Revue, By Revelstoke Times Review editor Aaron Orlando
Peering back into recent Revelstoke municipal elections, a pretty clear pattern emerges. The majority of candidates can be filed into one of two categories.
The first is pro-business, old-guard types drawn largely from the city’s commercial class or government administration positions. Attend a Revelstoke Rotary weekly lunch or a local B.C. Liberals rally and you’re likely to see many of these faces.
The second variety of candidate is drawn from the local labour movement. Shop stewards, labour organizers and union representatives dominate this group. Attend a Shuswap Columbia Labour Council meeting or a local NDP event and you’ll surely see some of the faces that will come knocking at your door looking for your vote in the coming months.
I’m going to argue that this left/right distinction has not served Revelstoke well and needs to change. I’ll suggest what kind of candidate voters should be looking out for. By doing so, hopefully I’ll encourage some new candidates to get going now and have their nomination papers ready for the Oct. 4–14 nomination window, and their campaigns humming for the Nov. 19 election.
Of course, not every candidate or past councillor fits neatly into either of these categories, but it’s safe to say the business-friendly types have more or less dominated council for the past two councils (6 years), carrying the crucial majority on any vote. This has led to lower business taxes, stable property tax rates, austerity-minded fiscal policies and a healthy bottom line. Read the next paragraph after you’ve stopped laughing out loud.
In fact, none of these statements are true. Listen to the commercial ratepayer revolt, check your tax bill, look at city borrowing for infrastructure basics like sewage lagoon cleaning, or peruse the latest city finance report. So, despite giving the nod to right-leaning, business-friendly, fiscally-conservative councils, the planned outcome hasn’t been achieved. Voting conservative hasn’t led to the desired outcome, so there’s little reason to think doing more of the same will do so.
On the other side of the coin are the labour candidates. I ask, who are you most worried about when you see food and fuel price increases, or dramatic fluctuations in rent and real estate costs? If you’re like me, you worry about seniors on fixed incomes, those with mental or physical health issues, low-income working families struggling to get by, and others facing similar challenges in life. I’m not worried about the firefighters, police officers, city hall employees, et cetera. I don’t think my vote is best used ensuring their interests in this election.
Left-leaning candidates would argue their social policy positions come to the aid of those less fortunate members of our community. The Catch-22 at the local government level is by increasing services at the local level, as left-leaning candidates are too often prone to do, you directly burden those who can least afford it with the bill for those services — as opposed to leaving the social welfare work up to provincial and federal governments.
Alternately, as has been the case, you can use your council seat as a pulpit to criticize (or lobby) other levels of government. This may or may not pay off, but why not instead focus on the issues confronting us here in our own community? It’s progressive solutions to community issues that are most needed and need to be emphasized.
After this election, we’re likely to see a few new and a few returning faces around the table. Here’s what we need to see from the new recruits:
The majority of the major, progressive changes introduced in the past few years have come from the city’s planning department, including lots of ideas that are de facto political directions. For the most part, it’s often hard to discern what council’s position is on the changes, other than to raise their hand in favour.
We elect leaders to guide these progressive changes in consultation with us.
I’ll use the cosmetic pesticide ban decision as an example of how it was done wrong. I thought the process was more painful than weeding a soccer field full of dandelions manually. Costly staff reports, lots of staff time, meeting after meeting, presentation after presentation, letter of support after letter of support. It burned money, time and the goodwill of community advocates who were forced to spend too much of their personal time lobbying for what was a simple, easily doable change. A political decision: are we going to be progressive or not?
It sends the message that council chamber is not the place where new ideas and new directions get started.
New candidates need to bring this voice of progressive change to the small decisions, and more importantly the big ones.
And remember, progressive is not a left or right distinction.
Revelstoke has little appetite for more taxes. Voters may support big ideas, but it’s hard to see them supporting any big price tags. We’ve got serious money woes that will need to be addressed in the coming years.
And voters beware. Cutting the budget is a lot trickier than it might seem. Candidates need to express not that they would be prudent with your money, but exactly how they would do so.
With the exception of one or possibly two current councillors, to date, Revelstoke’s civic politicians have largely foregone the benefits of the greatest communication revolution since Gutenburg got the last one going in the 1400s. This is a total shame.
In 2011, there is simply no excuse for not having your platform and ideas enunciated in writing for all to read — or in video, audio or whatever. There’s also no excuse for continuing an open dialogue with your constituents throughout your time on council. Why not? A recent youth survey in Revelstoke found only 2 per cent of youth (up to 30) were involved politically. Individual councillors are often great at getting out and consulting individual stakeholders on particular issues, but leave out speaking to the vast majority. It creates a perception — fair or not — that council is more of a private club where decisions are made in private conversations, in consultation with a few familiar faces.
With so many new faces in town, councillors risk becoming irrelevant if they don’t actively seek to get their message out to youth, Internet users, newcomers and, well, everyone else. You not only need to be doing it by now, but doing it well. If you’re not technically inclined, maybe you could hire one of the web developers that was shut out of the city website contract to help your campaign?
New candidates need to get their messages out there — and I’d also advise them to also get out and knock on a lot of doors prior to the next election.
Cynicism is not the answer
I read through online comments at www.revelstoketimesreview.com about council’s pay raise with mixed feelings. While I find council’s decision totally baffling, I don’t think slamming them with cynical comments is the way forward.
Council naturally deals with political and therefore controversial decisions. Here at the paper, we focus on those difficult decisions and controversies. This sometimes creates a skewed perception of what goes on there. I don’t envy them; it can be rough.
Especially in a small, geographically-isolated town, municipal government has a bigger influence than provincial or federal government on the quality of life here. Running for council, sitting on a committee, being active in local politics or just voting is the best way to influence and drive positive change here.
Here’s hoping we see a wide field of candidates for mayor, council and for the CSRD Area B directorship.
And if you win and find the Revelstoke Times Review or other local media giving you a hard time about one of your decisions, naturally you’ll jump online and provide comment, context and background to the tough choices you were facing, and why you arrived at your progressive, creative decision.