Why do we pay so little attention to the simplest — yet most important — opportunity to influence what happens in our everyday lives: voting in municipal elections? In 2012, only 36.9 per cent of us — barely one-third of those eligible — cast ballots to choose our current mayor and councilors.
The irony is we appear to care deeply about what actually goes on in our communities between elections. We complain — often to the councilors we never bothered to vote for or against — about our street’s too-slow snow-plowing, our neighbours’ too-late partying, the too-high high-rise rising next door.
Whether we believe all those hideous high rises popping up all over the place need to be squashed now, or that too much tree-hugger, heritage red tape is blocking needed economic progress, the reality is those key decisions are made by people we didn’t bother to choose.
Our next council will decide how to transform land use bylaws drafted back in the 1970s into a go-forward strategy to develop peninsular Halifax and Dartmouth for at least the next 20 years. Councilors will decide whether — and how — to create that huge public park within the city to allow residents “to leave urban life behind and be immersed in natural forest, lakes, streams and bogs within a stone’s throw of the city. Not to forget considering commuter rail, municipal taxes, environmental sustainability, campaign finance reform, immigration…
We care about all those issues — check out Twitter or Facebook — so why don’t we vote?
Consider this. In a 2014 survey, residents were asked, “what, if anything, would encourage you to vote?” The two most frequent responses: “knowing the candidates” and “knowing the issues and platforms.”
That’s a damning — and legitimate — indictment of those of us in local media. We don’t pay nearly enough attention to what’s going on in our own backyards, even at election time.
Which is why Metro Halifax has decided, in the lead-up to this year’s municipal election, to focus on helping us know the candidates, understand the issues and platforms, make informed choices — and then consider some tougher questions: why were incumbents acclaimed in one-quarter of all districts; should there be term limits for councilors; why are there so few women and minority candidates?
Because it is, after all, 2016. Time to pay attention. All of us.