Why a municipal party is necessary to restore confidence in City Hall
Ron Bolin: Dec. 12, 2012
Now don’t get me wrong. City Hall is not necessarily about to be shown to be either criminal or incompetent. But a great many folks find that its lack of transparency and onanistic communication is more than simply disconcerting. The circumstances which got us to this state are not uncommon and Nanaimo is not alone in finding itself with dwindling citizen participation in either elections or civic affairs.
In the 2011 Nanaimo municipal election our Mayor received 14% of the votes of citizens eligible to vote. The best outcome for a Councillor was for 14.4% of the eligible voters and the last place “winner” got in with only 9.3% of eligible voters. One could just as well say that 86% of the electorate voted against our Mayor and between 85.6% and 90.7% voted against any of our Councillors. At the same time the backing for candidates in the election came from a relative handful of groups on either the Chamber side of the election or the union side. Grass roots were few, far between and only lightly contributing. This situation is NOT a ringing endorsement of anyone, nor can any of our Council use such a record to stand firm on almost anything –and, not surprisingly, they don’t.
Whether these outcomes are the result of apathy, of “I’m alright Jack”, or of a trend toward the boycotting of elections is unclear: probably a mix of all. But what should be clear is that all spell a slow death spiral of democracy in local government.
What can be done? I have wracked my brain to try to figure this one out. The closest I have been able to come to a chance to get out of this ever deteriorating situation is to try to find a mechanism which could be used to build a relatively stable, reasonable well defined grass roots interest group which can provide recommendations and support to Councillors between elections, and is neither on the right or the left but devoted to the direct, rather than the trickle down, interests of the majority of our citizens. That mechanism involves the establishment of a political party, whether it is called a concerned citizens association, a ratepayers association or the ever popular coalition. To do all these things the group needs to be registered for political activity and is therefore a political “party”.
The advantages of a political party are many: it can vet candidates who will run under its banner; it can raise money for elections and for research and action; it operates 365 days a year rather than one day every three years; it can provide the strength to stand up to the bureaucracy when this is thought necessary; it has a brand name and can use its logo on election ballots for recognition. Significantly, a party is also, in itself, a democratic form. Participants can join or leave at any time (not just once every three years); they can pay dues or donate time or money as they see fit; they can elect officers, suggest programs and modify the party’s rules of engagement. A party is a way of keeping constant and consistent tabs on the political environment and it is why they have persisted at higher levels of government organization, despite their flaws.
As it happens, the times are also conducive to the formation of a party. It has become increasingly obvious that both the Chamber and the unions are taking greater notice of what is going on at City Hall and are desirous of keeping their influence on the front burner, thus relegating the rest of us to the back. Their interest comes with the difficult times in which all categories of citizens find themselves with dwindling incomes and elevated costs. Some of the consequences of these matters have given rise to citizen groups who, while active in defending their local interests, have also, of necessity, become aware of our political problems in general and are ready to do something about it. These groups and their leaders could provide a framework for the development of an organization which could define a robust and active middle to Nanaimo’s political situation and bring back active citizen participation in our political process. Let’s hope that one or more of them, or perhaps even a wild card, will step forward to begin the task of broader organization needed for a party. Without something changing it is likely that the next election will see even less citizen participation and more Chamber and union control over our local political processes.
PS: For the record, if I thought I was the person who could take this task to a successful completion, I would say so… I am, however, willing to assist those that do take it on to the best of my ability.
I agree with Ron. Real change in Nanaimo will only come about through a disciplined political organization that has a defined platform and runs candidates who support the program. It should not be associated with either of the major provincial parties – both of whom have interests to protect and advance which are antithetical to what needs to happen policy-wise at the local level. Ratepayers groups can be effective but only if they also operate at the political level; i.e. they run candidates and run on platform specifics. If council is going to recoup decision making from the bureaucracy they have to act in a united fashion – which means a good measure of platform discipline. I also think it would be best for a civic political party to plan from the beginning to be a one term phenomena – to gain power, implement its policies over a three year period and then self-destruct.
There has been a small opening in the iron curtain which divides Council from citizens. After last night’s Council meeting at which he revealed a recent legal opinion regarding possible conflict of interest which he had obtained using the fund which Council had set aside for this purpose, Councillor McKay, upon request, provided a copy of the opinion obtained at public expense with the proviso that it not be published at this time. While there is nothing in the document which is either notably profound or disturbing (it spells out the conditions under which he, as an employee of a sign business here in Nanaimo, must take care to avoid conflict) it is important in that this is the first time of which I am aware that such an opinion has been made available to the public. My hat is off to Councillor McKay.
We need more such transparency and must continue to wonder why we do not get it. I look forward to the soon to come Staff report on releasing stale in-camera minutes.
While there is nothing in the document which is either notably profound or disturbing (it spells out the conditions under which he, as an employee of a sign business here in Nanaimo.
The sign business partly owned by Roger McKinnon?
THe Boston Pizza fiasco sign business?
More to this than meets the eye.
To the point of a party solving our political woes ……… where do you think the quality of candidates will come from? For $30,000 a year, who in their right mind would run for council? Speaking of right mind …. maybe this explains why we have this council???
Nanaimo has as many possible quality candidates as anywhere on earth. Maybe more… What it doesn’t have is a vision for the centre and is therefore consumed by the right and the left.
Remembering that being a Councillor is a part time job which can easily be converted to a full time job where work expands to fill the time available, and that 1/3 of that pay is tax exempt, leads, especially in the light of of 8% per year increases and added pay for being on the RDN Board to remuneration which exceeds that of the median income earner in Nanaimo. As an addition to an existing job or a pension, this is not shabby.
@ Jim Taylor.
Can’t talk to the City renumeration but Joe Stanhope of the RDN by sitting on every committee possible pulls in about $125,000.
That said forget the payed voted in mouthpieces and ask what value do we have from the “professionals” at City Hall.
They are not underpayed by a long stroke.
European City ‘professionals” earn about a third of what our overpayed decision makers do ; often with much more responsibility/budgets.
The cry around here is that we must pay to get the best.
This is absolute bullshit that we have been led to be truth.
Money does not neccessarily buy quality.
One of the issues that continues to plague Nanaimo is the division that exists on so many levels. I don’t know how you could find 5 individuals in Nanaimo that can bridge the gap between North Nanaimo, South Nanaimo, Blue Collar, White Collar, Union, Non-Union…… and on and on it goes. A political party in Nanaimo that is neither left leaning nor right leaning would truly be a sight to behold.
If you support business, you can’t possibly be for the ‘working man’. If you have a social conscience you have to be a bleeding heart commie…….
If you attract a prominent business person, arguably to bring some fiscal reality to the table, that will offend all the NDP types who will immediately accuse you of going on a ‘witch hunt’.
If you attract someone with prominence in organized labour, you will be accused of making sure union employees continue with arguably ‘plush’ contracts.
Nanaimo may have amalgamated decades ago, but in reality it is still a very divided community.
In this, the one hundred year anniversary of what is said to be Canada’s largest militia deployment, we would do well to remember the coal strike that led to it and the shadow which it cast over our town. I have pondered whether it might help to have an exorcism as part of our remembrance.
If you attract a prominent business person, arguably to bring some fiscal reality to the table
Come come now.
Businessmen such as Korpan,Ruttan, Manhas etc have driven us to this point of near despair.
This is not to promote the “other side” as angles for they are not.
The impass between the Union funded Councillors and the developer funded Councillors screws it up for the masses that do not particpate in either group.
Korpan, Ruttan and Manhas ……. business people??? Where’d you get that idea?