Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why is there a disconnect from municipal politics?

Warning: If you are someone that does not exercise your right to vote, you will not only not enjoy this post, you will be insulted.

As the Burnaby Municipal Election campaigns near their end, media outlets have been pointing out the fact that very few people are aware of issues that affect their city and that even fewer actually make the effort to vote for a body of government that has a direct impact on their everyday lives with the decisions it makes.

The last Burnaby Municipal Election saw a voter participation rate of 25 percent out of all eligible voters.  Essentially, only 1 out of every 4 eligible voters cast a ballot in 2008.  Does this mean that out of every 4 people, 3 people have no problem allowing 1 person to have a say in local government?  In a world where conspiracy theories abound about the world's power structure being controlled by corrupt elites, I find it difficult to understand how a person living in this country, in this part of Canada, in a city as diverse as Burnaby does not feel that it is important enough to vote for their local government.  

Burnaby City Council is often making decisions on our behalf that affect us, the residents of Burnaby.  One example I can point to that is relevant to this blog is the issue of density.  Earlier this year, the City of Burnaby held a public hearing, after providing notice in the local newspapers, on its intention to amend rezoning bylaws to allow greater heights and greater density in Burnaby's town centres.  I attended the public hearing at which nobody came to speak on the issue.  Having no opposition to the proposed amendment, the Council moved to approve the amendment.

Recently on September 20th, at a public hearing regarding the Solo District development at Willingdon and Lougheed, a resident that had moved into a newly built nearby tower 3 years ago was surprised and dismayed by the future loss of her view that would occur with the newly approved heights of the high-rise towers slated to go in.  It appeared that this opponent of the proposed tower heights was scrambling to voice her opposition to a project that will not be in violation of any bylaws and therefore cannot be prevented.  This example highlights the problem of complacency that has developed in our society.  The person opposed to such height allowances had not even been aware of the fact that high-rise towers had already been planned for the area prior to her purchasing her high-rise condo,  let alone having been concerned enough to be aware of the decisions made on her behalf by city council regarding increased density.  This is one of the many examples of disinterest in issues that directly affect Burnaby's citizens who will not cast a ballot on November 19th.

I am certain that more people in Burnaby (which included me) had enough time to watch multiple Canucks games during their recent run to the Stanley Cup Final than will vote in the election on November 19th.  Those that had time to watch most (if not all) Canucks games this past spring but do not have the time to spend a few moments to learn about local issues and go to a polling station conveniently located near their home to take a few minutes to cast a vote, have no excuse other than that they are spoiled, ignorant, lazy or all of the above.  If anyone takes exception to my condescending view of non-voters, please share your reasons for not caring enough to inform yourself in this age of the internet to exercise a right that people in other parts of the world are willing to stand in extreme conditions all day long, risk injury, torture, and/or death to exercise their right to vote.  In this country, there is no reasonable excuse for voter apathy.

There are 3 weekdays left before the election this Saturday.  It will not only be interesting to see who gets elected, but also how few people will be electing Burnaby City Council and School Board.  If you are angry, get out and vote.  If you are happy, get out and vote.  You have no excuse to not vote.


  1. I agree with you completely. It is too bad though that municipal elections seem so complicated, with so many different candidates possible. You cannot find out everything you need to know about all of the candidates unless you make it a full time job to interview them all and study each one of their profiles! Even so I will make an effort to read all the information I can before Saturday and then cast my vote. I hope others will do the same.

  2. I also am baffled by the lack of public attendance of rezoning hearings. UniverCity, SFU, Burnaby experienced a rezoning that had height limits go from 10/12 stories up to 20 stories! in this last political term, on the top of Burnaby Mountain, no less. I think people feel helpless to stop the development.
    People want to protect their property investment...They have this view that ALL Development is good...?
    However; this height allowance is going to have a great effect on quality of life, and not all good. We need to exercise our right to decide what kind of housing fits our communities. Developers do not live in our neighbourhoods. Community consultation will help us (the public) to envision the implications of development. The planners need to be committed to community involvement...
    It's insulting that planners have this, "We know what is best for you" attitude. They will say, "Now Now... We think you will be happy with the result." I have seen the result... and I don't think these taller buildings are making for particularly good community.

  3. The example by Vivian shows the importance of being up-to-date on what is happening in our city and its government. The more local the politics are, the greater the interest that citizens should have. Unfortunately the opposite is true. Can we put all the blame on our city councils when only 25% of the eligible voters actually vote or nobody comes to express their concerns or interest at public hearings? The lack of interest gives our politicians an excuse to not meet its citizens concerns if it appears that enough people don't care.