Friday, June 20, 2008

Civic Leagues: Citizens Organize

Last night saw the start of what could be a significant change in the way municipalities connect with citizens throughout this region. An overflow crowd of 200 plus met at the Vancouver Island Ballroom of the Hotel Grand Pacific to discuss how the Guelph Ontario Civic League was formed and how it creates interest in local elections. The sheer size of the crowd pleased (and startled) the organizers who included the Victoria Labour Council, the Dogwood Initiative and the Columbia Institute as well as the newly minted Saanich Civic League.

Topics that sound all to familiar to Central Saanichers came up from every region (judging by the applause!):

-There is no recorded vote for future reference and therefore no accountability
-There is little or no communication with the public on important issues
-There is no warning of changes as local government advertising is minimal at best
-Unresponsive councillors are the norm, those who really listen are rare
-Citizens don’t know what’s going on at Council and don’t know how to find out
-Voter turnout is dismal as people feel disconnected and unheeded

Solutions include:

-Citizens doing surveys to determine what the community values
-Watching council, recording votes and publishing a voting record measured against these values -Keeping the Civic League non-partisan to allow everyone’s input and feedback
-Communicating online, by phone, by postering, by contacting local community groups etc
-Hosting events: serious ones to discuss civic engagement and fun ones to build community
-Fundraising to sustain the effort

One of the speakers asked for a show of hands for each of our local government areas: the room was about 40% Saanich, 40% Victoria and 20% everybody else.

Everyone was delighted to hear that the Guelph Civic League had managed to get its Council into electronic voting with the recorded vote projected on the Council wall instantly. This has not impeded or curtailed discussion, but it does mean that Councillors have to make their own decisions and not wait to see which way the wind is blowing.

Check it out: