Muncipal imperfection

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) held its annual conference this past week in Vancouver.

Politicians from across Canada assembled there for seminars and fellowship.

Locals attended from here too – in fact, Centre Wellington’s mayor was elected chair of the Ontario caucus for FCM.

The merits of such a convention are profound. Wholly interested attendees will make the most of their few days away, gathering ideas and best practices for their home town. Others who just like the travel and entertainment portion will no doubt have dined large and extravagantly on the back of the taxpayer.

The problem for voters is seldom do we know who is dedicated and who is along for the ride.

As the conference opened, CTV News interviewed some BC mayors on this year’s absence of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who is embroiled in a string of scandals, though none have been proven and no criminal charges have been laid.

As politicians tend to do, they made the most of their two minutes of fame and suggested Toronto’s mayor would have been an unnecessary distraction. Another floated the thought that Ford should be in jail and not hanging out in Vancouver. It was a snapshot of pettiness that holds a lesson for local politicians and the communities they serve.

Had that lesson been learned in Guelph-Eramosa, after councillors peppered a local developer and contractor with insults, issuing an apology two weeks later would not have been so difficult.

Sometimes the less said the better, until all facts are known.

While we share little appreciation for Ford’s bluster and antics since being elected mayor, the fact is he is the mayor. In that role it is common to be criticized by the media and citizens alike. Some of that criticism is warranted, while some is conjecture that only serves to denigrate his stature prior to the next election.

Constant electioneering is perhaps one of the greatest failings of democracy today. Longevity and popularity often go hand in hand with doing little and spending much. Electability is often chosen over competence and a willingness to do the right things for the right reasons.

Our good neighbours in the City of Guelph are in the process of examining why voter participation has sagged there since the year 2000. There is some science to a survey and the results will be interesting.

From our perspective the increase in apathy is a result of hopelessness and disengagement with taxpayers. If opinions are sought and not acted upon, how long do elected officials think people will invest time in matters beyond their control? It is that simple.

On the flip side of not getting involved, voters need to realize the power of election is absolute in this country. Ford, as an example, is there until the next election – council cannot vote to remove him and recall is not a mechanism available by law in this province. It demonstrates the power of a vote, but equally shows the power of election.

Perhaps the oddest but soundest reason we have heard lately for not voting or getting involved is the hypocritical nature of the whole process. As one guy told us, “We build them up, get them in and quickly turn on them – I don’t need to be a part of it.”

It’s hard to argue with that.