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Port Stanley News RSS Feed  Editorials What is Your Excuse?

An Editorial Reprint from 2010 by Francie Dennison

I think I've probably heard just about every excuse there is as to why some people don't bother to vote in municipal elections, and I say, "What's your excuse?"

"You can't fight City Hall."

"Sometimes I'd like to wring their *#@!*%!#! necks, but you can't fight city hall." Well, maybe you don't have to fight. Maybe all you have to do is vote.

However, all too often the average person feels powerless to effect any change in policy, procedure or rates at the local level, and the biggest single reason for this is poor voter turnout in municipal elections.

Municipalities average somewhere around a 40% voter turnout. This means 60% of municipal populations are not exercising their right to have a say in how their municipality is run, or choosing what kind of people will be placed in positions of power to make the decisions on how their municipality will be run. Small wonder so many people complain about it later!

"Municipal government doesn't really affect my life."

Municipal government is the level of government which most directly affects the average person, and it is the level of government over which they have the most direct control. This is the level of government which will determine how much you pay for water, sewer, property taxes, and in some cases, your electricity. Even if you rent your housing with all utilities included in the price of the rent, these rates will affect the price of the rent you pay. In today's economy, housing costs typically take half to two-thirds of the average person's or family's income, depending on their income level. The days of housing costing no more than one-quarter of your income are long gone.

If you are part of a two-tier level of government (municipality and county), your municipal mayor and deputy mayor sit on your county council and are part of the decision-making process of county government, including the county budgets. In Central Elgin, Elgin County's share makes up roughly 35 % of the property taxes you pay, so who you elect to your municipal council has a "double whammy" effect on your property taxes.

Fear of Reciprocity

Disturbingly, I have also repeatedly heard business owners and individuals express a fear that somehow council members or municipal staff will "get back at them" if they speak out against something which is being done, or publicly support in an election someone who is either not part of the incumbent council or not a favoured member of the incumbent council. What a sad state of affairs that some of our neighbours should feel so fearful, whether or not that fear of reciprocity is justified.

But this is where the power of your vote comes in. No matter what voting system is used in Canada - polls, mail-in, phone-in or on-line - how you vote is, and remains, secret. Even if you use a proxy vote, the person you appoint as your proxy simply receives an extra secret ballot to fill out on your behalf (according to whatever you told the person you wanted), at the same time as they are filling out their own secret ballot. No municipal staffer or member of council ever knows how any individual voted.

What does this mean? It means that no matter how fearful you are, you can with impunity vote for a person to become a member of council (or continue as one) who is not spiteful or vindictive. You can vote for someone who is honest and fair minded, who will listen to what the public does and does not want, and who will ensure staff behaves in a similar and courteous manner. You can stand up for yourself without ever having to fight and without anyone ever knowing you did so.

"My vote makes no difference."

What kind of difference can a single vote make? Consider it this way - do you throw pennies or pocket change into a jar to lighten your pockets, wallet or purse? When you finally get around to rolling them up for deposit to the bank, or to use because your cash flow has dried up, are you not always surprised to find out how many dollars that seemingly irrelevant "chump change" actually adds up to? Do you not always discover in this process that you are richer than you thought you were? Individual votes are like that "chump change" - scattered all around a municipality they don't seem like much, but when you add them all up they make an astounding impact on determining the result of an election. Collectively those votes will determine the kind of council you have, the way municipal staff behaves towards the public, what kind of services you will receive from your municipality, and how much your housing costs will be over the next four years. Is that not reason enough to make the effort to cast your vote?

"No Matter who I vote for, the other guy always gets elected."

If you want your candidate to get elected, then volunteer to work their campaign and/or contribute financially to it, put up a lawn sign and make the effort to help them get elected. Talk them up to your family, friends and neighbours. Help to roust the vote by encouraging everyone to get out and vote.

"I don't have the time to vote", or, "I'm going to be away".

With advance polls, even the busiest person can find the time to get to a polling station to cast their ballot. If there is a possibility you might be busy on election day, or out of town that day, take advantage of an advance poll. Even if you foresee no problem with voting on election day, if you aren't busy when an advance poll is running, take advantage of it then to get casting your ballot out of the way early so that you've exercised your vote no matter what crops up.

If you're going to be away, take advantage of the proxy voting system to have a trusted friend cast your ballot for you according to what you want. This is a far better option than forfeiting your vote!

"I've never voted in a municipal election and I'm proud of it."

The percentage of voter turn out is like grades in school. A student who gets 80% on a subject can perform tasks related to that material much better than one who gets 40%. Although the doctor who graduates at the bottom of their class is still called "Doctor", wouldn't you rather have the doctor who graduated with 80% or better perform your heart surgery than the one who graduated at the bottom of the class?

The same is true of a council. A council elected by less than 40% of the population does not have a true mandate to act on behalf of that population, but a council which had been elected by 80% or more of the population is truly reflective of what that population wants. Such a council is true democracy in action and far less likely to propose policy, procedure or rate changes that the public finds unacceptable - in part because, with a heavy voter turn out, they know the public is paying attention to what they do and will readily voice opposition to proposals they don't like. And believe it or not, that is exactly how democracy is supposed to work! The public pays their leaders and public servants, so the public are actually the employers of their leaders and public servants. As employees, the leaders and pubic servants are answerable to the public.

Fulfilling your responsibility to your community.

So in this 2018 municipal election forget whatever excuse you've been using to avoid voting in your municipal elections and stand up and be counted. Support your own community and get out there and cast your ballot. Pay attention to the issues; pay attention to the qualifications and characters of the candidates - then Vote! If you won't vote on your own behalf and to control your own housing costs, vote for the sake of your fearful and/or less fortunate neighbours. Let's show the world that in Canada we care about each other, we care about our democracy and, by producing an astounding 80% voter turn out in this set of municipal elections, we know how to make it work for the benefit of all! Let's aim for an "A".

Last Updated: Monday, 15 October 2018 10:09:41 AM EST

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