Thursday, February 24, 2011

'One has to wonder...doesn't one?' The Sequel

(This is a followup post to this one from last year.)

As I'm a little out of the loop these days, I've only just discovered that the Bustamante vs Pearson suit was 'dismissed' last week. 

So I'm kinda wondering why Cal DiFalco over at The Hamiltonian, so full of piss-and-vinegar with his coverage of 'Bustamante's Boondoggle' last summer/autumn, seemingly decided not to cover the end result.

At all. 

Hmm...maybe...'damage control'?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Civic Engagement: What Can Residents Do? Addendum Two

As stated previously, I believe that the only authentic way to improve local governance on a long-term basis is to 'increase the relationship of engagement between the residents and their Councillors'.

The direction of the engagement is paramount. It has to come from the citizenry to be authentic and longstanding. The primary impetus has to come from us.

'One thing leads to another.'

Not just the lyric to a great song by The Fixx. Especially where The WWW is concerned. You do a search for one thing, something unexpected pops up along the way...and before you know it, you're the beneficiary of a gem. 

'Conversation Cafés'

Here's a quick description: 

"Conversation Cafe is an informal dialogue method which invites people to take part in hosted discussions about topical issues in  cafes, bookshops and other public places."

And here are some sites where you can find more information about the notion's background, as well as tips and suggestions as to how to use such get-togethers effectively:

Conversation Café is probably the best online resource. (It's pretty cool to see there are already Canadian locations listed.) Here's what its founder has to say about the site's history:

"In the summer of 2001, three Seattle friends, Susan Partnow, Habib Rose and Vicki Robin, ran an experiment. They believed that more spontaneous and drop-in public dialogue would serve democracy, critical thinking and neighborliness. So each sat in a different café once a week and invited whoever was there, plus friends, to dialogue about things that really mattered. Thus the Conversation Café Method was born. At the end of the summer they met to plan an outreach method so that in-depth conversations would take place more often in Seattle. That was September 10, 2001. The next day made it clear that Conversation Cafes could help diverse people process 9/11."

Here's their Facebook page

People and Participation reference the above, but they're such a good starting point for all manner of civic engagement that I'm including them. 

Finally, here's a Louisville site dealing with conversation cafés and community dialogue in general. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Yup. That's what I like to see.

This ad crossed my desk this week. (Thanks go out to Diana for bringing it to my attention.)

Friday, February 11, 2011

"I think we need to talk..." Part Three

'Preventing mysteries, controversies and scandals.'

Hmm... Well, I can't say that I believe that the potential success rates with all three of these elected officials 'problems' would be identical, assuming we had a better level of engagement in local governance. 

Mostly because I don't think there's any sure-fire way to predict who's most likely to do something that's scandalous. Even with the best candidate vetting system imaginable. People are- Well, they're people, and therefore they're flawed, they're subject to the most ridiculous whims, prone to base indulgences, no matter what their apparent grounding. Yes, the more candidates are vetted, the more scrupulous the 'interviewing' is by the voters (ie, the 'employer'), then the better the chance is that those candidates who have peculiar tendencies will get weeded out. Still, there's no guarantee. But considering how little a role the average person currently plays in the process, don't you think there's massive room for improvement?

'Controversies'? Well, this is where I tend to think we can produce better local governance. Given how little communication, how little actual dialogue there currently is between the average resident and the average Councillor, if this were changed, if there was a hellova lot more contact, if there were regular town halls, if Councillors and citizens were online and genuine back-and-forth dialogues were taking place, I believe that a lot of the perceptions about say, the PanAm Games Stadium Site Selection Process would never have gotten traction. 

'Employees' need guidance. From their 'Employer'. And currently, I'm not convinced that there is. A vote every four years might be 'a message' to elected officials (but even this isn't reflective of much, not really...or is it...?), but it's not enough. I don't believe it's reasonable to simply hand over the keys and let your 'Employees' carry on without regular and protracted input. That may be 'the way we've done it', but objectively, from within any other arena in our world? Just plain silly.

As for 'mysteries'... This is where 'increasing the relationship of engagement between residents and their Councillors' would pay off the most. There should be no 'mysteries'. There may be disagreements, there may be instances where some of the residents disagree with the way their Councillor is proceeding with an issue, but there's absolutely no reason for 'mysteries'. Clarity should be the order of the day. 

Fifty years ago? Sure. With contact and back-and-forth limited to phone calls and mailed letters and knocking on the Councillor's City Hall door, I'm sure the opportunities for 'mysteries' were myriad. But in today's world? More importantly, in today's interconnected world with a potentially far more involved citizenry and Councillors who accept that using all that the Internet has to offer is part of their job, as is actually collaborating with their residents, their constituents, their 'Employers'? Nope. 




By all rights, if we had the migration of paradigm I yammer-on about, if both partners in this dance performed as they should, given the possibilities of this new construct, 'mysteries' should become things of the past. 

To a great extent, ditto for 'controversies'. 

'Scandals'? Harrumph; as I've said, until we're electing robots, fuggettaboutit.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

'I think we need to talk..." Part Two

During the 2010 Hamilton election, I saw things that made me shake my head so much...I'm still needing chiropractic attention. 

I'll explain all that in a second, but first, a little primer as to how I see local governance. 

We, the people, are both 'Employer' and 'Customer' at the same time. 

Councillors and the Mayor are 'Employees' and 'Service Providers' at the same time. (Additionally, all City Council members both 'serve' and 'lead'.) 

The idea of an 'Employer' hiring a staff, giving them the keys to the facilities, providing them free-rein to all the resources at their disposal...and feeling they have a voice at the conclusion of a four-year contract is...preposterous. 

Moreover, the idea of an 'Employer' hiring their staff based primarily on 'name recognition' is insufferable. 

With so much at stake, don't you think that it behooves the 'Employer' to vet the candidates thoroughly? To effect as stringent a selection process as is possible, to corral as much information as is possible, to impose their not-inconsiderable abilities (they are the 'Employer', don't forget. The 'Owner' of it all...) on determining to whatever extent they are capable, which candidates bring to the positions the best array of skills, aptitude and, dare I suggest it, 'brilliance'?)

On the other side of the coin, don't you think that there should be some kind of air of propriety on the part of a candidate, one that doesn't have, shall we say, someone coming in off the street with little relevant within their skill-set for what the position requires, except an admirable enthusiasm...and a desire to 'do better than the bum wot was working there before me'? Ambition is one thing. Social-conscience-tinged arrogance is another. 

How many mayoral candidates did we have last October? Fifteen?

How many Ward 2 candidates were there last October? Nineteen?

Six in Ward 3, seven in Ward 6, five in Ward 13...

To properly get a handle on this many candidates...think about it: those in Ward 2 had thirty-four candidates to sort through, in order to do justice to the exercise-

Well, I don't believe the average person does justice to it, or even can do justice to it. This is, if we go back to my analogy, an 'interview process'. We're interviewing for the positions that in many ways, will determine our quality-of-Life more than any others. Even in an 'ideal' setup, one that's a manifestation of the notion of 'increasing the relationship of engagement between residents and their Councillors', it would be too much. Within our current construct, it's virtually impossible. 

So I'm here to talk about two issues. The first is the idea of people taking far more seriously the responsibilities of developing 'informed, qualified opinions' about those they're considering voting into office, as well as the same being true for those seeking election. And the second is the idea of having what would amount to a 'primary' setup, whereby fifteen candidates may start out on the election campaign path, but no more than a pre-determined number...I'm thinking five...would make it onto the final ballot. "To both weed out the 'questionable and time-consuming' candidates, and provide a more-focused field for voters to seriously consider." (Thanks, me.)

Civic engagement and 'responsible voting' are connected. It's unlikely you'd get authentic 'responsible voting' from an electorate who is detached from the process. One that isn't genuinely conversant with the issues facing the city (the equivalent is a sports fan who can wax dialectical about how their team's faring, individual stats, prospects), who hasn't been in dialogue with their Councillor, who hasn't either attended town hall meetings, candidate debates, or isn't a member of a neighbourhood or community association. So in order to have genuine 'responsible voting' across the board, it's the behaviour that leads up to voting day that matters most, to what extent the previous 1460 days of citizen activity could be seen as being reflective of credible 'civic engagement'. 

In order to have a great 'interview', both parties have to be prepared. The 'Employer' has to have done their homework, taken the time to examine the candidate's résumé, and most importantly, actually interview the person. Actively interview them.  I believe my stance on what's required of residents (the 'Employer') is clear, I don't need to belabour the point.

The same goes for the candidate. They need to have done their homework. They need to have developed an understanding of what the job requirements are, of the overall scope of the position. 

From where I was standing, I saw a distinct paucity of this in the last election. (I did, however, see some great candidates. My eyesight is not entirely jaundiced.)

I was appalled by how little was grasped by so many candidates about local governance. About the normal demands placed upon Councillors. About how little they actually comprehended about issues. 

After one debate in particular, I came away with this belief: a candidate has to be at least as cognizant of issues, of approaches, of options as the incumbent. (If they're running. Which by-and-large, they usually are.) 

And in today's world of blogging, with so many resources at our fingertips, there's no reason at all why someone sincerely interested in seeking office can't put themselves through an 'apprenticeship' of sorts, properly preparing themselves to engage in a full-on, in-depth, substantive election campaign...where debates are so God-damned disappointing, so utterly dispiriting. 

Primaries. Run-offs. Yes, I know it smacks of partisan politics. Party-based systems. But I cannot believe that anything good is being served when we have two-and-a-half dozen mayoral candidates in a race. 

Whose needs are actually being addressed here, under these circumstances? Is anyone's?!?

Frankly, candidates need to give a little more thought, some sincere, soul-searching thought to what they can contribute to an election. Especially if it means that the concerted focus that a mayoral campaign deserves, ends up being compromised to the equivalent of rough gauze. (I'd say that at least a giant's handful of those seeking the mayor's robes shouldn't have cluttered things up.) 

Short of this, I believe we need to consider a means to prevent this kind of 'occluded' result. We need some kind of 'play-off' system. 

Now, for those crying 'Foul!' at the inequities associated with this, let me remind you that as I'm constantly yammering-on about this new paradigm, where our citizenry is aware, involved and engaged, nothing would be lost in a 'primary' setup. Because if we had a discriminating group of voters, they'd get to the heart of the matter, separate the wheat from the chaff-

I have faith in people 'doing the right thing' under appropriately 'right' circumstances. 

No, I do not have a firm proposal to present to you. Not right now, not yet. But surely this is something to consider. 

Finally, how to reduce the number of 'mysteries', scandals and controversies.

"I think we need to talk..." Part One

This week, upstate New York Congressman Christopher Lee resigned over a Craigslist scandal. 

I mention this not because it holds any relevance to this blog, but is tangentially connected to this post. 

During the last municipal election, we had a real confluence of the grumpy, the intolerant, the self-indulgent, the embarrassing...and the apathetic. 

Of late, a lot of these elements have come into play over the PanAm Games Stadium Site Selection Process coming to a head (that's a marvellous visual, isn't it?) as well as Mayor Bratina's attempted United Way donation.

Additionally, local blogger Rene Gauthier posted 'Transparency (Lesson 3)' as part of an exercise to take a look at 'What happened?!?' during our stadium selection débâcle.



Head-scratching mysteries. 

Politics on all levels tend to be rife with this stuff. It goes in cycles, yes, and certain eras have more of their shares than others. But until we start electing Artificial Intelligence units, we're kinda stuck with the imperfections almost guaranteed by the human condition. 

Except that, specifically in local governance, we actually have far greater 'power' over what kind of person gets into office, and more importantly, we have far greater input into how they perform. 

We just can't expect these truths to be in effect within the paradigm we've (mostly passively) given our approval to. This 'hands-off but for voting every four years' attitude, one where we don't demand to be part of the collaborative process, we don't demand to know (within reasonable limits) what's going on, we don't demand answers... that there is no mystery surrounding issues such as the PanAm Games Stadium Site Selection Process. (Having the opposite doesn't guarantee that everyone gets what they want. Just that they are able to understand why things end up the way they do.)

Next up, vetting our candidates. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Civic Engagement: Supplementary Reading, Part One

When I began considering 'increasing the relationship of engagement between residents and their Councillors in local governance', while I was powerfully drawn to the notion, I really didn't have a clue where my ponderings would take either me or it. What route would be taken. How the notion might grow, take shape, become an approach and not just remain some short-lived, yammered-on thought. 

It helped that we were in the middle of an election campaign. 

It helped that my primary Life Challenge at the time was 'engagement'.

It helped that I had 24-7 Internet access, it helped that I can be a little 'fixated' (thank you, Virgo-rising in me...), it helped that I'm passively politically aware...

And it helps that I have some indulgent friends and family. Who've allowed me to yammer-on while I played with this concept. (More like they didn't insist that I give my head a shake and suggest I get another hobby.)

Last month I finally put my money where my mouth was; I published two series on practical ways people can move towards developing the lifestyle change, the value system that has civic engagement as a default. The one for Councillors begins here, while the one for residents begins here. Hopefully, I'll be adding to these lists as inspiration hits.

Further to this, there is a wealth of reading materials for those who want to look at things a little deeper. Admittedly, these materials are not for everyone. Meaning that it may well be that for the overwhelming majority of those people who migrate to being an active player in their local governance, 'going academic' isn't their cup of tea. They prefer to just be doing things in their community, participating in neighbourhood-building, making a difference in practical, hands-on ways, being engaged with their Councillor. They'd prefer to leave the theories and the navel-gazing to others. 

For those who are intrigued by how residents in other cities are dealing with getting to the place I'm talking about getting to, for those curious about things from a contextual standpoint, and for those who are behaviour and process weenies, I'm going to be providing links to papers, to blogs, to sites that deal with all of this. Mostly because I'm a shadow-weenie myself. 

Here then, is the first one: 'Deliberative Dialogue To Expand Civic Engagement: What Kind of Dialogue Does Democracy Need?' by Martha L. McCoy and Patrick L. Scully. Here's the introduction:

"The need to expand and deepen civic engagement is a central theme of a loosely defined and growing civic movement. A strong civic life and a flourishing democracy presume the active involvement of many people across society. Civic engagement is thus both a barometer of our public life and a focal point for action when we want to improve it. While regular citizen-to-citizen communication has always been a central part of democracy, public deliberation is just starting to be defined as a field of thought and practice. In this article we focus on face-to-face democratic deliberation as a means of enhancing civic engagement."

Let the dialogue begin. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Of allotments, community gardens...

As part of an ongoing series on increasing Civic Engagement, I recently presented the underlying benefits of community gardens towards that end. 

A friend of mine sent me a link...which led to another link...and another, and another...

This is where I come face-to-face with the awesome power of the Internet. How astounding its scope is to fuel interest, to broaden provide opportunities to connect, to learn. 

Currently, there's an online video ad talking about how there's going to be a generation who won't believe that you couldn't always see the person you were talking with electronically, whose reference points include being able to see anywhere in the world at any given time.

I mention this because I believe what the WWW offers most importantly is opportunity. I can sit down on a Sunday morning and begin researching community gardens, and in a few short hours have a working understanding of the history of the notion, have a handful of actual urban farms around the world I can reference, have emailed as many sources as I can generate the finger-work to accomplish...and even set up my own blog documenting my community's adventure...with the potential for other urban farmers across the globe to input and comment. 

How could you not be optimistic under these circumstances?

It coulda been said by Yogi...

"When the great Peter 'Yogi' Berra, master of the paradoxical contradiction and, along with Joe Demaggio, Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, one of baseball's legends, was asked why he no longer went to a St Louis restaurant called Ruggeri's, he said:

'Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded.'

Here's a snippet of something that crossed my desk regarding online anonymity, and struck me as a Yogi-ism:

"I personally am sick and tired of this type of posting and believe it should not (b)e allowed by the Hamiltonian or the Spec as the person that is behind it does not exist. I can not waste my time with people that are none existent."

Anonymity? We're still talking about this?!?

This weekend, Paul Berton, Editor-in-Chief of The Spec posted an editorial, 'Let the public decide - and tell the story'. Built on the 'Mayor Bob Bratina Big Cheque' incident, its focus was on 'anonymous online commenting'. A fair number of comments have been posted there.

The Hamiltonian followed up with its own article, 'Hats off to Paul Berton'.  It too, has garnered its share of comments. 

Additionally, a former mayoral candidate, one that I've only recently begun having email contact with, offered up his two cents' worth. (In the negative.)

The issue makes me laugh...and shake my head...and type. (Naturally.) 

Last September, I dealt with 'anonymity' here. It resulted from a protracted electronic exchange, one in which a little frustration was sent my way with a salvo described thusly:

"What they maintained at the conclusion of the escalating back-and-forths (at which point they declared as to being 'done wasting time with you'), was to tell me that it was all clear to them now, now they understood why I blogged anonymously."

 Granted, this post dealt more with the idea of blogging anonymously, not commenting in this mode. But to me, the issues are the same. As are the causes. 

Mostly, it seems to me that so many people are caught up in what they feel they 'deserve'. They 'deserve' to have 'access to information'. That is, they 'deserve' to know who a commenter is. It's their 'right' to know. 

This ties into the whole 'entitlement as part of a consuming culture'. (A culture that seems to do little else these days. Even social media is a consumable.) And don't ever stand in the way of a consumer and their needs. (I'll only obliquely reference those who have died working in retail over the past two years.)

I laugh, I genuinely laugh at people who get on their high-horse and ramble on with their self-righteous indignation about anonymity. The longer the ramble-fest, the more I laugh. 

In fact, these days, I seem to have a very sensitive 'canary-in-a-coalmine mechanism' where this discourse is concerned. (The more  common reference for this mechanism is 'bullshit detector'.) I launch almost before the conclusion of the initial sentence. What seems to escape with my spit-take is a floating thought-bubble that consists of 'Holy fuckolee; do they have that much time on their hands?!?'

There are so many issues out there that need to be addressed. Neighbourhood concerns. Community concerns. City concerns. And people are getting their knickers in a knot over 'anonymity'? Really?!?

I commented on the Spec article. And maybe I don't need to waste any further typing resources, I can just cut-and-paste  what I contributed there as my conclusion to this post:

mystoneycreekBy: mystoneycreek 
Feb 5, 2011 12:24 PM
What most matters to me... the content of a comment. I'm less interested in the identity of a commenter, their reputation, their history, how they're aligned politically, their allegiances, etc. In a time when it's pretty evident where rigid, recalcitrant partisan politics gets us (nowhere), my belief is that we need to be paying more attention to what's being said than who's saying it. Or what 'identity' they're using. Because unless we're at war, there is no 'Us vs Them'. So to me, the notion of 'anonymous' posts being disposable by virtue of their moniker is nonsense. And sad.

Post-script: I don't want for one second for anyone to infer from my comments that I condone online asshattery. Bad behaviour is bad behaviour. I just don't happen to believe that 'more rules' (enforcing identity guidelines) is the answer we should be considering. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Civic Engagement: What Can Residents Do? Addendum One

As stated previously, I believe that the only authentic way to improve local governance on a long-term basis is to 'increase the relationship of engagement between the residents and their Councillors'.

The direction of the engagement is paramount. It has to come from the citizenry to be authentic and longstanding. The primary impetus has to come from us.

When you're trying to compile a list, as much as you know that you can't possibly expect to remember everything, you endeavour to be as thorough as possible. I did when I posted 'Civic Engagement: What Can Residents Do? A Multipart Plan'.

When you're dealing with a topic that holds meaning above and beyond the intellectual, adding to a list such as this isn't frustrating, or annoying (as it presumably would be for a Virgo-rising individual), it's actually uplifting

You're reminded of another opportunity to accomplish what you've set out to do, and there's this rush of...well, hope. 

So the first addition to be added to my list is the notion of community gardens. Offshoots of 'victory gardens' from the First and Second World Wars. (On a personal note, I began a creative project last year predicated on this notion, set in Hamilton post-steel industry collapse.) 

Community gardens, beyond the wealth of good created by way of growing things to be eaten, increased awareness of the environment and our places in it, inculcating a more holistic awareness of all this in our children, are opportunities to bond neighbours. 

To create connections. 

To facilitate communion, communication, increase the opportunities for dialogue about both commonalities and differences. 

So community gardens are most definitely a mechanism towards 'increasing the relationship of engagement between residents and Councillors in local governance', because they're community-builders. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Election 2010: The Big Three and Mainstream Media

Mahesh Butani was a mayoral candidate in the 2010 election.

He's a contemporary, a regular conversation-mate, an 'influencer' on this journey of mine...about as close to a 'mentor' as I may ever have had, regardless of what aspect of Life we're talking about.

He's a friend. (Please check out the 'Solutions' portion of his candidacy website; there's some truly innovative, ingenious, inspirational material there.)

In a recent blog post, I referenced him thusly:

"Was I angry at the way MSM covered 'The Big Three' to the exclusion of others? Not so much*."

This then, is the post to address that asterisk.

The way MSM covered 'The Big Three' candidates (Bratina, Eisenberger and DiIanni), specifically The Spec, was contentious. To some more than others. Mahesh fell into the former camp.

In fact, he experienced some skirmishes with The Spec, specifically over some of Andrew Dreschel's columns. And wasn't timid about launching quite-pointed 'rebuttals'. In standalone articles, in the Comments sections of The Hamiltonian and Raise the Hammer as well as to letters to The Spec and to its publisher Howard Elliott.

I don't have the particulars at my fingertips, and to be frank, I'm not here to pick apart the verité of the situation, to take sides, or to hold forth on whether there was any validity to Mahesh's belief that he in particular was treated shabbily.

And to be honest, I believe that Mahesh and I agreed to disagree about the appropriateness of MSM training their focus on (admittedly often to the utter exclusion of) 'The Big Three'. In fact, I addressed this issue here, last October, three weeks before the election.

What I am here to yammer-on about is how taking MSM to task over their reportage is entirely the wrong way of addressing the issue.

To wit: if someone is overweight (and we're going to play nice and offer up the disclaimer that this situation is not a 'medical' one, nor attributable to 'genetics'...) the 'Reasons Behind the Reasons' approach to this dilemma isn't to examine the person's diet. Nor is it even to examine their activity levels. To me, the proper approach is to examine their life, take an honest look at what it is that's prompting them to be taking in the calories they are. ('Emotional eating' being a much, much more prevalent contributor to obesity than people are prepared to acknowledge...and very much influences the kinds of food people ingest.)

In this situation, regarding MSM's coverage of 'The Big Three', or even pushing out the boundaries of the discussion, local governance in general, to me the solution isn't an examination of MSM's inner workings, taking a look at the editorial mandates as handed down by The Powers That Be, then, if there are questionable practices in play, taking whatever actions seem 'reasonable' to correct this bad choice in course-plotting.

To me, the solution involves addressing a part of the formula that's labeled 'victim' in this apparent transgression of the use of newspapers, radio and television: the public.

I believe the argument about how 'The Big Three' were covered comes down to 'the public were denied opportunities of choice.'

My problem with this is that it paints 'the public' as vulnerable. It paints them as lemmings. As sheeple. And while this may in fact be true to a great extent, especially regarding Hamilton politics, to me the solution isn't to prevent the public from being directed like so many addle-pated simpletons by some kind of watchdog or Promise of Fair Coverage by MSM...

...the solution involves empowering 'the public' to an extent that in fact, it's calling the shots as to what gets covered, not Howard Elliott and his contemporaries.

Think about it: were what I'm proposing actually come to be, a genuine and sustained 'increase in the relationship of engagement between residents and their Councillors in local governance', then the landscape would shift dramatically. It would be a 'sea change'.

An engaged citizenry wouldn't stand for being manhandled by The Spec, CHCH, CHML, whomever. And quite frankly, MSM would know it. They'd know it, and further, they wouldn't throw a snit-fit over it...they'd actually cater to it. After all, MSM doesn't want enemies. It wants a profitable degree of compliance. (Yes, this can be confused with being 'complicit'.) Because it all comes down to ad dollars, and if people aren't buyin'...then Houston, we've got a problem.

An engaged citizenry would already have certain expectations going into an election. It would be pro-active in its assessment of candidates. It would be organizing 'meet-and-greets', town halls, would be pro-active from start to finish, so really, there wouldn't be any opportunity for MSM to 'manipulate' the election process...because the residents wouldn't have taken on a 'pliant' role, a vulnerable role, the guise of sheeple.

So in this 'sea change' dynamic, Mahesh Butani wouldn't have been subject to anywhere near the 'abandonment' he felt himself subject to last year. He would have had opportunities that our current paradigm simply couldn't have provided, given its current mandate.

In a very real sense, all of this comes down to the people taking back what's theirs: the power to determine their own future.

And to think: all it takes is a little initiative and everything begins to change.

Of Aspirations and Hopes, Part Five

During the recent municipal election, I was staggered by two aspects of the goings-on in particular. 

(Was I upset that we ended up putting into office a man who was so combative, had pissed off so many people in his ward that there were close to twenty candidates already committed to seeing him not return to the position of Councillor? Yup. Was I incredulous at how a non-platform platform wasn't seen by those voting for him as a negative? Absatively. Was I angry at the way MSM covered 'The Big Three' to the exclusion of others? Not so much*. Was I livid that the most thoughtful, most scope-infused, perhaps the 'wisest' of mayoral candidates let his obdurateness stand in the way of making a difference and effectively denied the people of Hamilton an opportunity to learn something, not just about their city but about themselves? I'm surprised you'd even have to ask.)

Both of these aspects are tied into wanting to see 'an increase in the relationship of engagement between residents and their Councillors in local governance'. Both of these aspects are two sides of the same coin. And both of these aspects are anything but peculiar to the election process; both are very emblematic of our 'city-wide political landscape' day-in, day-out, year-in, year-out. 

1) The Unenlightenment of The Citizenry

I'm sometimes accused of being overly cynical about the average person's capacities. The cognitive abilities of 'Those of The Many'. Not just about politics, but about most things in general. And I am cynical. (From a 'human' standpoint. From a 'spiritual' one? No. But that's another discussion entirely.) For good reason. Because there's this enormous gulf between functional understanding of what's going on in local governance...and where the average person stands. (Keep in mind that we only had 40% of eligible voters exercising their franchise. And of these, only 40% apparently filled out their ballots with anything resembling an informed opinion pushing them forward. Even if we were to end this discussion here, what does this imply about the general state of affairs? What can we infer from these little statistical tidbits? Hmm...?)

I saw it in Letters to the Editors. I saw it in online discussions, on message boards, in Comments sections. I heard it via eaves-dropped conversations on buses, in stores, I heard it in chats with neighbours, at all-candidate debates. 

I've seen it in concentrated discussions on RTH, which -all ne'er-do-wells aside- tends to feature a nice assortment of considered opinions; even the basics get missed here, even there in that 'elevated' concourse of discourse, the fundamentals of issues get misconstrued, misunderstood, misapplied. So what does that say about the capabilities of 'Those of The Many'?

Seriously, I hear some people go off on things-local governance and I throw up in my mouth a little. 'Thank God we don't have the absolute in participational democracy,' I muse to myself. 

No matter what you think of my beliefs about civic engagement, surely to gawd this lack of comprehension, this detachment, this apathy has to change. 

2) The Dearth of Compelling and Capable Candidates. (Also known as 'Leaders, O Genuine Leaders, Where the Farque Art Thou?')

On several occasions last year during the election campaign, I mused here in editorials about how stunned I was at the lack of acuity on the parts of some candidates. 

I bemoaned the fact that there is no vetting process for someone standing for office. 

I even referenced the remark that someone-of-renown made after one of the debates that maybe the fee for running should be increased tenfold to a grand. 

I sat down with candidates during the last election. I had email exchanges. I effectively interviewed them. 

I attended debates. I watched debates online. I listened to debates online. 

And the overwhelming response I had through all of this was a commingling of bewilderment and frustration. 

I'm all for people exercising their democratic right to stand for office. However...

However, what I saw missing was a certain amount of respect for the idea of office. (And I have to add that radio personalities such as CHML's Scott Thompson, who called for listeners to 'vote every incumbent out!' do nothing positive for this cause.) 

A lack of preparedness. A paucity of real insight, an inability to grasp not just the issues but the context of governance, communication skills that came up short time and again...

Often, it appeared as if everything lacking in the average person's comprehension of local politics had been manifested in some of these candidates. (Talk about 'getting the government we deserve'.) 

There are two aspects to governance. Those who serve...and those who are served. Each one has to take its participation seriously. In regards to the latter, I do not believe that the public in toto takes its responsibilities seriously. The residents. The citizenry.

In regards to the former, I believe that those in office to a great extent do take its responsibilities seriously. But I'm not so convinced that some candidates do. And I can illustrate this with an anecdote provide me by a dear friend. They were approached by someone last summer who was very enthusiastic about running for Councillor. This potential public servant was going on about how they were looking forward to getting stuff done, to making up for the previous Council's follies....and to all the advantages of the office. My friend then opined as to how this person would have to kiss their family goodbye for four years, that their personal life would be non-existent during the term, etc. The person just stared at them. (They never filed for candidacy.) 

One candidate, when explaining 'Why I decided to run' responded by saying 'My friends were asking me when I was going to get involved to make a difference,' or somesuch sentiment. (Bleurgh.)

Yet another kicked off his campaign by launching a civil action against the incumbent, all the while professing that he was, in effect, looking after the public's needs, that what was paramount was that 'justice be served'. 

A final one marched into a private function and declared animatedly, with a hand gesture befitting a home-plate umpire, 'We gotta get (the incumbent) outta here!'

While it would be easy to dismiss these incidents as aberrations, I believe they reflect the entire system. 

I believe this 'casual' approach to the notion of serving/leading at City Hall reflects not only the way MSM has framed politics, but more importantly, the general profile of the populace. 

Finally, I believe that fashioning ''an increase in the relationship of engagement between residents and their Councillors in local governance' would alleviate the preponderance of such situation, that effecting such a migration would not only provide for a more creditable citizenry ('An educated consumer is our best customer'), but by extension, provide for a much better-equipped pool of candidates.

At least that's my hope

*This I'll cover in a separate post.