Voting is a responsibility for all citizens

Local government elections, municipal, regional district, and school district, are quite different from provincial and federal elections.

Local government elections, municipal, regional district, and school district, are quite different from provincial and federal elections.

The schedule for local government elections is fixed. There are no opportunities for local politicians to play games about when, why, or if an election should be called.

Municipal elections are also different because we do not have to pretend to be voting for the government leader as we do in provincial and federal elections. Here we actually do vote for the chief executive, the mayor.

Municipal elections differ in other ways, too. We do not vote for just one candidate to represent our neighbourhood, we vote for the whole assembly. Voters may pick and choose and mix and match individuals to fill the entire council.

We may not end up with the exact council we may have preferred, but the council we elect will truly reflect the will of the people who took the time and made the effort to vote.

Regional districts are local governments too, but their structure and activities differ significantly from those of municipalities.

Regional voters have constituencies, as we find them at the federal and provincial levels. What is unique to regional governments is that voters in each constituency get to pick and chose which services they want from their local government.

As for school trustees, why do we bother electing school boards? The provincial government controls education funding, the school curriculum, and the teachers’ terms of employment.

Is there anything of substance left for school boards to decide, other than which school to close next?

Elections are a good time to give thought not only to whom we should vote for, but also on what voting means in a democracy.

The Occupy Wall Street protests in the United States, where people vote for every position from dog catcher to president, tell us that there is – or should be – more to voting that lining up at polling stations to mark a secret ballot.

Some British Columbia municipal politicians would like to change that process, calling for Internet voting in the 2014 municipal elections.

They believe that more of us would make the effort to vote if we could do so in our car via cell phone while waiting for a traffic light to change. If going to a polling station once every 1,095 days is too much to ask of citizens, democracy is truly dead.

At all levels of government ours is a representative democracy, even if we get to vote in occasional referendums.

The preponderance of political decisions that affect our lives are made by the people we elect. The word “representative” that defines our democracy is sometimes misunderstood.

When we elect representatives we do not transfer the power to govern to them, we confer the authority upon them to make decisions on our behalf. The responsibility for governing remains with us.

When the power to govern is transferred, we no longer govern ourselves even if that transfer is achieved by an impeccable democratic method.

As citizens of a democracy we are responsible for our own governance. We confer the authority to make day-to-day decisions to the councils and boards which we elect, but we retain the responsibility for our city, our region, and our schools. These are our institutions.

Voting is not an effort; it is a reminder of our responsibility as citizens, and that we must remain engaged in our own governance if we want to be governed democratically over the next three years.

Andre Carrel is a retired public sector administrator now living in Terrace, BC.