Dissatisfaction, Disengagement & Disillusionment?
With each passing year, I hear more and more people expressing their dissatisfaction, disengagement and disillusionment with government. The effects of this are clear; voter turnout has been on a downward trend for twenty plus years.
The reasons given for this decline are often attributed to a public that is uninterested, apathetic or just plain ignorant of the political system. Is this really true, or could there be other reasons that better explain this recent trend?
At the municipal level and, as a newly-elected Councillor, I noticed something very odd at every informational meeting the City hosted – regardless of topics – only a handful of people attended. Often, the staff outnumbered the public. I soon concluded that something was very wrong with this picture!
As I began to ask the ‘why’ questions during interactions with the public, I heard some common themes emerge;
- Frustration: The voters don’t believe their voices are being heard
- Their opinions don’t matter: Unless you are someone of means and influence
- Lack of transparency: There is dissatisfaction with the number of in-camera meetings and a perception that decisions are already made prior to the public consultation process
- Perceived gap between the ideals of democracy and the reality of what they see and experience
- Disillusionment with public institutions: in general
- Disengagement from the political process: A direct result of negative interactions with some public servants and/or elected officials.
Could it be that disengagement from the public process is a learned response as opposed to “the public doesn’t care”, which is often the explanation I hear from those in government? If it is a learned response, what can or should elected officials do to address this?
The solution may actually be quite simple. The public wants: to know that someone cares about their particular problem/issue; their elected politicians to keep their promises; and to come away from the process feeling as though their views were heard and duly considered. Most importantly, they want the final decision to be in the best interests of the community as a whole, instead of a ‘select’ few and/or the special interest groups.
In my view, we are fast approaching a crisis point in governance. Instead of government “by, for and of the people,” conducted in open legislative sessions, as opposed to in-camera (Closed) meetings, we have elected officials focused more on serving a narrow segment of our society rather than making principled decisions for the greater public good. Too often, our public institutions are not providing inspired leadership or effective government suited for the times we live in.
If elected officials don’t acknowledge and address this, thereby creating a more transparent, open and accountable government, we can expect further public disengagement. The Occupy Wall Street (OWS), movement in all its varied forms may be just a fore-shadow of what is yet to come.
September 18, 2012
Voters Made The Right Decision! Now What?
Last fall, the City of Abbotsford promoted the development of a new water source from Stave Lake and the “yes” response to a referendum. An aggressive, $320,000 advertising campaign was launched to support this initiative.
Many voters were not pleased with the tone and style of this campaign and, more importantly, had serious concerns about various aspects of the proposed waterworks program. The referendum was overwhelmingly defeated by 75% of the voters.
Since being elected, I continued to ask questions to better understand the City’s water system issues and problems. I reviewed numerous City and consultant documents, studies and reports.
The reports and studies were complex, lengthy and at times getting answers to my questions was much slower than I would have liked. Some information that I would have thought was readily available, had to be assembled by staff. At times, data was inconsistent or changing, which led to more questions. In short, it was an arduous and somewhat frustrating process!
Nevertheless, the more I read, the more convinced I became that the data the City had in its possession provided justification for discontinuing the promotion of the Stave Lake plan before it went to referendum. The evidence indicated that, not only was our water system sufficient to provide water to 2020 – 2025, as I and others had asserted during the referendum campaign, these dates could be extended out as far as 2030 – 2032. In my opinion, had the voters approved the Stave Lake Referendum, it would have created a major financial blunder that would have brought this City to its financial knees. Moreover, the citizens of Abbotsford would have had to pay for two water source systems when only one was required. To date, no one wants to answer this question; which one of the two systems (Norrish Creek or Stave Lake), would be underutilized; Norrish Creek, which is a gravity feed system, or Stave Lake which required pumping, i.e., significant ongoing electrical pumping costs?
In broad terms, there are four major water system concerns which require further work:
- The real need and timing for a new water source must be conclusively determined
- Residential water users are being overcharged for water
- Development is not paying its share of growth costs
- Plan needed to replace existing water mains and distribution pipes
Each of these will be discussed in more detail in future Blog postings. In the meantime, given the controversy surrounding this whole matter, the best way to move towards resolution of item 1 above (what is the real need for a new water source), is through an independent third party review. The taxpayers of Abbotsford are demanding that we get it right this time.