October 28th is the day you should have scheduled in your calendars for a walk to the polling station. It is civic election time again this fall and after 3 years it is the public’s turn to grade our representatives. Well most of us. Wards 4 and 9 will have councillors Fougere and Hincks respectively will return to Henry Baker Hall. Three new public school board trustees will also have won uncontested with subdivisions 1, 5 and 7 welcoming Tim Stobbs, Carla Beck and Angela Fraser.
It may be disappointing not to have some competition, and an exchange of ideas during this election campaign in Wards or school board subdivisions that already have winners. I wonder, however, how much discussion will occur in contested Wards? What is the situation with public debate especially public forums and candidate debates? I’ve heard of one to be held at the old #1 fire hall on 11th avenue Thursday October 15.
The only one I can find information about on the internet so far is the mayoral debate hosted by the Regina and District Chamber of Commerce on the morning of Thursday October 22 at the Conxus Centre of the Arts. It will only COST non chamber members who, register early, a “breakfast price” of $40.00 to get into the debate featuring incumbent mayor Pat Fiacco and candidates Jim Elliot and Linda A.M. White. Members are hit with a $25.00 fee while luckiest of all are students who need only pay $18.00 with early registry. All prices are increased by five dollars if anyone in these three payment categories wishes to show up at 7.30am, Oct 22 for registration (Regina and District Chamber of Commerce -Events- B2B Breakfast Seminar http://www.reginachamber.com/).
Now I’m sure it is quite expensive to rent out the Centre of the Arts (might there be a less expensive venue?), there is the cost of food (can I not pay anything if I don’t want to eat breakfast?/$40.00 breakfast better be AMAZING!) and in fairness to the Chamber of Commerce better that someone agrees to host a debate than no one at all (maybe I should be proactive and sponsor my own debate…). But is this really serving the general public? Who will pay $40.00 to see a local election debate? I wont. I would be there in a heart-beat but for cost. What about people who work, are they able to defer their hours so easily as to wander in at nine or ten in the morning rather than 8 am? How many students have eighteen dollars in their monthly budget for municipal election debates? Other than some dedicated politicos, I can’t imagine too many.
No, this debate is not for the public, it is for the chamber of commerce and is open to the public. I think the difference there is significant. It doesn’t bother me to have such a debate but if no other opportunities present themselves for a forum how credible is this election process? What is the state of local democracy and how valid a mandate do winners receive with public discussion at this sort of level? Last election there were four Wards with voter participation higher than 40% . The southern Wards 1 (43% won by Louis Browne) and 2 (44% won by Jocelyn Hutchinson), both seeing longtime incumbents gone, leaving the races open and the Northern Wards 9 (41% won by Terry Hincks ) and 10 (40% won by Jerry Flegel ). The lowest turnout, Ward 6 (22% won by Wade Murray) made up of an area containing North Central, Eastview, the Warehouse District portions of Al Richie (‘2006 Voter Participation by Ward’ City of Regina http://www.regina.ca/Page4222.aspx)
Situations like this remind me of a council presentation this summer by Gloria De Santis (DE09-49 June 22, 2009 Council Meeting) which addressed the question of hardship in the condo-conversion debate. One of the main themes of De Santis’ presentation was the fear renters had expressing hardship in relation to a backlash from apartment owners and managers but also a feeling of nowhere to turn to, specifically political representation. Quite a few councillors bristled and explained how available they were and how welcoming the presentation process was in the council chambers. Those councillors are correct about availability in relation to other forms of government, but there is still a distance, something I feel that is articulated with this election process. How can councillors be open and accountable in office yet invisible from debate and discussion on their performance/ideas during re-election? Sure a hand shake and chat when they are at my door is grand, but how much time has the average Reginan spent with them when they are actually working? When you have to search and search the web or be proactive in finding out about who your candidates are and what they stand for, the city can expect more turnouts in the 25-40% range. People are hard pressed to follow council and when they are suddenly faced with an issue without knowledge of council it takes a lot to go in cold. To believe there is no power relationship between being a council member and citizen (or is it customer these days at city hall…) is false, especially when people are faced with public speaking, time constraints and uncertainties about outcomes.
I believe more should be done to make this part of the process public, accessable and transparent. Why not have a debate in the middle of Cornwall Centre Saturday afternoon? At the university or local ones at high schools during noon hour or after school. Where’s the debate on the Scarth street mall at high noon on a weekday? Victoria Park?
So if anyone knows of election forums or debates coming up, write a comment here and in general let people know. We need to know our candidates.
Check out the city of Regina web page for election info: