Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Summer Of Opportunity

Before long, we will be enjoying another Alberta summer. This summer is special, for the scent of wild roses drifting across the breadth of Alberta will herald the approach of local political renewal.
Yes, we are approaching Alberta’s tri-annual municipal elections. On October 18th, we will have the opportunity to re-seed Alberta’s rich soil of grassroots democracy. Can we expect that most Albertans will do their part to bring grassroots democracy to Wild Rose Country?
Only if we also expect Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff to quit federal politics to run off together to Wainwright and open a sushi restaurant. Given our abysmal record of political engagement, we’ll be lucky to get enough candidates in some communities to fill the School Board and Municipal Council seats by acclamation.
That’s a dismal state of affairs. Political representation at the Municipal Council and School Board level is the pinnacle of grass roots governance. Decisions made at those Board tables directly affect people’s daily lives. Their policies shape the community’s future.
Yet too many of us don’t participate in local democratic renewal. We don’t stand for office, actively support someone, or even bother to vote. It’s simpler to studiously avoid the process and the issues shaping our community’s future.
Even when we engage in the process, we use the filter of immediate self-interest as our decision-making guide. “Good old Bill or Mike or Hazel promises to lower taxes and that’s good enough for me. Why should I ask them where they intend to find the bucks to clear the streets and operate the landfill after they’ve cut our taxes? That’s just a minor detail. We always get grants from the province. Somebody else can worry about the future; not me” It’s a familiar refrain across the province.
That attitude raises three interesting questions. Why should our provincial government treat communities choosing not to invest in themselves the same as those that do? Should the province tax Peter, who regularly invests his own money in maintaining his property, to give to Paul, who doesn’t? How can we develop strong, self-reliant communities when our provincial government grants disempower local governments and create a municipal culture of dependency?
The impact of that culture of municipal dependency is what drives the Old Prairie Dog’s First Rule of Municipal Politics: The difficulty in recruiting strong municipal politicians increases in direct proportion to the degree of mess left by their predecessors.
That’s why we are truly approaching the summer of opportunity for many Alberta communities. Now is the time to seek out people with a community vision and the willingness to champion public investment that will provide local governments with the resources required to build active, engaged, and committed communities.
That’s the challenge facing every Albertan who takes the concept of democracy seriously. My challenge to you is this: If not you, then who? Your summer of opportunity awaits.