The following was recently submitted to The Global Canadian (not yet published):
Commentary by Fred Dawkins, North Van City Voices
In the last municipal election, in 2014, roughly three-quarters of North Shore voters did not vote.
The turnout ranged from a paltry 23 per cent in the District of North Vancouver to 28 per cent in the City of North Vancouver, with West Vancouver coming in at 27 per cent. By contrast, the turnout for the most recent provincial election was about 60 per cent – more than double the municipal vote.
Political scientists have advanced a number of theories as to why this is. Probably it’s a combination of factors. Many people feel disengaged from municipal politics – they don’t follow the issues between elections, so don’t know how they should vote when the election comes around. Many don’t see the municipal issues as important, while others are cynical about how business is done at City Hall and don’t feel their vote will change anything.
There’s an information gap too. Most candidates for council are unknown to anyone but their family and friends, and mainstream media coverage of municipal issues and candidates is miniscule compared with coverage of provincial and federal politics.
My unscientific reading of the situation is that, thanks to cable news and social media, the average North Shore voter is more engaged in U.S. politics than in what’s happening in their own back yard. Everyone has an opinion about Donald Trump; not many even know who their mayor is, let alone what he or she stands for.
What it comes down to is, in municipal politics, people perceive that the stakes are low. The majority is okay with leaving the electoral choice to the few people who care, because after all, what’s the worst that can happen if the “wrong” people get elected to Council.
Well, if you are becoming increasingly irritated and inconvenienced by the unending traffic snarls on our major North Shore routes, this is one of those “worst things”.
Four years ago, City of North Vancouver voters were offered a choice between an organized bloc of candidates who advocated a rapid build-up of residential development, and a number of independent candidates who called for a more careful, measured approach to growth. Then a relatively small number of votes (remember, 28 per cent total turnout) elected a pro-developer council, dominated by candidates who received financial backing from the developers. The building boom accelerated, fueled by Official Community Plan amendments and density bonuses.
Now here we are. And it’s not over yet – the legacy of our developer-friendly City government will be felt for years to come, with several major developments still under construction. If you think traffic is bad now, just wait till all those new condos and townhouses are completed and the hundreds of additional residents join the daily commute.
Feel engaged yet?
The irony is, I’m preaching to the converted. If you are reading this community newspaper, you’re probably already among the relative minority who follow the local issues and will likely get out and vote this fall.
To you, I make this request – please talk it up with your friends and neighbours who may not be as engaged in North Shore issues. When they complain about the traffic, point out that our city councils are the ones who allow runaway development while doing almost nothing to ease the stress on our commuter routes and civic infrastructure. Make sure they know an election is coming, and unless they want four more years of this (or worse), they should read up on the candidates in their community newspaper, and make plans to vote for the ones who haven’t got us into this mess.
You might also point out that because of the relatively small numbers, their single vote has a lot more impact than it does in provincial and federal elections. And a short walk to the voting booth can make a big difference in their quality of life.