Did you know? There’s another municipal election coming on Saturday, November 15th, 2014
›› Lee Herrin
Historically, voter turnout in municipal elections in Victoria is dismal—in the last election in 2011 it was 26.3%, up a whole percentage point from 2008 when it was 25.3%. Out of 65,612 citizens of this fair city who were eligible to vote, only 17,080 managed to make it to a neighbourhood polling station between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on the third Saturday in November.
But here’s the good news, Fernwood: turnout in our neighbourhood was up over 13%, the biggest election over election increase of any neighbourhood in the city. In fact, of the whole increase city-wide, we were responsible for almost all of it. I’d like to think it was my article in this space three years ago urging you to get out and vote that did it, but I won’t kid myself. I know you did it because you care about this neighbourhood and its place in the city as a whole.
Still, even with this dramatic increase, we trail the city’s more politically-oriented, southern neighbourhoods in turnout. While Fairfield-Gonzales and James Bay produce a turnout rate of over 40% municipally, Fernwood is just over 20%. We still have a long way to go in order to flex our political muscle in this town.
So why vote anyway?
It strikes me as odd that in the last federal election in 2011, turnout in Victoria was approximately 67%. In the provincial election in 2013, turnout in Victoria was approximately 58%. No doubt, there is a lot more buzz when there is an election to the big leagues. But on a day to day basis, the level of government that has the most influence on the quality of your life is the civic/regional level of government. It’s our City government that decided to spend what will inevitably be over $100 million on a bridge, when we could have had a more modest and yet fully functional bridge for less than half of that. Fifty million dollars is a lot of money, and it would have gone a long way to satisfy other priorities.
Admittedly, it was more than 10 years ago now, but in 2002 there were plans drawn up with much input from the neighbourhood to upgrade the Fernwood Community Centre so that it would have more program and multi-purpose space, as well as making the building seismically safe. These improvements, had they been made 10 years ago, would have made the Fernwood Community Centre much more valuable to the neighbourhood and to the City as a whole. However, those plans were cancelled at the time because they were too expensive, and in fact, the City recommended closing the Community Centre in 2005. That’s right, substantially upgrading our community centre could have been completed in 2005 for less than $2 million, but then, that was too much. And now, 10 years later, there are no funds to upgrade community centres, or our pool, or our library or other civic amenities because we have spent the dough on a “signature” bridge. And don’t forget, as a region we’re still trying to figure out sewage treatment too. That project will dwarf the bridge in terms of the magnitude of the expense.
This municipal election will be different and much more exciting than previous ones in that not all of the incumbents are running, and we actually have a sitting Councillor—Lisa Helps, former Chair of Fernwood NRG’s Board of Directors during the renovation of the Cornerstone Building—challenging for the Mayor’s position. Last time, in 2011, all of the incumbents ran again for office and three were unseated. That was unusual, because in municipal politics, incumbency is a huge advantage (see Table 2, above)—usually those who have been around the longest tend to stick around even longer. We’ll have to wait until November 16th to know the outcome, but this election campaign season will be interesting to watch.
The accumulated decisions and priorities of Council through the years help to make the City what it is, as well as shape what it will become. You can bet that those who have been on Council the longest have had support from neighbourhoods with heavy turnout. If you’re happy with the way things are in the City and in Fernwood, and you’re pleased with the status quo, then there’s really no need to vote at all. You can trust the good folks in Fairfield, James Bay, Gonzales, and Rockland to decide for you who should govern our city. But if you think that Fernwood would be an even better neighbourhood with greater investment and respect from City Hall, then you know what you have to do.