.

Across Ontario one out of six councillors will be acclaimed this year. That’s also true for 120 heads of councils and entire councils in 26 municipalities. The new Ontario premier believes voting is the only feature of democracy. He recently declared that “Democracy is you have an election – that’s what democracy is”.

In the provincial election he wasn’t supported by the majority of Toronto voters, but without warning he dramatically cut their municipal representatives to the same number as the city’s MPPs. His party obtained just 40 percent of the ballots cast last June and that was less than one-quarter of those eligible to vote.

Democratic activity measured by actual individual participation is far higher in municipal elections than at other levels of government. There are just 308 federal MPs and only 124 Ontario MPPs. That compares to over 25,000 municipal representatives, barring more changes like that imposed on Toronto this fall.

Hamilton municipal contests show that winners in wards without incumbents get elected with far less than half the ballots cast. And very low turnouts mean most incumbents are returned to office with the support of fewer than half the eligible voters.

Municipal governments make most of the decisions that directly affect people’s day-to-day lives. Provision of roads, water, sewers, waste disposal, and transit are all responsibilities of municipalities along with the determination of built form and development locations. Public health, fire protection, ambulance services and policing are also under city hall’s almost complete control.

Senior government levels have been actively downloading more responsibilities onto municipal governments including the provision of affordable housing, and paying for transit operating expenses. Municipalities also have implementation responsibility for many governance tasks that are funded and directed partly or wholly by the provincial government such as public health initiatives.

Even 70 percent of climate disrupting emissions occur in municipalities. Cities are already facing much of the burden of climate damages and some are playing increasingly important roles in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

People queue to cast their votes at a polling station in the Katlehong township, east of Johannesburg, South Africa, Wednesday, April 22, 2009. Voters lined up before sunrise Wednesday in an election that has generated an excitement not seen since South Africa's first multiracial vote in 1994, and that was expected to propel Jacob Zuma to the presidency after he survived corruption and sex scandals. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

People queue to cast their votes at a polling station in the Katlehong township, east of Johannesburg, South Africa in , 2009. Voters lined up before sunrise Wednesday in an election that has generated an excitement not seen since South Africa’s first multiracial vote in 1994.

Municipal politics is supposed to be “the closest to the people”, and local media, where it still exists, reports on the actions and views of individual councillors. Those representatives are far more likely to receive complaints, requests or other personal messages from their constituents than are MPs and MPPs.

People rarely hear what about what their MP or MPP has done because news coverage for federal and provincial legislatures focuses on the stance and behaviour of political parties and their individual leaders. And because of that or as a consequence, voting behaviour seems far more influenced by leaders and parties rather than individual candidates.

Municipal government is also by far the most transparent level. Here there are laws that prevent councillors from holding private meetings except under very specific circumstances such as labour negotiations or the sale or purchase of property. At other levels of government, most real decision-making takes place in secret cabinet meetings without even published minutes.

Individuals are far more able to make delegations to city councils and their committees than to the federal parliament or the provincial legislature. Any resident can get at least five minutes in front of their local council on virtually any matter of concern.

On most planning matters, councillors are actually legally required to hear constituent views without limits on length of presentation. Laws also require public notification through newspaper advertising of many municipal proposals and decisions as part of ensuring democracy and democratic rights. It may be worrisome that those laws are all made by the province.

City election logoThis week’s election and what follows in the new term of council offer opportunities to either strengthen or further weaken effective democratic rights whose future appears increasingly uncertain. Individual action and those of groups will play an important role in both the implementation and protection of democratic rights. This includes the number of representatives, and the actual engagement of residents, not just in voting but in utilization of those rights.

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5 comments to Municipal governments make most of the decisions that directly affect people’s day-to-day lives. Decide on Monday who you want at city council to make those decisions.

  • joe gaetan

    Excellent Ray, hoping for a great turnout in Burlington as there is a lot on the line.

  • Kevin

    I agree, very good piece! Funny enough I was in South Africa for that election and the following one. It would be nice to see more than 50% turnout for this election, it is a shame that so few typically vote in municipal elections.

    • Phillip Wooster

      I suspect that given the importance of this election and the desirability of major change, I think you will see a significant increase in voter turnout.

  • Gil

    Good piece. Today’s Globe had a similar article title “Why Municipal Elections Matter”. Hopefully the voter turnout today cracks the 50% barrier as it has been in the 30s the last couple of elections.

  • Ray Rivers

    Very good piece – thanks for publishing this Pepper.