The Hamilton Spectator : January 24th, 2014
It’s time to demand a change to our system of governance, says the Hamilton Civic League, and to get more citizens involved. League board chair Larry Pomerantz examines why voting matters, especially in times like these. The League is challenging Hamilton to achieve the highest municipal voter participation rate in the country
A municipal election is scheduled for Oct. 27, 2014. Statistics suggest 60% of eligible voters won’t participate and that at least 90% of our Council will be re-elected. Over the past few years, I have repeatedly heard, “nothing ever really changes; Council will do whatever they want to do, so there is no point in voting.”
Some choose not to vote because they are not familiar with the issues or the candidates and therefore cannot make an informed decision. Many, who do vote, do so primarily on the basis of name recognition rather than on informed opinions.
For 2014, the Hamilton Civic League would like to see our City achieve the highest municipal voter participation rate across the country. To achieve our goal, we are networking with community organizations and individuals to share information, develop voter and candidate resources and to promote the election so that all eligible Hamiltonians have every opportunity to vote as informed and engaged residents.
- The tens of thousands in our community who live in poverty are being asked if their situation improved over the past four years and if they want to give the same people another four-year opportunity to try to do better.
- The City’s finances are being closely analyzed and reveal that increases to employee compensation at City Hall have far outpaced population growth and inflation since 2002. Is that what amalgamation was meant to achieve?
- The cornerstone of the City’s economic development plan was pushed through while 85% of the residents within the Aerotropolis reject the plan. What healthy democracy ignores the voices of the majority of its residents?
- We can’t even get garbage collection correct. After years of study, the City’s Waste Reduction Task Force, comprised of City Staff and residents, made informed recommendations to follow the lead of many other municipalities, but our Council rejected the plan for reasons unknown. The results are higher costs, lower waste diversion rates and unused bag tags that we can all toss in the garbage.
The system is either broken or deliberately designed to keep residents out of the decision making process and insulates politicians and senior bureaucrats from accountability.
In 2014, we will have accountability and it will begin with a Councillor Report Card.
The Hamilton Civic League invited residents to submit questions related to municipal issues and developed a Community Values & Priorities Survey. Over 800 residents have completed the survey which is posted at www.CivicLeague.ca and we continue to seek additional responses. We will compare the voting records of our Council to the results of the survey and assign a grade to each Councillor and to the Mayor.
Our failing representative democracy has us relying on 16 elected individuals, who may or may not be qualified as experts in finance, planning, transportation, social services and so on. These individuals are tasked with managing a corporation that employs over 7000 people and has an annual budget of $1.5 billion. Such an enormous task could only benefit from the input of many qualified residents.
It is time to demand a change to our system of governance. We can peacefully transform the system to a more inclusive and equitable arrangement of shared governance and our best opportunity to make this happen comes at election time. Direct, deliberative or participatory democracy would require all major planning and spending decisions to involve everyone interested in voicing an opinion, having an equal vote on the issues.
Direct democracy is already working in other countries where issues such as income inequality are openly discussed prior to citizens voting and giving direction to their government. Locally, our participatory budgeting efforts (although not practiced in the purest form) are a form of direct democracy. www.CivicLeague.ca/CityCam presents an opportunity to experience direct democracy by watching, listening, commenting and voting on issues alongside Council but unfortunately is not binding. A vote for direct democracy is a vote for a peaceful transition away from the current system, over which the bureaucracy has complete control.
A new age of civic engagement is unfolding. The Hamilton Civic League will be asking each candidate if they will commit to transforming our representative democracy to one of direct democracy and to explain how they will go about achieving the goal. Look for a direct democracy candidate or consider becoming one yourself. On Oct. 27, we hope that all eligible voters will take full advantage of the opportunity to vote and send a message to all levels of government that we have had enough.
Larry Pomerantz is a founder and board chair of the Hamilton Civic League, a founder and board member of Earth Day Hamilton-Burlington and co-chair (with Rosemary Russell) of the Direct Democracy Group as part of the Hamilton Chapter of the Council of Canadians.