As the summer months quickly get underway, the election bug is already starting to settle in. By the looks of the list in this week’s Advertiser, there are some fresh faces coming on the scene.
That can be good if the intent is to do a good job and listen for the first little while, and make decisions of benefit to voters at large. It can be bad if the promise is for tax relief without details up front. Beware the merchants of change without specifics, for seldom do they deliver – if at all.
Fresh eyes might bring a different perspective to what can easily be described as years of wanton spending on the heels of years of restraint. A decade of restricted funding, starting from the federal government and flowing through the province into local hands, was for naught. Here we are today, owing more at every level of government than at any other time – at least that’s our general suspicion. Certainly any gains we made have been lost.
The federal Conservatives continue to suggest the grant tap will need to be slowed to a trickle, preferably shut off. But the province and local municipalities have grown accustomed to the money again. And we believe, the presence of that funding led many local councils to abandon restraint, forget about keeping a lid on long-term obligations within their operating budgets, only to revel in the ability to give and not tax. Discipline has been lost as the use of grants meant most increases were kept to something reflecting the rate of inflation. While tax increases have appeared quite reasonable, the cost of playing today will come back later on new councils and taxpayers of the future.
In a previous column, we highlighted a concern that procurement bylaws would make it difficult for some candidates to run for election this time around. As we suspected, a provincial initiative to get proper purchasing policies in place was the impetus for more strict procurement rules. Asleep at the switch, councillors charged with passing rules with regard to ratepayers within their community essentially side swiped local business owners with conflict of interest guidelines that preclude them from running. One gentleman looking at a run did not know about the new rules, so he intends to research if, in fact, his right to run has been obliterated by his need to make a living. We note other names on the list of candidates, too, who might want to look very closely at that bylaw to ensure they are not trading away their business for a seat on council. There are so few people interested in public service at this level, it strikes us as short-sighted for a bureaucracy and council of elected fellow citizens to preclude the very people who should have a better than average understanding of financials, staff issues, long-term planning, etc. Perhaps that was precisely the point.
It is those types of debates and discussions that new councillors will find themselves engaged in. We like to hope great thought goes into decisions that have far reaching consequences, but that is often not the case.
To those considering running, we suggest they take time this summer, think about getting involved, test support with some people they respect, come up with some ideas on how to make their township or town better, and think about a run – if the answers to those questions are encouraging.