"Cowardice asks the question...is it safe? Expediency asks the question...is it politic? Vanity asks the question...is it popular? But conscience asks the question...is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because it is right." ~Dr. Martin Luther King

Thursday 21 May 2020



 Given all your years in politics, why is it that people are less engaged with politics and their representatives? Voter turn outs are always astonishing low during an election. Which means during the 4 yr term, nobody besides interest groups are engaged to what's happening in their riding or municipalities. I could be wrong, but I don't believe that was the case 30+ yrs ago”.

Despite many changes, municipal voter turnout doesn’t appear to have changed much since I was a first time candidate. An acclamation for Mayor’s usually means voter turnout will be as low as 20%. Without a mayoralty contest, it seldom reaches 50%.

There was a time, before my time, only property owners were allowed to vote. Several eligibility changes since then have had little impact on percentages. 

Women had been given the vote. Adult children living at home were added to the list. They didn’t own property, nor pay municipal taxes. They had no stake in local business affairs. They paid taxes to both senior levels of government if employed or drove a car. 

Since they didn’t own property and services to property were charged to owners, logically non-owners had little interest in municipal elections. Percentage of turn-out would be deflated by the addition to the list. The municipal voters list was compiled at the local level. Two people knocked on doors and recorded names and numbers.

My interest in municipal politics started with the purchase of a home. I’m living in it still. Local school boards and the Hydro Commission were also on the ballot. Water rates were collected by the Hydro Commission. Hydro rates were separate from taxes. Water was a flat rate less than $10 monthly. 

Recreation was organized by volunteers. Recreation Commission was composed of representation from sports organizations, a member of Council and a Director of Recreation whose main job was arena manager. His role in recreation was to advise, help volunteers find space for activities and suss out whatever grants might be available from senior levels of government. A non-elected Board managed the arena to ensure operation was self-sufficient Property Owners had a right to vote on money bills. There were no lot levies. Capital projects were financed, part by fund-raising, mostly by debenture borrowing. It was a big deal.

If residents of a particular street wanted a sidewalk or other improvements, they paid for it. It was a Local Improvement Tax and I believe the legislation is still on the books. 75% support of the property owners on the street is required for approval. 

During my first term, voting age was reduced from 21 to 18 years old. Reeve Jimmy Murray. argued if young people were old enough to fight for the country, they were old enough to vote. They didn’t ask for it. I don’t believe they used it. The impact grew the voters’ list but not the votes.18 to 21year olds are unlikely to own property or pay property taxes or have an appreciation of their impact. 

Other changes have contributed to loss of interest in municipal politics. The four year term didn’t help. Before my first term, municipal elections were held every twelve months...then two in 1967....then three...then in 2006, four year term was introduced and the voters list taken from the national census. The census has a record of all residents, including immigrants not entitled to vote.

I asked the clerk, who is also elections officer, about the risk of including people not entitled to vote. He didn’t think it was much of a risk since people who were not citizens knew they were not entitled to vote. I did not agree. But if he was right, it was another group on the list that had no right to be there. It meant % voter turnout would be further skewed by numbers, for one reason or another, unlikely to vote.

Growth of high density rental housing deflates turnout percentages. A person who owns a home, sells it and moves into an apartment is likely to continue to vote. A new resident with a one year lease is unlikely to have the same interest. A job change can easily mean a change of address...right out of town.

Delegation status and advisory committees are useless entities....or nonentities...in my opinion. Only elected members are accountable for decisions made and they can’t share blame.

In my opinion, committees and delegate status were created for illusion of purpose. An accessible Mayor or Councillor can far more easily convey public opinion and it’s their job to do so. 

Councillor Gaertner firmly believes Council must do what the people want. Despite different
positions taken at the Council table, it somehow escapes the Councillor’s attention there is no way of knowing what all of the people want all of the time. That’s why we elect a council. But her belief allows her to be on whatever side is making the greatest clamour or both sides and as we have seen, guarantees re-election. The same applies to Councillor Humfreys. 

Another significant change in my time was media coverage. The Aurora Banner and Newmarket Era were privately owned when we came to live in Aurora. The Toronto Telegram was owned by a man called Basset. A printers strike against the paper lasted several years. Basset folded the paper. He didn’t sell it. He bought the Aurora Banner. The Era changed hands as well. For several years, both newspapers had editors who were former municipal journalists...Bob Buchanan and Dave Haskell. Buchanan was editor of The Banner for a year before taking an editorial position on town affairs. He felt it took that long to be sufficiently informed. He attended all council meetings, reported on them and eventually wrote editorials.

He lived at 100 Wells Street and walked to the office every morning...in his element...playing the role of  small town editor in a Norman Rockwell illustration. He had found his pot of gold. 

The first time I rose to speak in a council meeting, I read from prepared notes. He diplomatically informed me that prepared notes did not have a place in debate. The object was to persuade by response to the motion and comments made by others in the debate. It requires homework in preparation, skill and practice, quick wits and agility. One has it or one doesn’t. It’s not the be all and end all.

Good sense, consistency, equity and integrity are key principles. All the rest follow.

This post is no doubt tedious for some to read but I was asked and I am delighted to respond.

I was asked earlier to write more stories about my childhood. I do that regularly on a blog of
memories on my birthplace.  One of these days I may gather a few.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're posts are never tedious. You are always so very informative, more then most councillors of past and present. Thank you.