Don’t look now, but another municipal election has come and gone.
In case you missed it, as 3 out 4 eligible voters did, St. Catharines has a new mayor and three new members of Council. Congratulations are certainly in order for the returning incumbents as well as the newbies. And regardless of your political bent, running a campaign is no small task. Coming out on top is a commendable accomplishment.
But while the October 24th election was a success for some, there are still many issues that need to be addressed. Both the low voter turnout and the failure to address environmental issues by a majority of the candidates, is concerning. It’s debateable whether the election results were issue-oriented, since almost all of the candidates focused on the mainstream issues. And while housing, crime enforcement and government spending are important issues, it does not dispel the need to address why so few voted and what our city’s future role will be in mitigating climate change.
The narrative on low voter turnout has many threads. It could be the non-partisan nature of municipal politics or perhaps voter fatigue so soon after both federal and provincial elections. Or is it that the frustration of engaging the municipal bureaucracy has led to a lack of engagement in municipal affairs. While those in power may disagree, the ‘You can’t fight City Hall’ sentiment still exists. The bottom-line is we need to do a better job of involving constituents, of making city affairs transparent and easily accessed. Engage the population and perhaps the voters will turn out.
Voters need to know that municipalities are far more responsible for what happens in our everyday lives than any other level of government. Issues like health care, housing, homelessness, policing, public transit and the environment, just to name a few, are dealt with at the local level. The look of our city from the subdivisions, roads and parks that appear above ground to the utilities that serve us from below ground are all municipal. And the people that we elect to make those decisions are living on the same streets and playing in the same parks that we do. It’s worth repeating – ‘Engage the population and perhaps the voters will turn out’.
While there may be different opinions regarding voter turnout there is no arguing that climate change is wreaking havoc on our planet. And for all that we’ve done to damage Mother Earth there is a solution that is right in front of us. Protect our open greenspaces, wetlands, forested areas and all things green. Make the necessary changes at City Hall to mitigate climate change. And to that end we need elected representatives that understand the environmental issues facing municipalities and who will provide effective leadership.
However, if you look at the campaign platforms of the various St. Catharines’ candidates, environmental issues are barely mentioned. In fact, many did not mention the environment at all. Several were on-side for more tree planting – which is a good thing. But as our city faces increasing pressure from the growing impact of climate change, we need leaders who are capable of responding to the needs for an environmentally sustainable and equitable future.
It’s generally accepted that municipalities around the world are recognising the benefits of a green approach to more liveable cities. Integrated urban planning, community engagement, a shift to mass transit, enhanced tree-planting programs, better use of resources and second-hand commerce are just a few of the many initiatives that are driving the transformation of our everyday lives. What it means is a more liveable city. A city that has less flooding, better air quality, more parks and public greenspaces with less asphalt and concrete, more low-rise, high-density housing and the use of alternative energy sources wherever and whenever possible. It requires vision and engagement from our elected officials and the private sector.
The recent election indicates that our city, while moving in the right direction, has a long way to go. Let’s hope we can improve and change our environmental policies and practices. To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.