Municipal politics can seem mundane and trivial. They are unconcerned with foreign policy, national defence and regional divisions. They don’t involve themselves in matters of healthcare or education. They don’t have large, branded, tightly controlled parties that you have been supporting or ridiculing for years.
Yet they affect very fundamental aspects of city life. For example, in five or 10 years, will you buy a house in Calgary? Will you be able to find and afford a place to live at all? Will you live out in the suburbs or in an apartment downtown? How will your utilities reach you? Sewage removal, clean water and electricity are utilities mostly taken for granted, but city council is still making decisions today that can affect these services.
Another major issue is secondary suites. City council decide whether or not fellow students will continue living in potentially dangerous basement suites without tenant’s rights. City council also decides how Calgarians will get around the city. Will council fund large roadways, the C-train or bike paths? How long will commuting around the city take? Your ability to go to the park, library or recreational centre is influenced by the council.
In sum, your experiences of living in this city are affected by the council. So yes, you should vote. It’s a well-worn mantra and for good reason. If this is the first time you have been told to vote, I’m not sure what rock you have been living under.
One of the biggest detractors of interest from municipal politics is the fact that there aren’t any parties, so you have to do research to know the candidates. But this is what made the open mayoral forum that took place in the MacEwan Ballroom on Monday possible. In federal politics, you’ll never get leaders of fringe parties or people with no political experience sitting beside the incumbent, vying as equals for the top job of Prime Minister. Yet sitting beside incumbent mayor Naheed Nenshi was a City of Calgary waterworks worker, a very religious Christian talk-show host, an ex-contractor, two barely comprehensible businessmen and an art gallery owner who admits to having no chance of winning, but is participating in the hopes of provoking civic discussion. While this made the forum feel more like a stand-up comedy event than the polished and controlled presentation seen in a federal leaders’ debate, the candidates’ personalities shone through, for better or for worse.
Nenshi’s popularity and effectiveness as mayor over the last three years depended as much on his ability to relate and interact with people and speak effectively than the policies that the whole council has to work to pass and implement. As mayor, his function is often to act as a tie-breaker between decisions that councillors make. Nenshi makes for an excellent representative of Calgary to the rest of Canada, but he will accomplish little if saddled with a council that refuses to support him. Keep this in mind when you vote for ward councillors.
Municipal politics have a personal charm to them which is not found at the federal or provincial level. Prime Minister Harper and Premier Redford are scripted, refined and controlled by the large organizations which they represent. Nenshi, by comparison, seems cool.
The City is extending greater effort to reach out to voters — instead of voters finding an obscure polling station in a prohibitive location, such as a school or police station they have never visited or cannot reach without a car, polling stations are coming to them. The City is trying out the Advance Poll Bus pilot project, where buses will be parked at LRT stations in advance of election day.
Beneficial new laws convieniently let anyone who would qualify on election day to advance vote. There will also be a free app available on iTunes which which has information about how to vote. One of the advance polling stations will be located in MacEwan Student Centre, which is an excellent opportunity for students. Now, you really have no excuse for missing the election. Get out there and vote!