WR and Howe: Local Politicians Need Active Websites

All the politicians elected to serve the people of Kitchener at city and regional council had a website for the 2014 election—except for John Gazzola who was acclaimed. I know because I had links to all of them on my blog.

You can expect that a year from now when the 2018 election starts that all serious candidates including incumbents seeking re-election will have a website — except, again, John Gazzola who has never had a website to support his campaign.

But a funny thing happens to those websites in between elections. They disappear.

It’s as if democracy is only about voting. Apparently, knowing where our politicians stand on the issues they are voting on or why they voted the way they did is not important to share with constituents once they are elected. Until, of course, it’s time to vote again.

Only Frank Etherington, who represents Ward 9 in Kitchener, has an active website with regular updates related to issues he deals with on city council.

You can reach websites for Ward 6 Councillor Paul Singh and Regional Chair Ken Seiling but both are still trying to convince you to re-elect them in 2014.

The rest have gone dark. But why? Instead they rely on a bio page on their municipality’s website that does provide contact information but no other substantive content.

I’m most familiar with Kitchener’s municipal politicians but I’m sure that it’s pretty much the same across Waterloo Region.

We should expect for all of our elected politicians to maintain an active website in between elections. Having a website is a critical tool for being accountable to citizens. How else can we know if they followed through on what they promised? Or on the progress that they are making? Maybe there are good reasons why they haven’t fulfilled commitments or changed their mind, if so their reasoning and whatever new information changed their position should be shared with constituents.

All of these elected politicians say they care about engaging citizens. They are regularly calling for consultations and surveys. But what are they personally doing to inform citizens about the issues they face and the decisions they need to make?

Granted some, like Mayor Vrbanovic and Councillor Tom Galloway, make good use of social media to share information. But that only really helps citizens who are also active on those platforms — and even then, tweets can be missed and Facebook’s algorithm does not guarantee you’ll see all of the posts of the pages you follow. Social media does not replace the need for a website.

Being an active, engaged citizen is important every day. Not just on voting day. That requires being informed and being able to easily interact with our councilors on relevant issues. Those same councilors need to be proactive in making that not only possible, but easy for people who don’t geek out on municipal politics. And we as citizens need to expect that of them.

When citizens are not engaged, when they don’t think anyone is listening to them, they don’t vote. And then the day after the election, we wonder why voter turnout was again abysmal for the municipal election.

We deserve better. We need to expect better.


James Howe is a community advocate who blogs on urban issues and how they contribute to building healthy, happy communities at and on Twitter as @JamesHoweWR