Friday, December 2, 2022

When it Comes to Municipal Elections, Some Are Passionate, and Some Just Don’t Care

As election day inches closer, candidates hoping to capture a seat at the council horseshoe will be busy working to share their vision with anyone who will listen, but as I was reminded recently, many simply aren’t listening, and they don’t care to.

For those of us who follow local governance closely, it can be easy to forget that half of us simply do not vote in municipal elections, or any elections for that matter, and a hefty chunk of those that do not exercise their privilege to vote also care little about the issues that can get many of the rest of us tied up in knots of angst and despair.

Believe it or not, there are many in this community who have either not heard about the proposed pumped storage on our local military base, or if they have, they don’t care. Believe it or not, there are many in our community who are blissfully unaware of the controversy surrounding a handful of proposed developments in this municipality, and if they are aware, they truly don’t care.

Of the half of us who will vote in this election, only a handful are hyper-invested in local politics and governance. Only a handful have ever attended a council meeting, or made a deputation to council. Only a handful have been moved to attend a protest or a municipal public input session. Only a handful can name all seven of our current council members.

If you are among that handful, it is important to understand that while you are heavily invested in this election, most simply are not, and your own passion for local governance is unlikely to move anyone who does not share your passion to vote.

Thus far in this election campaign, candidate meetings in Bognor and at the United Church in Meaford have been well attended, but again, well attended by those most interested and most passionate, but still just a handful of all eligible voters. Meaford’s 55+ Club will be hosting yet another all candidates meeting on October 18, a week before election day, and those who attend will be interested, and some will be passionate, but it will still be just a handful of the broader community.

During a recent discussion about local issues with four friends, it struck me that our small group of five was somewhat of a representation of the community at large. While I and one other friend are heavily invested in following local governance, two had no interest in local politics at all, and the fifth liked to keep informed, but didn’t hold any firm positions on things like new development, or the size of municipal staff, or any of the dozens of things that we governance nerds can become obsessed with. Of the five of us, only two were definitely planning to vote on October 24, one other was ‘hoping to’ vote, and the other two were not planning to vote at all.

I asked the small group of friends for their thoughts on the issues that have been most highlighted during this municipal election campaign. I asked the two who were not planning to vote what they thought of the controversy surrounding proposed residential developments that have drawn many to council meetings to express their views. “Will these developments bring jobs?” my one non-voting friend asked. “If it brings jobs, I don’t care what brick is used, or how tall a building is.”

Though not an issue that our municipal government can influence, I asked about the controversial pumped storage proposal, and the response was the same – ‘will it bring jobs?’

Another issue that has been on the front burner this municipal election is affordable housing, and when I raised that issue, the first response was a collective laugh, followed by a comment that, “Last I checked town council doesn’t set wages, and affordable housing won’t be achieved by trying to force developers to build housing at a loss. The answer to affordable housing is higher wages, and council can do nothing about that.”

I suspect that, my small group of friends involved in that discussion aside, many of those who don’t vote are simply focused on trying to survive, and they care not about enforcing height limits on buildings, or maintaining a ‘heritage look’ in our downtown area, or whether a billion dollar hydro storage project is allowed to move forward. They just want to see jobs come to this municipality. Good jobs, with living wages. My non-voting friends aren’t apathetic, they aren’t failing to participate in democracy, they are simply focused on putting food on the table, and they see little value in investing their time and energy into local politics.

We have all heard the statement that ‘if you don’t vote, you can’t complain’, typically spouted by those of us most passionate about politics and elections, often simply a way to shame those who don’t participate in the electoral process, yet another reason that those who traditionally skip the voting booth have come to despise politics in general, as you are either on a team, or you are on no team, and many just don’t have the time or energy.

With every municipal election, I am hopeful of a good voter turnout, and I suspect that, with the many issues filling the stove-top burners in this election, we will indeed have a good turnout. But remember, a good turnout in municipal elections is anything better than half of us voting, and the half that don’t still matter, they still help drive our economy, they still pay their property taxes, they still buy bag tags in order to drag their trash to the curb every two weeks.

If you are hyper-invested in this election, if you are more passionate than most, don’t wag your finger at those who don’t feel the urge to participate in what many in our times see as a waste of their time. Their tax dollars are worth every penny that yours are, and while they might not share your passion for municipal elections, they are still residents of this municipality, and their non-vote makes a statement too.

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