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Posted: October 15, 2018

Social planning and the local government election

Op-Ed Commentary

On Saturday, October 20 new local governments will be elected around British Columbia.

The municipal council members who are chosen by the electorate will debate issues related to housing, transportation, recreation, and everything in between. They will be making decisions that could affect generations of Cranbrookians. It’s important to understand what local government can do to make life better for folks living and working here; it’s even more important to get out and vote.

Local government can engage citizens, convene groups, and create spaces where citizen voices are heard. They can bring expertise, local networks, and connections with other levels of government to the table. Sometimes they even have money or public land to share. Our municipal corporation has the ability to create plans and strategies that will enhance our well-being, as well as build parks and trails and other infrastructure with pooled resources from the community.

Local government does not usually have the capacity to fund projects beyond municipal assets, and even that can be difficult. If an arena or water plant needs to be replaced, local governments often look for funding partners. Local governments are a legislative arm of the government of British Columbia, according to the Local Government Act, and they lack authority in many areas. Simply, local governments exist to provide services in communities on behalf of the provincial government. The main financial tools that municipalities have are local property taxes and user fees.

When we go to the polls we will be electing folks to represent the will of the people. Council members will be our representatives for four years, working together as a team to set direction for the community and ensure the City of Cranbrook meets the requirements of the local government act. To function well as a governance team, each member of council will need to articulate their concerns and positions clearly, while remaining open and curious about the concerns of their fellow councillors. It is essential that they be able to think for themselves and vote on council resolutions as an individual, but to also be able to set aside their personal opinions and act for the good of the community.

Local governance is not business; the City of Cranbrook does not exist to make a profit. Libraries, pools, and drinking water systems will never make money. Local government is a service delivery organization with a goal of creating a safe, healthy community where people can flourish, while at the same time keeping a balanced budget. Our elected officials have a big job! Anyone who puts their name forward in the election must have a good amount of courage. Other advantageous qualities include an open mind, willing to learn, collaborative ability, and great listening skills.

The ultimate trick in local government is to meet the needs of the community with limited resources. If we had everything we needed to create the Cranbrook of our dreams, we wouldn’t need to elect a council to make the tough decisions.

The most pressing issues like housing, economic inequality, reconciliation, and climate change will be with us far longer than the next council term. These issues demand that we collect and share information, wade into difficult conversations, and keep our intention of a healthy community for all in our sights.

You can choose councillors who will represent your interests and be accountable to voters. For decades voters have trended towards older and male, and they are also usually business and land owners. Social media is informing a whole generation of younger voters who are more concerned about environmental sustainability and an equitable distribution of resources, and that is changing the election game. Government may be imperfect but it’s one of the most powerful tools we have to create community conditions for the health and well-being of our families. Go out and vote, because you matter.

Submitted by the Cranbrook Social Planning Society

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