Cities: Where the rubber meets the road

6 Oct 2013
By Michael Ireton |

First the bad news, in the form of some pretty sad numbers. The average voter turnout in federal elections in Canada since 2000 is 61.3%. The average turnout for provincial elections since 2000 is 49%. And the average voter turnout for municipal elections in Calgary in the same time period is…a whopping 36%. That’s right folks, barely more than ⅓.

All three numbers are astonishing. There are people in any number of countries around the world who are literally dying to be able to vote in free, fair elections, without having to worry about getting shot, and with at least a fair degree of certainty that the whole thing isn’t a rigged sham. Here in comfy cozy Calgary, roughly half of us do what those people can only dream of.

But this isn’t about why people do or don’t vote. There are tons (literally, if you weigh all the paper!) of theories and studies about all that. It’s not about whether we should have mandatory voting like they do in Australia, either. (Just a thought, though–if a country basically founded by a bunch of convicts can put enough trust in “authority” to do that, why couldn’t we?)

What this is about is that those numbers seem totally upside-down! The feds and the province do a lot of really important stuff, to be sure. But the city–municipal government–probably has the most direct impact on our daily lives. A police officer when you have an emergency? The city. A hunky firefighter to get a cat down from a tree? The city. A nice refreshing drink of water from your kitchen faucet? The city. Garbage collection and recycling? The city. A nice park for a walk or a picnic? The city. A soccer field for a little fun? The city. The streets and sidewalks to get around on? The city. A bus or train to get around? The city. A library to borrow a book or do some research for a homework assignment? The city.

If it’s true that “good fences make good neighbours”, guess who approves those fences (or settles disagreements about them) as well as just about everything else to do with development and building? The city. You get the idea–and this list is far from complete. People may not be sure which level of government does exactly what–but the city does a lot. And what it does is the “stuff” that’s part of our lives every single day.

Now the good news. What it all comes down to (thanks for the earworm, Alanis) is this: municipal government is where the democratic rubber really hits the road. It’s where the decisions that have direct, tangible, and meaningful impacts on our daily living are made. And the coolest thing of all is that it’s also the place where every single one of us can make our voices heard!

We might not be able to troop off to Parliament Hill or the Legislature whenever we feel like it, but we sure can drop in at City Hall. You might not bump into an MP or top-level federal official that often–but chances are that City Councillors and city officials of all ranks are neighbours, community members, hockey and soccer coaches, and generally people you do rub shoulders with pretty regularly.

These are just some of the arguments to suggest that municipal government is perhaps the most important of the three different levels. If anything, municipal elections should have the highest voter turnout, not the lowest–so remember, folks, if you vote in only one election this year, why not make it the municipal election on October 21?