Now that the municipal election is over, the real work of democratic engagement begins.
By Ryan McGreal
Published October 26, 2010
After yesterday's municipal election, we wake up to a new council that is substantially the same as the old one.
Voters promoted the downtown councillor, a radio personality, to the mayoralty and back-filled his vacant council seat with another radio personality.
In rural Ward 11 (Glanbrook/Winona), a progressive, anti-sprawl environmentalist beat the twice-censured incumbent in a close race.
In Ward 15 (Waterdown), voters elected a moderately progressive candidate who favours smart growth, adaptive reuse of existing buildings and infrastructure and supports improved transit with an accessible light rail transit system.
In every other ward, the incumbent handily won re-election, usually with a large majority of votes cast. Only Bernie Morelli in Ward 3 (with 44.46%) and Brad Clark in Ward 9 (with 45.33%) won with a mere plurality.
These results may have to do with voter turnout, which, like the council-elect itself, is substantially the same as it was in 2006.
Of the 353,317 registered voters, only 141,174, or 39.96%, cast a ballot. That's a modest increase from the dismal 2006 turnout of 36.73%, but it's scarcely cause for elation.
The good news is that, despite all the attention we give municipal elections - or don't give them, based on the turnout - they are somewhat overrated as a vector of citizen participation in the democratic process.
If you vote for a candidate once every four years but don't get involved in the meantime, it doesn't really matter much who you vote for.
Once politicians get inside the bubble that is City Hall, it's impossible to keep any kind of perspective without ongoing, substantive interaction with citizens for grounding.
On the other hand, with a sufficiently active citizenry, it doesn't much matter who sits around the Council table.
Any reasonably smart, patient, curious, open-minded person will generally arrive at a sensible policy decision as long as they manage not to lose their perspective about what matters.
Similarly: if left isolated from the outside world, just about anyone will fall prey to one or more of the pitfalls that corrode good decision-making - arrogance, fear, partisanship, dogmatism, laziness, stubbornness.
This is why it's so important for citizens to keep up their end of that engagement between elections.
Community organizer Saul Alinsky famously had a meeting with US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had just been elected in the deepest trough of the Great Depression. Alinsky spoke about the President's role in creating a more fair and prosperous society.
At the end of the meeting, FDR told Alinsky: "Okay, you've convinced me. Now go out and put pressure on me!"
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