Shape the debate

Bryn Ossington

Flickr Creative Commons
Flickr Creative Commons

Everyone wants to have a say in what happens in the community but so few are interested in making the effort to have the most basic say that Canadian democracy affords. Municipalities are responsible for some of the most important services people need to live work and play and ensure they can do so in a healthy community. Yet, despite this, municipal elections have the worst voter turnouts compared to their federal and provincial counterparts.

In the 2010 municipal election the overall Ontario voter turnout was 44.35 per cent of the eligible voters. That same election, the city of Waterloo saw a turnout of 41.16 per cent while in Kitchener the turnout was only 27.41 per cent only slightly above the percentage of total votes cast for the entire region at 26.58 per cent.

Some of this drop in participation for municipal and regional voting stems from a lack of understanding of how the region works, and where and when each citizen can vote. In provincial and federal elections political party campaigns are out pulling the vote for their respective candidates and feeding energizing and well-tested propaganda to the voting body.

But in municipal elections citizens can’t count on the same motivation from candidates as they can from the provincial and federal parties. Municipalities and candidates do not have the same organizing power as the government and candidates do at other levels. There is no doubt we need candidates and local governments to do a better job of educating voters about where, when and
why they should vote but ultimately it comes down to the engagement of local citizens.

Each level of government is legislated powers to oversee specific services within their boundaries. Municipalities are

responsible for some of the most basic services that affect citizens every day and make communities an enjoyable place to live.

Waterloo Region’s municipal governments have over 25 service areas they must oversee and each candidate who is vying for a vote wants and hand in shaping how those services are delivered. Garbage collection, transit, emergency services, libraries, economic development, water and sewage, airports, parks, arts and culture, and so much more. Municipal government has a direct impact on quality of life on daily basis.

No doubt that part of the problem in voter engagement is that candidates aren’t spending enough time speaking to the issues that matter. Candidates need to know what citizens want and should be made to understand they will not succeed if they aren’t supporting initiatives that their community wants. For this to change, the desires and concerns of the average citizen need to be heard and the debates need to be shaped around what

the electorate wants addressed not what candidates preach as most important issue they want to fix. Candidates should be debating their ability to provide solutions to community needs – something the Cord Community Edition hopes to initiate.

We’re launching a new “Shape the Debate” article series. Over the next 6 weeks we will be releasing a series of articles written by you about what you believe are the big issues that local politicians need to address in this campaign. We’ve heard plenty from advocacy groups and politicians and we are go- ing to hear plenty more about what the candidates think are the key issues. This is your chance to help shape the debate. To share your thoughts on what you believe our community needs to make it a better place to live, work and play.

So tell us, what do you think is the biggest issue facing our community? Email Bryn Ossington at to share your thoughts and help shape the debate.