With advance polling for the Oct. 22 municipal vote set to begin Wednesday (Oct. 10), it’s time to examine several strategies before you cast your ballot to elect individuals (hopefully) who can be trusted to best shape the future of the city over the next four years.
Prior to the 2003 municipal vote, City Scope consulted the author of a citizen’s guide to electing better public officials who encourages voters to maximize the impact of their electoral decision.
Charles Bens has consulted more than 200 public sector organizations in Canada, the U.S., Europe and Latin America, and he advocates a process he calls “quality voting.”
In the race for councillors, voters can cast up to a maximum of eight votes, but Bens stresses there is no requirement to endorse eight candidates.
The goal, argues Bens, is to only support those candidates “who will make good decisions on behalf of the community.” If a voter feels they have accomplished that by supporting less than the maximum allowed eight candidates, then they should not feel obligated to cast the remainder of their votes.
He says just filling up the ballot “can sometimes send irresponsible and unethical people to public office.”
Voters need to become familiar with the candidates and the issues beforehand, reminds Bens.
“You can really sort it out quite simply by saying who are the most ethical people here. Who are the people I would trust to babysit my children and to invest my money. Those are the kind of people you want in public office.”
The ideal candidate, advises Bens, is someone who is amenable to working with others to try to get things done.
“It’s always good to vote for someone who seems to have good ideas. Not someone who makes absurd promises like ‘I will not raise your taxes.’ Someone whose ideas can actually be implemented and help the community. Not just ideas that try to trick someone into voting for them.”
Bens outlines 10 criteria to better gauge the merits of both incumbents and challengers.
These include leadership, communication and legislative skills, along with a determination that an individual is not a one-issue candidate.
Other factors include election behaviour, a vision for the community, personal attributes and the assurance a candidate is not making outrageous promises.
Bureaucratic aptitude and accountability round out Bens’ checklist.
“If people use common sense, those are the types of guidelines that have a better chance of putting people in who will learn on the job. Who will start to work together and who, if the administration is cooperating and giving them good information, will make some good decisions on behalf of the community.” Just as valuable an insight today as it was 15 years ago.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The municipal election is two weeks distant, so a quick primer is in order.
Advance voting begins 10 a.m. Wednesday (Oct. 10) and runs through to 8 p.m. on Oct. 20. If you choose this route, you can cast your ballot online or via telephone.
Internet voting allows you to vote from any location with an available internet connection on computers, tablets, and cell phones. Telephone voting allows an elector to call from any touch-tone phone and is toll-free from anywhere within Canada and the U.S.
If you are voting in person Oct. 22, the polls are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and are located at:
Fanshawe College, Room #121, West Door, 120 Bill Martyn Parkway;
Elgin Business Resource Centre, board room, 300 South Edgeware Rd.;
St. Thomas-Elgin Memorial Arena, auditorium.
For those who may have accessibility issues, you can attend in person at any of the voting locations which are fully accessible. Additional voting places and special hours of voting will be available for electors residing in institutions where 20 or more beds are occupied by persons who are chronically ill or infirm and in retirement homes where 50 or more beds are occupied. A deputy returning officer will assist a voter anywhere within a voting place in order to allow a voter with a disability to vote. Complete details are on the city hall website, including a list of all candidates.
HOMELESS SURVEY: A MISSED OPPORTUNITY
The first-ever St. Thomas and Elgin county homeless enumeration – mandated by the province – was presented to council this past Monday (Oct. 1) and the document proved revealing on several fronts.
The key finding noted 159 homeless persons in St. Thomas and Elgin, 33 of whom are children within homeless families completing the survey and 17 were individuals being sheltered by Violence Against Women Services Elgin County and who did not participate in the survey.
In his report to council, Ralph West, the city’s housing services administrator, cautioned those figures are minimum numbers. Homelessness is likely a much greater problem.
Coun. Joan Rymal opened debate with a key observation.
“It’s not just about finding a home for people, there are so many other supports they need.”
“Mental health issues are much different than abuse issues.”
Minutes later, Coun. Jeff Kohler piggy-backed on that thought with the key question of the evening.
“Are we working now with people identified in the survey?”
Calling that “an interesting question,” West conceded those involved in the enumeration did not offer homeless individuals coming forward to participate in the survey any information on services available to them “in a systematic way.”
Talk about a missed opportunity.
“Our capacity is extremely stretched,” offered West.
Of concern to Coun. Linda Stevenson was the number of young people documented in the survey and what is the time frame required to offer assistance.
“My concern is this is not left unchecked for a period of time.”
She stressed the need to address the different factors at play, notably the individuals in the care of Violence Against Women Services Elgin County.
“Mental health issues are much different than abuse issues.”
Stevenson added, “I would like to see the survey done every other year or every third year.”
The enumeration spotlighted the lack of affordable housing available in the area and city planner Pat Keenan advised council remedial steps are in motion.
“We are working on amendments to the official plan to put in targets (for affordable housing.)”
To ensure the survey is not shelved like so many other documents at city hall Elizabeth Sebestyen, St. Thomas-Elgin Social Services director, indicated a committee is to be struck to address the enumeration recommendations.
Candidates in the Oct. 22 municipal vote share their vision for St. Thomas
JOINT POLICY ON SMOKES AND JOINTS
If you reside in city-owned social housing, forget about cultivating your own marijuana crop as of Oct. 17.
With the legalization of recreational marijuana just days away, city council unanimously approved a policy dealing with cannabis cultivation and smoking in city-owned social housing.
The federal Cannabis Act permits the cultivation of up to four cannabis plants per household. However, under the city’s new smoke-free policy and cannabis cultivation policy, unless you can provide proof of need under medical marijuana regulations, your green thumb won’t extend to the growing of weed.
And after Oct. 17, all new tenants moving into city-owned social housing will be prohibited from smoking and this includes “all combustible products such as tobacco, e-cigarettes and cannabis.”
Existing tenants will be exempted, with the exception of cannabis, as the city “is not required to ‘grandfather in’ what is currently an illegal product for recreational purposes,” according to Sebestyen.
As always, there are exceptions.
In some cases, notes Sebestyen in her report to council, “the city may be bound to accommodate a tenant where smoking cannabis is the prescribed method the tenant requires to achieve the desired therapeutic effect for the treatment of a disability or disabililty-related symptom and the tenant is unable to easily leave the unit to smoke.”
In addition, Sebestyen advises the policy “recognizes and permits the traditional Aboriginal use of tobacco products in a unit during the course of cultural or spiritual activities.”
Of note under the two new policies, a designated smoking area will be established for each housing complex – to be a suitable distance from windows, entrances or exits – where you can puff and toke away to your heart’s content.
Just think of the new friendships to be struck up as you light up.
FOR THE CALENDAR
It was an emotion-packed public forum Oct. 2 as residents of Talbotville voiced numerous concerns regarding a substantial 348-home subdivision to be built just minutes west of St. Thomas. A key issue was parkland and Southwold township CAO Lisa Higgs advises a public meeting dealing with a trio of green spaces in the municipality will be held Oct. 11, beginning at 7 p.m. in the Keystone Complex, Shedden.
The municipality of Central Elgin will hold a public meeting beginning 7 p.m. on Oct. 9 in the Elgin County Administration Building, to consider a zoning bylaw to implement federal regulations governing land use adjacent and within proximity to the St. Thomas Municipal Airport. The purpose of the meeting is to afford members of the public an opportunity to make representation with respect to the proposed zoning bylaw, which will regulate the height of buildings, structures and vegetation within proximity of the airport. An open house is scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. that day at the airport to provide an opportunity for the public to review the draft zoning bylaw. More information is available at centralelgin.org/planning.
Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope
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Love your blog Ian.
Thank you for the kind words. Much appreciated!