Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The power of democracy

According to the unofficial results, only 22% of eligible voters took part in yesterday's plebiscite to decide if Saint John should adopt a mixed ward system. 71% of voters voted Yes. This translates into 15.6% of eligible voters saying Yes to wards, 6.4% voting No, and 78% of eligible voters didn't give a crap. 15.6% of eligible voters just changed the way our whole common council will be elected. Seems like a pretty small number of people changing the direction of municipal politics.

Why didn't more people vote? Was it because it was just a plebiscite? Not enough information about the pros and cons of a ward system? Did that many people really not give a crap? All of the above, likely. There was never really a good examination of the pros/cons of wards. I can only recall pro-ward articles and opinions in the TJ. Very few comments on the cons of a ward system. Perhaps I missed the issue where they gave a fair and balanced examination of the pros and cons...?

Personally, I was against changing to a ward system. I don't think it will be better for the city because I think it will result in even more polarization. When Saint John is finally starting to get momentum, to improve, I would hate to see common council be reduced to bickering amongst different sides of the city. What some voters likely forgot was that Saint John is a very clique-like society -- it's not what you know, it's who you know. If the well-connected councillors are working only for their section of the city, where does that leave the sections with average or below-average councillors? What if one section of the city doesn't have a capable pool from which to draw good councillors? I do see some inherent good in the ward system, but I'm worried that councillors might get bogged down in Mr. Jenkins' broken water pipe and the sidewalk outside Mrs. Thompson's house. Those issues are for the city works department, not necessarily your ward's councillor.

Just because a ward system works for a lot, perhaps the majority, of cities in Canada does not mean it's the answer for Saint John. To those 15.6% of people who changed our municipal landscape, I hope you know what you're doing.

1 comment:

Scum said...

I'm rather ashamed to admit that I didn't vote. I had intentions to do so, despite falling at least a little into each of your three categories.

But then someone fell asleep on me, and that just seemed more important at the time.

And now that I think about it, I suspect a lot of people were asking themselves what common council really does for them in any case.