Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Bad Idea!

Alberta’s Liberal Party recently announced a twelve-point plan for improving political governance in Wild Rose country. There were eleven points worthy of serious discussion and – with apologies to my canine friends- one dog. The one that barked suggested that Albertans voting in provincial elections receive a $50 tax credit. Sadly, that woofer got most of the media attention and the good points didn’t receive the attention they deserved.
So why is paying people to vote a bad idea? Let me count the ways: Our troops are fighting and dying in Afghanistan to give the gift of democracy to the Afghanis, while the home folks won’t vote unless they’re paid. Paying democratic slackers to do their civic duty insults those Canadians who take their citizenship seriously and faithfully vote in municipal, provincial, and federal elections. It also sends a dangerous message to all citizens, implying that the state will absorb the heavy lifting of good citizenship. That’s a very dangerous idea.
Communities that are active, committed and engaged don’t happen by Divine intervention, government assistance or by accident. They happen because the citizens in such communities work darned hard.
Outside resources and agencies can play a positive role in community evolution. Federal and provincial government programs not tied to a particular political or economic agenda can assist. Organizations such as the Alberta Recreation and Parks Association (ARPA) provide invaluable access to resources and information vital to community building.
Even organizations like ARPA must be constantly aware of the risks inherent in doing too much. When the music stops, we must pay the orchestra. When government grants disappear, active, committed and engaged communities must self-finance. When ARPA moves on to other challenges, the active, committed and engaged community will continue to develop its’ own capacity.
Sustainable community evolution happens when a community has the courage and the commitment to empower itself. There are no silver bullets or magic wands. Active, committed, and engaged communities engage themselves in the painful self-examination, spirited discussion, and hard work of community change and evolution. They succeed because they have made the social investment required for success.
What about those communities where most folks don’t give a rip- where a handful of overworked volunteers do the bulk of the hard work of community building? How about the communities where the number of citizens choosing not to vote exceeds those who do? Those communities should begin writing their own community obituary, for their days as a functioning community are numbered.
Compared to the difficult elements of community development- consensus building and conflict management- voting is a piece of cake. When citizens no longer value community responsibility enough to exercise the right to vote, they turn their backs on participation in an active, committed, engaged, and democratic community. The bottom line: Paying people to vote simply enables bad citizenship and insults the efforts of true community builders. It’s a bad idea. Woof!