Sunday, October 31, 2010
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.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
...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 Mayor...to 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?
Election 2010: Review-ish Thoughts in Bullet-points
-'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
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
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.
"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 residents...you, me, everyone here...is 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."
Thursday, October 14, 2010
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.)