Sunday, October 31, 2010

I know this will rankle some...

So if we can't get 85% of eligible voters to cast votes based on informed, qualified opinions, how else can we achieve a more knowledgeable level of ballot-casting? If there's too much entrenched apathy to get past, if the majority of votes are based on 'name recognition', how else might we make things better?

Well, in Nevil Shute's novel 'In The Wet', the notion of a 'graduated vote entitlement' is posited. Everyone starts off with one vote. But from there, you're afforded additional votes according to- Well, here's the list:

1) Reaching the age of eighteen
2) Higher education or gaining a commission in the armed forces
3) Earning one's living overseas for two years
4) Raising two children to the age of 14 without divorcing
5) Being an official of a church
6) Having a high earned income
7) By Royal Charter at the Queen's (government's) discretion

Personally, I'd make some minor adjustments here. I'd say the age requirement for #4 should be 16, I'd find an assortment of non-religious institutions for #5, I'd address #6 more reasonbly...and have #7 be a little less flashy.

But to me the basis of the notion is sound; within an environment where possessing the right to vote is cherished, those who have more experience, more perspective and by extension (hopefully) more wisdom should have more of a say in the execution of our governance.

Because Lord knows that right now, 60% of us don't really give a good God-damn about the value of suffrage, so maybe we need to find a way to change this. Make the process more one of acquisition.

After all; isn't that at the core of this materialistic, consumer-based society of ours...?

What is it about inspiration and motivation?

Think about someone you know who does something that's infused with a strong degree of dedication. It could be the pursuit of fitness, a sport, a volunteer activity, their marriage, their faith...their job, raising their kids, a hobby...

The common denominator is that they don't need to be mandated to do it. It's part of their lifestyle, of who they are. Yes, there are times when they need to push themselves, when it's not really what they want to do, but invariably, they do it, whatever 'it' is.

All things being equal, we don't have to make a point of loving who we love. We don't have to strive to feel attracted to someone. And when something resonates with us on a basic level, when it's very much a 'purpose' to us, we move towards it as an activity.

When we're attuned to this 'purpose', in the main, energies don't have to be corralled to get to the point where we're doing it. (Though executing this purpose may well require tons of energy. Such as enthusiastically and authentically raising our children.)

People ask me what I'm trying to promote with this notion of an increased relationship of engagement on the part of our citizenry towards our Councillors, what the goal is. What I've just illustrated is the first portion of my response.

Because I'm envisioning a time when people 'naturally', and without having to coerce themselves, participate in and contribute towards their own local governance.

Apropos of our recent municipal election, identifiable indicators that we've achieved this would be a voter turnout rate in excess of say, 85%, and a general sense that only 10% of those ballots cast would be the result of anything akin to 'name recognition'. (Meaning, of course, that people would vote after constructing informed, qualified opinions. Not because of hearsay, nor kneejerk reactions, and certainly not from responding to the kind of rabble-rousing that some of our rookie candidates got up to this election.)

Identifiable year-round indicators could include attending ward-specific 'town hall' meetings, less structured get-togethers with Councillors, participation in online ward forums, in focus groups, in developing an ongoing understanding of what the current issues are, what's on City Council's agenda, etc.

But I need to stress that while these elements would be present in a paradigm shift to a society where we take our local governance not only seriously, but personally, in how I envision things, they wouldn't be the ultimate goal. They'd be a by-product. Just as living a more healthy and fit lifestyle may indeed mean you can climb the CN Tower's nearly 2000 steps in under 15 minutes, the goal is not the attainment of this quarter-hour timing, merely a by-product. So getting to where I believe we should be engagement-wise is not something that can be mandated, it can't be legislated. Which is why I'm against mandatory voting. Maybe in a totalitarian state it serves a purpose...but then, all those manditory votes cast are moot, anyway.

I happen to believe that if you have to mandate something, you probably haven't accomplished much in the end. At least not much authentically. To me it's like insisting someone likes you. Or being told that you must feel warm and fuzzy about your home and native land. There's a reason that the concept of something being 'organic' holds such power, food-politics notwithstanding. To my way of thinking, when things happen organically, there's far more integrity to the result. I believe that an increase in civic engagement should be this way. (Having said that, the concept of 'actively caring about local governance' can be fostered, brought along in ways directly and tangentially connected to the government. But only to a certain extent.)

Naturally, what I'm talking about here and what others are talking about regarding addressing the shortcomings and frustrations of 'local politics' are two different discussions entirely...even though the end goals are the same: better results from our elected officials, a sense of confidence and faith in our local government, and a general increase in quality of Life.

Though I haven't yet come up with a '10-part Plan for Attaining The Ultimate Relationship of Engagement in Local Governance', I do know this: trying to fix a flawed system with more rules, regulations and guidelines for our elected officials or the establishment of Council-mandated citizen advisory committees and groups to somehow hold them in check surely isn't the answer.

It boggles the mind, it does...

Over at The Hamiltonian there's an article: 'What the Heck Happened?'. It''s...


It's a great testimony to how people often can't see the forest for the trees.

To how people don't seem to really understand how the world in which they live actually works.

To how 'lizard brain' behaviour doesn't just crop up south of the border in right-leaning circles, but also seems to be present in The Great White North.

Mostly, it's testimony to how deeply entrenched 'the blame culture' here is.

In every election, the end result comes down to one simple, salient factor:

How voters cast their votes.

Nothing else matters.

1) Not how media framed the campaign.

2) Not how hard it is to 'dethrone' an incumbent.

3) Not because the Unfairness Faeries have run amok.

Sure; it's easy, it's convenient to find reasons why things turned out the way they did, to ascribe subjectively abhorrent results to elements outside each individual's cognitive processes. In other words, to effectively diminish the voter's role.

Is that really where we want to take this...?

Regarding #1: Claiming that Mainstream Media 'manipulated' an election campaign, that people voted the way they did as a result of how they'd been 'influenced', 'coerced' or otherwise herded in a particular so many of the commenters at the article –and elsewhere– maintain... Well, are you comfortable with not only making MM into something so powerful as to be able to accomplish this, but also effectively regarding residents as sheeple? Of being incapable of doing investigations of their own? Totally devoid of volition, of independence, of powers-of-discernment? Don't you think the connotation here would be that voters are morons?

Honestly; this way of thinking is, to me, so much worse than voter apathy. Because these commenters, who presumably voted from an informed stance, seem incapable of generating common sense, and clearly are locked into a 'victim' mindset.

But if you do feel that way...that voters are morons, malleable, play-things...don't you think that rather than bitching about how fuckled the system is, that this is where some effort should be applied? You know, to turn this whole débacle around?

Regarding #2: Apparently, to so many of the commenters and their ilk, it's impossible for anyone to be performing at a high level of elected service for more than one term. Therefore, it's assumed that they need to be replaced after four years. The old 'Bring in the fresh blood and ideas, throw out the incumbents!' mentality. Honestly, this was one of the most ridiculous notions I saw broadcast online this year. Worse, it was an alarmingly common one. It bears no relation to how the real world works, where proficiency and performance and experience is rewarded, not penalized. I read some pretty fucking stupid stuff about elections this year...but this is the pretty-fucking-stupidest. Maybe second to the above is the idea that there's something 'unfair' about the battle between the challenger-candidates and the incumbents. That the incumbents are almost impossible to 'usurp', that the advantages they possess are, by-and-large, impossible to overcome, waah-waah-waah. My reaction to this concept? To snicker, to do spit-takes, to truly question the intelligence of online commentators specifically...and the voting public in general.

Regarding #3: I'm saddened that in all the comments I've read post-election, almost nobody wants to point The Finger of Blame at those who are actually the ones accountable for all election results: The Voting Public. Because really: if you've got even half of votes cast being done so on the basis of 'name recognition' (in the 2006 election it was reportedly 60%), do you think that the responsibility for any outcome can be applied anywhere other than to us...?

More on this topic to come. Obviously.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Yeah, this fascinates me.

Over at The Hamiltonian, there's this article 'Target Practice' about Mayor Bob Bratina and his chances to be effective. I encourage you to go read it...especially the comments.

I don't comment there anymore because- Well, I have too much to say on the issues I have something to say on, and my contributions...and the way I would often link to a further, more lengthy examination of what was being discussed here...seemingly rubbed Cal and his staff the wrong way, and I exited, rather than conform.

But what's being said there in the Comments section, even before anything's begun at City Hall under Bratina makes me want there to be some actual discussion amongst these commenters at The Hamiltonian, and its readers in general, discussion about how to move forward in light of their skepticism, their doubts. Otherwise, they've effectively given up, they see the next four years as a complete and utter write-off. (You'll see a similar tone over at Raise the Hammer.)

Is this acceptable to them?

Can they not see a better way?

Do they have no hope, can they not envision what they can do to ensure a better path for the city?


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

And on it goes.

CHML's Scott Thompson and I have been in correspondence of late about voter turnout, about his failed 'Turf The Incumbent' campaign, about my interest in increasing the relationship of engagement between residents and Councillors. I'd share some of the exchanges...but to be honest, they're rather embarrassing.

Today he's blogged about how disappointed he is about voter turnout. The blog entry is here. I invite you to go read it.

Here's a bit that sums up how differing our views are on the subject:

"It’s not about politics as much as it is about participation."

I say 'differing' because I don't believe that plain, old 'participation' should be the goal.

I believe that 'informed participation' should be the goal.

That 'a qualified opinion resulting in informed participation' should be what we aspire to.

Unfortunately, it seems that this notion is a little beyond Mr. Thompson's grasp.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

So Here’s ‘The Big Questions’...

...and they’re for The Spec, The Metroland Community publications, Raise The Hammer, The Hamiltonian, CHML and CHCH:

Given that we’ve just voted in as leader of our city someone whose reputation and performance as a Councillor had a good dozen and a half candidates declaring in his ward before he chose to run for Mayor, clearly indicating rampant dissatisfaction...

Given that 11 out of 12 incumbents were re-elected...

Given that a pretty meagre increase in voter turnout was accomplished...

1) How do you reconcile the fact that anger and frustration were the dual tenors-of-the-day throughout the campaign, and yet those-who-voted did anything but express them? Did the votes of those who were active in commenting online, interviewed by Media, those who were generally vocal, get diluted by everyone else? (Those who clearly were not so angry and frustrated as to ‘vote the bums out’.)

2) Why do you suppose that almost 60% of eligible voters are still not exercising their rights?

3) How do you envision turning around this number?

4) Do you see the longstanding paradigm of pretty much leaving elected officials in local governance...our Councillors and our their own devices for the next four years as being acceptable?

5) Do you feel any motivation, any urge, any responsibility to explore ways in which we can increase the relationship of engagement between Hamilton residents and their Councillors, their Mayor, to migrate the value system from its current cycle of apathy at the polling stations, general disinterest in local governance and habitual bitching and complaining when the next election comes around to one where people are genuinely involved with the decisions being made at City Hall, feel empowered about participating in the process and casting well-informed votes next time?

6) Connected to #5, how do you see your role in Media where improving the state of affairs in the local governance arena is concerned? Do you feel that Media has any pro-active role at all in effective such positive change, or are you content to be reactive, letting the status quo continue, crossing your fingers, hoping for the best...all the while publishing articles documenting what unfolds?

Through My Glasses, Anyway

For months, since the brunt of our election campaign descended, I felt as if I’d been wearing glasses that had me viewing things entirely differently from other Hamiltonians. I’d the glasses off, and I’d see things the 'conventional' way. I’d squint, I’d strain to focus, I’d blink for context...and then I’d put the glasses back on. Clarity...if only of the personal kind.

Off they’d come, and I’d wince. I’d look around, I’d take in what most everyone else was taking in, seeing things from their perspective, I’d click a mental snapshot...and I’d put the glasses back on.

And I’d shake my head.

I don’t think it’s unfair to say that we’ve just been through an election campaign filled with mud-slinging and a dearth of sound solutions to an abundance of substantive issues. Mostly a whole lot of small-minded, personality-fueled 'debate'. Sorry debate that was latched onto and augmented by a generally uninformed public, yet still wholly justified in their frustration, their anger at what they've perceived to be a dysfunctional City Council, and gloriously accentuated by Mainstream Media. I believe the result is best referred to as a 'non sequitur campaign'.

But despite having all this set against a backdrop some pressing problems, despite the fact that even ignoring the Pan Am Games stadium site selection process having diverted attention and focus, despite the saddening dearth of robust debate, for me what mattered most was this ‘something else entirely’. And in seeing things so differently, I've felt this strange sense of the surreal.

I believe that unless we find a way to change the culture of non-involvement within local governance on the part of our citizenry, everything that was pushed to the front of the stage is hardly more than “...a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

During Election 2010, some -including our brightest mayoral candidate- railed against Media, demonizing them, accusing them of transgressions against the democratic process, conducting themselves in a self-serving manner. I would prefer to say that they'd not been particularly responsible in executing their duties as purveyors of information.

Others, myself included, railed against many candidates for lowering the decorum bar, not only in their behaviour, but in the fact that they've declared for the race at all, something I can only see as a form of arrogance, an expression of the rampant 'entitlement' ethos that has come to define so much of modern life.

And then there's the most contentious element of all, the public, which seems to have gotten off scott-free, receiving a pardon issued by itself...even though it can’t be declared a conscious player on either front.

Currently, it appears that our primary hope for good governance is to select the right people for office, provide sufficient rules and regulations to frame their conduct, then hope for the best.

And how do we view the selection process? Pretty casually, apparently. General apathy towards press coverage, poor voter turnout, questionable ways of arriving at our candidate-of-choice... Which means that aside from containing bad behaviour by way of rules and regulations once the Councillors are in office, we’re pretty much crossing our fingers that we get lucky.

Oh, and I shouldn’t forget about the whining and the bitching and complaining that accompanies this default setting when the inevitable happens and things turn out the way that foibles inherent in the human condition pretty much demand: rife with disappointment.

Surely this cannot continue.

Surely we all deserve better.

Surely we can all do better.

At least that’s the way I see it.

(Please read Editor Ryan's post here at Raise the Hammer; this was very much the email he sent to me months ago when we were exchanging thoughts about the election, voting, civic responsibilities, etc.)

Now that the Fat Lady's sung...

Election 2010: Review-ish Thoughts in Bullet-points

-We’ve created a society where cynicism about our local governance...let's leave the term 'politics' out of the discussion, because it's groaning under the burden of experience-proven displayed from the conversation's first breath. (Ironic dichotomy; so many people feeling unjustified hope in the notion of 'fresh blood')

-'What just happened?' is the 'debriefing' article that I don’t believe we’ll ever see in any aspect of Media, mostly because the mandate seems to be addressing numbers, slotting politicians into 'Winner' and 'Loser' categories, and examining the challenges ahead. Articles will no doubt examine the dissatisfaction the public feels at the campaign, but only in a perfunctory way will they touch on the dearth of substance that had been bandied about during the campaign...enabling the default setting of 'We'll get 'em in another four years', only reinforcing the aforementioned cynicism.

-What is the current role of Media, specifically Mainstream Media (MM) in our local governance? What should it be? Can a shift be managed?

-What purpose do articles about pre-Election Day polls serve, other than to provide a) stories to publish and b) a sense of validation for Media in being part of the equation? Especially if we're dealing with a disengaged voting public? The world we've created is one of where everything is labelled, everything is placed on a Top Ten list, ranked, categorized...quantified. Considered assessment is hardly a priority.

-I suspect that people are not, by-and-large, forming qualified opinions. On top of the wide-spread apathy towards local governance (a sufficiently large problem in itself), they're being spoon-fed Pablum, herded like sheeple...the end result being one that at the very least, raises eyebrows.

-There are three 'players' in local governance: the public, the politicians and MM. The most important by far is the first...and it's never been the major player it should be. Which of course begs the question ‘How can we change this?’

-We have no real vetting process in our local politics. There are no 'minimum requirements' for anyone regarding running for office. This is good, it's democracy at work...only in order for it to actually be effective, it requires something that currently is not in place: due diligence on the part of the public. What's required is an examination on the part of the people who are deciding who gets to represent them in each ward. This does not currently exist. Not when you have voter turnout at 37% and -purportedly- the majority of these voting 'according to name recognition'. I want the best possible people working for the good of the people at City Hall. But this requires the active participation of the residents to determine just who these people are. It also requires Media to facilitate this process, not turn it into some political variation on 'Canadian Idol'/So You Think You Can Dance?' exercise.

I want everyone to have a chance to contribute to their local governance. For some, this means serving as an elected official. But I do not believe that it is either necessary or appropriate for a mayoral campaign to become a circus. 15 candidates presented for consideration to a disengaged, apathetic citizenry quickly becomes a farce. Especially when the Media is complicit. I can't help but see some of the rationalizations for running as being entitlement-run-amok, self-aggrandizement or hubris-on-the-cheap. I was told by one mayoral candidate that his rationale for entering the race was (and I'm paraphrasing here) "to get in Di Ianni's face." We’re talking about the starting point of our governance process, and even a fringe candidate sees it in a way that hardly rises above sandbox shenanigans. Where is the dignity? Where is the respect? Has our governance become a consumable, some ever-recycled commodity, planned obsolescence in the civic arena?

-Considering so little emphasis was placed on addressing issues during this campaign, I’m curious as to what was actually accomplished. Moreover, I’m curious as to how people believe things will be different, why they believe they’ll be different...and what they’re willing to do to effect substantive change. And when I use the term ‘people’, I’m talking to the most powerful element of the local governance equation, us.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

More kudos for the Stoney Creek News...

The Stoney Creek News has a timely editorial in this week's issue. Entitled 'Make a difference -VOTE!', I urge you to read it. Though its title is misleading and ill-chosen, it addresses the issue that has been front-and-centre for me during this campaign: increasing the relationship of engagement between residents and their Councillors. (For the record, a more appropriate title for the piece would have been 'Voting is only the beginning'.)

I'm heartened to see that the editorial staff at the Hamilton Metroland publications under Group Managing Editor Mark Cripps has recognized that there's a problem with our current paradigm, the one where we have such low voter-turnout, where more than half will probably cast their ballot according to 'name recognition', where in the main, the public's participation in the process ends there...and isn't further added to but for the whining, the bitching, the complaining when things eventually ('inevitably'?) go south, and in three and a half years time, the hew and cry 'Get rid of the bums!' is repeated. (I need to acknowledge that there is a portion of our citizenry, people for whom the role of 'the governed' does not end on Election Day, residents who by default take a far more active role in this paradigm. But they are not sizable, they are not 'the norm', and I do not believe that celebrating them to the exclusion of the other 95% of the population is how my time and efforts are best applied. I'm far more concerned about the behaviour of 'the average' Hamiltonian, or as I diplomatically put it to mayoral candidate Mahesh Butani, 'Those of The Many'.)

The Stoney Creek News notes some suggestions from various candidates as to how we could address this need to increase the relationship of engagement with our City Council. (This is my term, not theirs, but regardless, this is the goal, no matter how it's labelled.) I won't quote them here, because they take up a good half of the article. Each suggestion has its own merits, and I salute those quoted for having recognized the need for change.

Additionally, Raise The Hammer has published articles this week bringing to the fore how 'social media' can facilitate more participation. One of the references was Calgary's new mayor and how he managed his victory by way of Facebook, Twitter, etc. To say that I was encouraged by this further dialogue would be an understatement.



Yeah; there's always an 'however' on My Stoney Creek, isn't there? Mostly because of my 'reasons behind the reasons' approach to things, my need to dig a little deeper while taking another step back. (Even I'm a little puzzled by the imagery here, but there ya go.)

The Stoney Creek News does a good job of naming the problem, that of ambivalence, of apathy on the part of the average voter. But I'm not convinced that in simply naming it and listing some suggestions as to its solutions we can effect genuine, systemic change, not even were we to see an increase in town hall meetings, in actual face-to-face contact between City Council members and residents, in the use of social media.

Why? Well, consider someone who's obese and unfit, with all the associated health problems that such a state brings, including depression. They're detached from their physical existence, they're frustrated with their circumstances, they're angry. Rife with apathy and despondency, they've lost hope. (Sound familiar? Hmm...?)

If you were to provide them 'resources', if you were to provide them a gym membership, a personal trainer, a dietician, an opportunity to address the various elements of their situation, do you believe that these would guarantee success?

As someone who's been actively (and ardently) involved in the pursuit of fitness for three and a half decades, and as someone who has both advised and trained people over those years, I can tell you that it doesn't. No amount of resources 'guarantee' anything. Not if the motivation is missing, not if authentic desire to change their default is absent. Gym memberships end up being unused, advice is ignored, eating habits return to their indulgent, comfort-providing ways...and the situation deteriorates all the more. More excess weight, more concomitant health issues such as Type II Diabetes, arthritis, cardio-vascular ailments, lower self-esteem, more frustration, more anger...more depression.

I guess this is where I come across as 'The Great Naysayer'. Fair enough; I believe that while acknowledging where we are with our current default is a wonderful first step, I do not believe that applying some well-meaning solutions without fully examining the ins-and-outs of how we created it really accomplishes much at all. In fact, I can guarantee that we could potentially do more damage in the long run simply because our seemingly innate Hamiltonian cynicism would latch onto things not having changed in any appreciable way, and therefore we'd accept our lot all the more...yadda, yadda, yadda.

I believe if we're going to sincerely address this issue, the issue of more participation, of involvement in our own local governance, then we owe it to ourselves to be 'in for a penny, in for a pound'. We owe it to ourselves to fully acknowledge what needs to be acknowledged, to examine where we are, how we got here, how we'd like things to be different, and most importantly whether or not we want to effect the changes required for things to be different.

Here's my bottom-line:

We've created a world defined by entitlement.

A world where instant-gratification is the norm.

A world informed by an 'Us vs Them' mentality, where reason and logic have to so great an extent been usurped by emotion.

A world in which we have the paradox of wanting to get rid of incumbents while hoping 'fresh blood' will provide us political salvation...and then go through the very same process four years down the line. ('Insanity is repeating the same behaviour while expecting a different outcome.')

Politicians cannot provide us the change we crave. Only we can accomplish that.

Politicians cannot provide us the quality of Life we crave. Only we can accomplish that.

Politicians cannot be the engines of authentic revitalization, of enhanced vibrancy. Only we can accomplish that.

And I believe we can only accomplish these things if we change the paradigm that has us voting at abysmal turnout levels, casting our ballots with an equivalent level of discernment, then saying 'Well, that's it for me for four years!' and going back to our lives, leaving our elected officials to their own devices.

Do I have suggestions as to how to accomplish migrating this paradigm? To achieving the value-system shift, to growing motivation, to inculcating ourselves and our children with a far more evolved level of civic responsibility and enthusiasm? Absolutely; over the past few months on this blog, in posts found under the tag 'Civic Engagement', I've proposed some fundamental suggestions, and will continue to do so. And in doing so, I'll be hoping that others promote additional dialogue, because only when we reach a critical mass of exchange and engagement will our own potential begin to be realized.

So yes, I agree with the Stoney Creek News: get out there and vote. But please, put some time into crafting your decision, no matter what that decision ends up being...and know that in casting your ballot, your responsibilities as resident, as citizen, as partner in local governance should only have just begun.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fresh twaddle, no waiting!

Ah, yes.

More leap into the fray, fan the flames even higher, rousing the rabble, inciting the excitable...

...all in the name of faux common sense.

And righteous indignation as fueled by some strange variation on complacency, apathy...and utter bloody-mindedness.

Here's the latest, from CHML's Scott Thompson, entitled The Non-Incumbent Councilor Campaign. (It's also being featured here, at The Hamiltonian.) It includes this gem:

"Simple…Do your research and vote for ANYONE but the incumbent.

A clean sweep of city hall is the only way to see real change."

Mr. Thompson's rant is short, sweet, and to the point.

It's also the most despair-inducing piece of mainstream media offering that I've encountered during this election campaign. That some of the comments in reaction to it surpass it in this regard is even more depressing.

Now, even though the bulk of his 'commentary' focuses on the débacle that is the Pan Am Games stadium site selection, his thrust is precisely what the Stoney Creek News cautioned against in their editorial when they said "It’s easy to 'throw da bums out,' to make a change, but what type of “change” are you getting?"

And honestly, I'm a little confused.

"Do your research and vote for ANYONE but the incumbent."


So we're supposed to do our research...which as I take it, is to examine the overall performance of the incumbent Council members as well as their declared platforms, and compare them with the qualifications and platforms of their challengers...then, once we've done that, once we've followed through in a Sy Syms sort of way ('An educated consumer is our best customer'), we're supposed to chuck all we've come up with and vote for 'ANYONE' but the incumbent.

Further, that "A clean sweep of city hall is the only way to see real change."


I think Mr. Thompson might be venturing into Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck/Bill O'Reilly territory with this tack.

And in going there, he manages to effect no small amount of disservice to the voting process in general, and specifically the one Hamilton currently finds itself in the middle of.

To me, more than ever Hamilton voters need to accept their responsibilities in local governance. The first of these responsibilities is to do 'due diligence' where their options are concerned. This means (at the very least) spending as much time on choosing a candidate as casting votes for 'Canadian Idol' or where their next holiday will be spent. We're talking about how vital aspects of their future will pan out, but when 60% of the voters in an election (of the 37% of the eligible population that actually takes the time and energy to vote at all) admit that their decision was based on 'name recognition', can we lie to ourselves and say 'qualified opinions' have held sway?

The second of these responsibilities is to actually vote.

Take a look at that number I tossed out regarding turnout. Thirty-seven percent of eligible voters actually cast ballots in the 2006 Municipal Election in Hamilton. Can you imagine receiving employer kudos if you performed at work to that level of 'delivery of performance'? Can you imagine being allowed to remain in a relationship with that level of interaction? Can you imagine parenting with that level of participation with your children?

No? Then why do we feel it's appropriate when choosing our representatives at City Council? (My wish is that we create a society in which a 90% voter turnout rate is a disappointment.)

The final responsibility on the part of our citizenry, our ward, me, everyone to aspire to have a relationship of engagement with the local governance process, and to live our lives within our neighbourhoods, our communities, our wards according to these aspirations. (Just as we should regarding our intimate relationships and everything extending out from them.) This means being not just as stakeholders in the enterprise, but as active collaborators with our Councillors.

If this was what we had in front of us right now, if our local governance reflected this paradigm, I guarantee that there would be no need for the Scott Thompsons of the world to be obviating as he has in this rant. Vitriol would not be spilling-over in almost every comment I read online, the general level of election rhetoric would be so much more infused with substance, and the time-wasting, combative tenor of broadcasts by all those wishing to be considered for office just wouldn't exist to the extent that it has during Election 2010. Why? Mostly because we'd have rid ourselves of the 'Us vs Them' mentality that has no place in any situation where the quality of Life is being determined, where our welfare is constantly under consideration and construction.

So my message to Mr. Thompson is this: rather than resorting to dull-pated fomenting, use that abundance of brain-cells you possess to consider a better way to help create a better Hamilton. Exhorting people to act like foot-stamping, breath-holding toddlers -or better yet, something akin to getting the villagers to attack the castle and destroy the monster out of fear- is just about the last thing you should be doing, no matter how frustrated you feel at what's unfolded regarding the Pan Am Games stadium site selection and the mess attached to it. You're a broadcaster, you have the ability to inject not only civility but a modicum of dignity into the mix...not to mention having a responsibility to do so. I listened to your interview with mayoral candidate Mahesh Butani; I know you're made of better stuff than what you've presented in your piece.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Margaret Mead

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Well done, well done indeed.

This week's edition has a staff editorial that I recommend reading. Entitled 'Grinding out a new council', it makes a handful of good points about the current state of affairs in Hamilton, both critical and salutary. However, where it excels is in the final bits, which I'm going to take the liberty of excerpting here:

"Is it frustrating to watch adults act like children in a school yard? Yes. Would a new crop of people change how Hamilton council works? Not really.

Over the last 10 years there has only been four new people elected to council. Truth be told, some Hamilton residents like what they see around the council table. Their interests and voices are represented in their own unique fashion. And while Hamilton’s council hijinks are unusual in some respects, they are not as over the top as in other municipalities, such as Vaughan, Toronto, or Windsor.

One of the untold aspects of Hamilton’s councillors is they are as attuned to their constituents’ needs as any politician can be. They are sensitive to criticism, responsive to homeowners wants, and demanding of city staff to accommodate their residents’ needs.

It’s easy to “throw da bums out,” to make a change, but what type of “change” are you getting?"

I applaud the effort put into the editorial. It's one of the more honest and objective pieces I've come across since the start of the election season.

I hope that the newspaper's readers take the time to read it, and give a little more thought about how they're going to vote, and why.

(And I may as well add that I appreciated how much column space was afforded coverage of local political issues above and beyond the usual...even though my take on the Ward 9 debate at the Royal Canadian Legion was markedly different.)

Out and about.

How quickly a year goes by...

Karen's Bridge

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Earth to citizenry! Earth to citizenry!

Is there anything so disappointing as bland food?

That's what this election's been like to me. Bland.

Not so much 'plain white bread' bland, but 'the cardboard box the loaves might be transported in' bland.

I've already bemoaned the 'non-campaigns' that The Big Three have presented as their 'platforms'. Bleurgh. And I might be biased, but I haven't really come across much substance in any of what's been distributed by the 'lesser mayoral candidates' save from Mahesh Butani.

Still, this hasn't been my biggest beef in the campaign; I'm even more disappointed by what I've been reading -and hearing- from prospective voters.

It's kinda funny...and yet not...that so many people will slag-off politicians in general, sight-unseen, accomplishments-unexamined...and yet they display behaviour in how they're commenting and generally responding to the campaign that's awfully similar to what they're castigating.

The worst of this stuff can be found on both The Spec's site and on The Hamiltonian. I mean, seriously; if I was on a bus and I overheard so much of what I've been reading...I'd guffaw so loudly I'm sure there'd be an altercation.

The level of perspicacity of some of the offerings qualifies as that coming from 'Brain-dead Fucks'. Others rise to 'Clearly the Result of a Drug-addled Mind', while mostly my reaction is 'Huh? Really?!?' (Occasionally I well-up, sniffing through teary eyes when a comment transcends 'salient' and threatens to achieve 'illuminating'. Not often, but these occasions do leave their marks, faint as they may be.)

I feel the need to clarify: I'm not talking about me not agreeing with commenters' opinions. I'm talking about the attached veracity, the cogency...whether or not rabies is at play.

Honestly, the vitriol, the foaming-at-the-orifice vehemence- It's enough to make me even more suspicious of the average person's intelligence, their ability to grasp the basic concepts they're supposedly holding forth about, whether or not it's even possible for some to articulate much of anything of substance further along the commentary scale than a bumptious grunt.

The really sad thing is that at the same time that we've got this situation going on...encouraged by rookie candidates with so small a sense of context, demeanours seemingly lacking in grace as to be rousing the rabble with their surly exhortations and facilitated by web sites, some who should know better...we've got the 63% of eligible voters (if the last election is any indicator) who don't exercise their right to cast a ballot, or the apparent 60% of those who do vote who base their decision on 'name recognition'. Hardly what I'd call either an informed or a qualified opinion.

What does all this mean?

We absolutely, positively have to do better.

Because all the stuff I so pointedly remarked on in my previous post addressing candidates' behaviour rises up from the general public. This mass is where our potential leaders in local governance come from. Their expectations become inculcated in our candidates. Their idiosyncrasies manifest themselves in our Councillors. Their mores, their codes-of-conduct are exhibited in our Mayors.

'We get the government we deserve.'

Yes. But as well, we are the government we elect.

Earth to rookie candidates! Earth to rookie candidates!

Here's a news flash or three for ya:

1) Launching a campaign with a court case against the incumbent, one that challenges the person's integrity in particularly specious and half-cocked ways, one that will, in all likelihood, be tossed out (the process hopefully including a nice wrist-slap for the rocket-scientist perpetrating the badly-considered theatrical piece), doesn't say much about your own integrity. In fact, it raises the question of whether you'd make a credible Councillor at all.

2) Yelling at the incumbent during a debate, providing the modern equivalent of hectoring, of frothy-mouthed rabble-rousing, doing the verbal equivalent of drunken nagging is not the stuff on which respectable Councillors are made. No matter how 'successful' you feel afterward in having scored points, no matter how much you're prone to bleating about it to those who get off on this stuff.

3) Taking a quite-common occurrence of election sign vandalism, magnifying and exaggerating the particulars, drawing the kind of conclusions and making resultant declarations about the context and ramifications of the incidents that not only connote guilt on the parts of incumbents but also damn them in the process (with no evidence whatsoever) only makes you look a) immature, and b) not-in-a-kajillion-years ready for the responsibilities of a ward Councillor.

4) Creating yet another 'Us vs Them' paradigm where you're spouting some ridiculous dogma where residents are on one side and business is on the other...only means that it's clear that you have absolutely no clue about the realities of needing to generate more commercial taxes to create better revenue pie slices...which means working with 'developers and business'. Unless you'd prefer that we have an even worse situation than we currently do.

5) If you're planning to harass the incumbent after they win on October 25th, if you're planning to make life hell for them once they're back in office, please try to remember that your actions over the next four years will not only be noted as they unfold and be cited here, in full-colour...and video where deemed appropriate...but that you will be held to account during the next election, should you choose to run. (No, I do not suffer fools gladly. And yes, I take enormous offence to the political arena being used so shabbily by those who make such a big deal of how their 'fresh blood and fresh ideas' almost always count more than experience and performance.)

6) If you want to defeat the incumbent, please spend at least as much time researching the issues and then actually coming up with salient ideas as to how things could be done better as you do at lowering the entire electoral process to something akin to tossing flaming shite-bags onto porches with all the spittle-infused name-calling and low-brow rhetoric.

Next up: News flashes for the voting public