Why do we allow bullies to govern at the municipal level?
Editorial by Rhonda Massad
Last Sunday's municipal elections saw the lowest voter turnout on the island of Montreal in as far as google could remember.
As a candidate for a council seat in my city, it felt like I was thrown into a Roman amphitheater to fight lions with a butter knife. To be honest, I've been trying to find a way to run a clean campaign for the last three elections after having won once in 2009. I swore to myself it was possible and not just a one off. I'm losing the challenge.
Given the low voter turnout, I suspect I'm not the only one standing in awe of the last 45 days where our community leaders and potential leaders tear each other apart for all to see on social media. Prepared, scripted and scheduled orchestrated rants on Facebook and Twitter coupled with main stream media choosing sides make it a grand show to watch with many voters not being informed enough to know the show is for them and most always missing critical context and facts. There is an art to executing this kind of campaign and bullies are getting better at it every election.
We live under a democratic system, or we believe we do. Democracy was designed to even the playing field. Make things fair. A group of people developed the concept, wrote it down on a good quality piece of parchment, and determined the laws of elections and governance. Today the ink on my printer doesn't last on a sheet of paper for six months. Is our disposable attitude destroying the democratic ideal?
Do you think if those same people could see us now they would be proud of us? Would they be happy at how things have evolved? Would they die for this? They created a system that is being eroded. I'm guessing it must have worked well at some point. Which has me wondering what happened to it and why people today really don't care about it. Only 38% of eligible voters showed up at the recent municipal election on the island of Montreal. Why are they so discouraged? Why don't they believe their vote will make an impact? What does it say about the leaders past (including myself) that can only inspire a handful of friends to go out to vote for them?
Now the government talks about paying us to go to the polls. At what point did we become apathetic or discouraged enough that we stopped voting? With 65% of voters not even going to the polls, leaders are left with a false sense of their residents support. More than half of residents of every city won't go out for their leaders at all. That leaves 35% divided in half as support for the elected council. One West Island city has close to 5,000 residents , 1700 people voted, leaving the sitting mayor with support of only 931 residents. The remaining 3/4 of the population don't care or support someone else. How can a leader truly feel they have the support of their community when they clearly do not? Leaders need to realize that most of the population they serve do not believe in the them and/or the process that got them the seat. Did they see through the BS and have given up? Are they less naive than those of us who keep trying to fix the broken system?
Could it be main stream media, that needs the city funding to stay alive, that compromises democracy? By either siding with one candidate or another or avoiding reporting all together to stay in good financial graces with municipal governments, main stream media squashes the fourth estate (traditional newspaper etc), leaving the fifth estate,( bloggers, watchdogs, activists, or other individuals or small groups who track and comment on the first four estates) to inform the voter.
Will good people who won't participate in mud-slinging behaviour on social media be destined to fail? Will they stop trying? Have they already? It would seem these are the people we would hope represent us. They are the ones who have honour. They honour themselves by not participating. Wouldn't that be the same person who would honour the words they wrote in their election flyer ? To be transparent. To listen to residents.
Inevitably, however, the bullies that do the mud slinging are the ones that win elections. They orchestrate smoke and mirror shows with lies and half truths that rival Spielberg, why would you expect that person to honour you? How can anyone expect the voter to know what's real and what's not?
Federal elections, depending on the current issue, yields more voters than other levels of government at 62% in 2021 in Canada. But grassroots elections like school board elections where few vote, impact the minds of our youth. Municipal elections impact the very tax dollars you can see and feel. Parks, pools, roads, sports, recreation and snow removal all fall under municipal. Those are the issues we complain about. We feel them every single day but don't care who handles that from a governance point of view?
Oddly, municipal is the one level of government in which we can make a significant change. The voters are the root of the "grass roots" issues.
Are we giving away our basic needs to another voter who may have more time to be engaged? Are we allowing our neighbours to make decisions for us because they managed to get more supporters to the polling station?
There's no handbook that comes with being a city official. Your neighbours are governing education, water and our daily quality of life. They don't come to the job with experience. They sink or swim on a job they can't lose for four years. Unless of course, they break the laws of ethics. Good luck proving that. Would you leave your debit card and pin with the same people that are running your city?
It's no wonder we have bullies governing us. It's the bullies that win elections. Imagine a leader body-shaming a resident on social media. An executive in any business would be removed from their position immediately. A local seated city mayor took to calling a resident Trumplike in a public meeting, also elected for a subsequent term. Anyone think they can keep a job in the private sector talking smack like that?
Yet another city unseated a sitting mayor but only after the local newspaper put up a picture of his wife on the front page inviting her to lose her COVID weight. What are we doing? Isn't it supposed to be all about community? How can the same people that say they will be the best to take care of us be the ones that do these things?
WTF is happening when we stoop so low to win? Do they think we all don't know? Do they think all of us are blind? How asleep is the voter that votes for them? It is no wonder the youth don't vote. They have to think we are completely insane.
What happened to kindness? Acceptance? Loving thy neighbour? Are we so full of shit we don't mean what we are promoting on every second social media post?
By voting we ensure the right person represents us. Isn't it worth taking a minute to know them? To vote for them? Or even run for office yourself?
You have four years to think about it.
The desire to use the democratic system of governance appears to be fading away. Are we ready to let it go? What do we replace it with?