By Laura Keil
During the lead-up to the local elections we heard our candidates make promises, vouch for their community spirit and outline how they will work hard to bring change.
In turn, we saw one of the largest voter turnouts in the history of the Valley. Residents, like the candidates, were engaged, they listened, they reflected and they acted.
So, now the electorate’s job is over. We can dust off our hands, pat ourselves on the back and hunker down for three years until the next election.
Let’s consider what will happen if we do that. Those we elected will get to work, much like they said they would. They will attend council meetings and committee meetings and travel around and think about the issues. They will make decisions, and go to and from work and wave to people and occasionally hear praise or complaints, but mostly they will be fishers without a line to the sea.
The new mayor of Valemount, Andru McCracken has said he wants to change the culture of council meetings. No more empty public chairs! But how does this change if no one bothers to understand the work of council?
Provincial and federal politics are not always accessible. We can’t sit in the press gallery in Ottawa every time the House is in session. But we can sit in on local government meetings, our very own tin can to political policies and happenings all across the country.
Why not use it?
We have no shortage of people who visit coffee shops to talk politics. Several candidates even outlined how long conversations about the town while drinking coffee with friends spurred them to run for office. So why are council seats empty? How do we bridge the coffee shop and council chambers? Is coffee the answer? Comfortable chairs? The ability to order panini?
I’m happy to say I don’t believe we need to go to those measures. What counts is that there be a sense of community when you walk into council chambers. Perhaps we could have less distance between the councillors and the public so it doesn’t feel like the public is being held back at a security line. It needs to be a comfortable place (open, friendly) where everyone feels they can belong. After all, shouldn’t the public feel comfortable in the village office they pay for?
It’s true the public can’t butt in with a comment in the middle of council. But in Valemount, at least, there’s a public forum at the end where you can submit a comment to Council. That comment gets put on the record, added to the minutes and becomes part of the public record.
So, is our job as voters really over? I beg you to see it differently. And maybe I’ll see you at council meetings with the few other regulars. Maybe I’ll have a coffee and panini in hand, but most certainly a welcoming smile.