As voters in B.C. head to the polls for local elections today, democracy nerds everywhere are watching and wondering: How many people will bother to vote this time?
Municipal elections in B.C. are notorious for terrible voter turnout.
According to CivicInfoBC, turnout for the last local elections, in 2018, ranged from a low of 17.8 per cent in Terrace to a high of 90.3 per cent in Tahsis.
Larger municipalities, in general, fared worse than smaller ones. Take Prince George’s 24 per cent, the City of Langley’s 25.2 per cent, Coquitlam’s 25.3 per cent, New Westminster’s 27.5 per cent, Burnaby’s 32 per cent, North Vancouver’s 33.8 per cent … the list of municipalities where two-thirds or three-quarters of voters stayed home is sadly long.
Vancouver, at 39.4 per cent, and Victoria, at 44.9 per cent, had among the higher turnouts among large municipalities — meaning it’s completely normal for fewer than half (or fewer than a third) of voters to simply stay home on Voting Day.
That’s just not good enough.
Here, for those who aren’t yet persuaded of the value of voting, are five reasons why you should care about municipal elections — and why you need to get out and vote.
Because you need to get around
Are you a driver? A cyclist? A pedestrian? Using a wheelchair, scooter or other mobility device? Whatever your way of getting around, it’s your city council that sets the tone for transportation.
Roads, sidewalks, bike lanes, recreational pathways, crosswalks, speed humps, traffic calming, parking, potholes … all of these things are your municipal council’s responsibility. If you’ve got an opinion about any of them, then vote for the candidate(s) that you believe will address them.
Plus, there’s the bigger-picture level: how transportation, and the infrastructure around it, affects your quality of life. Personal safety, accessibility, community building and, yes, climate change are all part of the picture around getting around.
If you want to get around your city safely, sensibly and smoothly? Then get out and vote.
Because you play, relax and hang out
Do you use parks and walking trails? Do your kids take swimming lessons and play hockey? Do you want access to community recreation facilities like pools, gyms, fields, arenas, community centres? Do you want affordable community programming for kids, teens, adults, seniors? Do you support local theatres, art galleries, museums?
Just about everything that falls under the heading of “leisure and recreation” can be influenced — for better or for worse — by the folks in your city hall.
If you want to have fun in your city? Then get out and vote.
Because you want to support local business
If you run a business, then you obviously care already. But if you shop, eat out, patronize hairstylists and nail salons, visit local optometrists and dentists, hang out in local coffeeshops, meet your friends for drinks on Friday nights — well, guess what? All of those things depend on local businesses, and your city hall is responsible for much of what makes those businesses run.
Taxation, zoning, licensing, development, infrastructure, transportation, walkability, safety: all of these things come into play when creating a climate that’s inviting to, and supportive of, local business.
If you want to live in a world where local business thrives? Then get out and vote.
Because schools matter
If you have children in school, then your connection to the education system is obvious. But even if you don’t? Public education still matters.
Children and youth are our future workers, leaders and decision-makers. Supporting a public education system that provides quality education to all children, regardless of their background, is critical in creating a generation of knowledgeable, engaged citizens who can tackle the problems of the world and build a better society.
The public education system also provides (or helps to provide) critical services for children and families in myriad other ways, from food to child care to settlement support for newcomers.
No, your local school trustees can’t solve all of society’s problems. But they can provide a voice for students and families, decide how to spend those precious provincial funding dollars, and set direction for future growth and change.
Think your current school board is getting it wrong? Believe they’re on the right track? Want to see focus on a different set of priorities? Got opinions about what is and is not happening in classrooms right now? This is your chance to help set a course for the future.
If you believe in schools? Then get out and vote.
Because you’re paying for it
Municipalities in B.C. have one main way of raising money, and that’s through property taxes. So, whether you’re paying those taxes directly (as a homeowner or business owner) or indirectly (as a renter), you have a vested interest in making sure those dollars are being spent in ways you consider to be wise.
Are your taxes too high or too low? Is too much money being spent in the wrong ways? Is not enough money being spent in others? Is your pocketbook taking a hit every year? Where is all that money going?
If you’ve got a gripe with your property tax bill, you have a vested interest in voting. And if you happen to think your money is already being used wisely? Then you have a vested interest in making sure it continues.
If you care about your money? Then you already know what I'm about to say.
Just get out and vote.