“Think Globally, Act Locally.” The actual quote has been attributed to a number of different people but the principle is said to have been put forward initially by a Scots Planner, Patrick Geddes, as far back as 1915. Whatever its origins, it is becoming more widely accepted that effective action, even on global issues, begins at the local level.
Not only is this a matter of individual choice and responsibility but also an issue for local governments. As senior levels of government download or back away from responsibilities for affordable housing, health and social services, and the environment, local governments are increasingly called upon to address these needs. At the same time, municipalities across the country face infrastructure deficits and rising costs for core services. Property taxation is one of the few options available for local governments to raise funds yet municipal councils must attempt to keep taxes within affordable levels.
Daunting? Yes, but also a challenge —especially when considered in the context of outside influences. Climate change may be a subject for debate but, using water as an example, there can be little doubt that a trend towards warming temperatures and an earlier spring runoff is already having an impact on our own ability to meet the peak summer demands. Upcoming councils will have to consider strategies to address this issue by way of increased storage capacity, water metering, or other means to reduce consumption. The solution will likely be costly and economic factors outside our immediate control will influence our ability to pay for these and other improvements necessary to meet the city’s needs. Taking steps to ensure that services are provided to support a vibrant and healthy community is an ongoing task that requires creativity and an ability to collaborate with other city organizations as well as senior levels of government.
All of these issues at some point become topics for council discussion and debate. Despite the direct role of local government in many areas of our daily lives, voter turnout is abysmally low, averaging about 32 per cent across the province. By comparison, the voter turnout for federal and provincial elections is nearly double. Many reasons are given including cynicism about politicians generally, apathy, voter alienation, and the difficulty in getting information to make informed choices. Another factor is simply the number of candidates on a municipal ballot. Federal and provincial ridings are represented by a single candidate while municipal governments have positions for several councillors as well as a mayor. Disturbingly, voter registration is lowest among the 18 – 24 age group.
Regardless of voter turnout, municipalities must continue to function. The question for individual electors is whether or not you wish to take part in the decisions that affect you and your community. Information on City of Cranbrook functions is provided together with contact information, council minutes and agendas on the city website: www.cranbrook.ca. Council meetings are open and later televised. As we approach the fall election, there will also be one or more forums to provide an opportunity to hear and question potential candidates.
For those who choose to put their names forward and stand for office, it is worth noting that local government is non-partisan. Each councillor is responsible and accountable to electors for his or her own position when voting on city matters. Serving on council involves a considerable commitment of time with limited financial remuneration but for someone interested in taking an active role to ensure that our city is the best it can be, there are less tangible rewards.
Ultimately, the choice to have a say is yours.
Bob Whetham is a councillor with the City of Cranbrook
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the City of Cranbrook.