I have spoken to many people during the most recent municipal election. Many of them told me they did not feel it was worthwhile voting, as the politicians would do nothing for them. I find out where they live, and I learn that not many of their neighbours vote either. Yet these are the very people whose needs are neglected at election time. According to the Hamilton Spectator, low income voters are less likely to vote. Political wannabes know this, so they focus their campaigns in vote rich neighbourhoods, where people are most likely to vote: seniors, homeowners, business owners, middle and upper income, etc.
During this election, I worked hard to try to convince people not to vote for politicians simply trying to get in on a promise to cut taxes. Wealthy individuals would never be happy, in my opinion, until they paid next to no taxes on any of their income or assets, yet they still expect the best of civil society to develop around them, e.g. low crime, good schools, good hospitals. I stated unequivocally that I could not care less about taxes, just the quality of services we are receiving and how our tax dollars are spent.
Unfortunately, Rob Ford, known in many of Toronto's circles as a "bull in a china shop" got elected on an anti-tax, anti-government and anti-establishment platform. What always bothers me about these elections is that voters do not choose to educate themselves on their candidates, and ask these same candidates the right questions. After Rob Ford's victory was declared on CTV in Toronto, his supporters were interviewed where they likened him to an "ordinary man". In fact, Ford is not an average man and does not have a clue how the average person in Toronto lives. He was born into a wealthy family headed by his father Doug Ford Sr., who also served as a Member of Provincial Parliament, and between he and his brother Doug (Jr), they inherited the family printing business, which was already a successful company when they took it over.
His platform, which was almost exclusively based on "ending the gravy train at city hall" as he referred to it, won him many supporters, many of whom believe there is lots of "fat" to cut in any government budget. Ford campaigned on cutting taxes, without cutting services, something I find a tad impossible, if you might ask. His claims were challenged by his opponents. When Ford was confronted on what specifically he would cut to reduce taxes, he was incoherent and could only come up with examples, such as cutting out free Metro passes for city councillors, no more $12,000 goodbye parties, and so forth. The specifics proposed would not even come near what he feels he could save in four years in costs.
In terms of staffing, he wanted to promote a strong customer service platform, returning calls within a specific frame of time or always having a human being to speak to, etc. which all sounds great, but when Ford later states he will only allow the refilling of half the positions left vacant due to retirement or other causes, the math shows there would be less staff available to return calls in a specified time, and less staff to manage the phone lines to provide a "live person". His customer service declaration runs counter to his idea of cutting staff. Further, from which departments will staff be cut from? To try to argue he can cut taxes and spending without affecting services is a fool's game.
The reason I chose to provide Ford's campaign as an example of optics in politics, and how far from reality these things are, is to also illustrate why some voters are not voting, or perhaps spoiling their ballots. I am not a voter that would be persuaded to vote differently, if I were given information about Ford's personal life and controversies, which were well publicized during the election. I don't care if he was ever arrested for a DUI, or was ever accused of domestic violence, or whatever the opposition has tried to use to dissuade people from voting for him. In my view, all political leaders have something hiding in their closets. What I am more inclined to support or not support is whether or not that politician is eager to work with all of a city, not just those that voted for him.
My views take me to Niagara as well, where I unfortunately have to live, until I can afford to move out of this cesspool of 1950's antiquated thinking and endless reliance on industries that are rapidly moving out of not only Niagara, but perhaps Canada as well. This dream was so much alive that even somebody that works at General Motors got elected, likely at least in part because of that reason. I would prefer to see my region forget about bolstering General Motors up above all other possible ways to keep and to turn our economy around. Has anybody ever heard of a place like GM KNOWINGLY hiring anybody with a disability? Of course not ... which in part is why Niagara has such a huge volume of ODSP recipients and an increasing number of applicants, not surprisingly many of whom are former factory workers -- our region not recognizing the environmental, health and other hazards faced by these workers, as well as the general false economy that was present in the 1980's when the number of GM workers was at its peak, how grocery stores, rental housing, car sales, etc. were all priced to what GM workers could afford and not the whole community, esp. if you were not one of the fortunate ones to have a job there.
Niagara's political representation has to work to represent all of us, not just those that drive a car, or work at General Motors. Niagara Region has to respond to the needs of all of its residents, whether they get their living from a wealthy business and live off the dividends, or if they are long term welfare recipients. Broad based considerations are best at the municipal level, e.g. better transit, improved streamlining for business regulations and reduced "red tape", taxation set to encourage environmentally friendly behaviour, intensification of development, and greater public input into the political processes. A single regional office needs to be set up where all by-laws for each municipality are streamlined and funneled through that one office, allowing for one person to be a point person for any business setting up anywhere in the region.
Politicians also need to be willingly educated on the needs of a diversity of the population they govern. One individual phoned my office shortly before the election in an attempt to get my support for his candidacy in my ward. He admitted he knew nothing about transit policy or where improvements need to be made. The best way these people can be educated is to be forced to do without their car for a whole month, getting around the city or region using available forms of public transit or taxi, and only then they will realize where the deficits lie. It is too easy for those that drive to not consider the needs and realities of those that don't. It is too easy for those that have a large, fancy $500,000 home with a swimming pool and paid housekeeper, to recognize the realities of those that do not have these privileges.
Of course, I admire any individual that sticks their neck out to run for any level of politics, as today, politics has become more of a contact sport, with politicians and candidates becoming the target of the electorate's wrath and anger about almost everything that is wrong in their lives. This is why I was not too thrilled when people bashed Rob Ford about his so-called "skeletons" in his closet, as I couldn't care less. But if Ford is trying to get into power to take away valued services from me that I pay for, for the sake of saving me a few dollars a year off my taxes, it then raises my interest and likelihood that I would not be supporting him.
Those around me telling me they did not vote are usually the ones that continue to complain about buses not being on time, about a city hall clerk being rude to them, about a by-law officer ignoring their concerns, etc. These things are what elections are about. I made transit into an election issue here, and several candidates did campaign on this issue, both at the local and regional level. There were many others that also worked on this, as well as other important issues. Now that the election is over, our jobs don't end as voters. We need to remind these newly elected or re-elected politicians about what they campaigned on, as well as what concerns us the most.
I am concerned not just about transit, but about jobs for the transit to take us to, and they must be jobs people can make a career of, not just "survival jobs". A region that is founded primarily on the lower paid service sector is a region that is not going to grow, and its tax base is going to shrink, and people will leave ... Niagara has complained for so long about keeping young people in the region after they finish their education, and efforts in the past four years have not resolved much of this. I am not only seeing young people leave, but people my age, who are sick and tired of the loss of jobs, and lack of recognition for their own talents by whatever local employers that we have left.
The school board elections were an interesting campaign, as a lot of the issues were based on school closures and declining enrollment. The school board trustees cannot do anything about the declining enrollment. The declining enrollment originates in a different sphere than their sphere of control. With less and less young people staying in Niagara, that means less people are hooking up and procreating here in Niagara and therefore, there are less children to supply the schools with work in this area. The natural consequence of this is to close or amalgamate schools. However, some trustees did have some positive suggestions to counter school closures by viewing it from a perspective of having smaller schools, smaller classrooms and a more specialized curriculum. I voted for these trustee candidates, and one of them as far as I know did get elected.
Unfortunately, there were some individuals elected that do not have a grasp on many of the issues, and could not give a damn about learning about them. I can identify a few of them in Niagara, and wonder why people think the way they do. One person said, "this guy is going to cut our water bills down". I told him I highly doubt that he or anybody else on council can do a damn thing about our water bills, but did he read about anything else any of these candidates were campaigning on? He said no. As some people say, "people get the government they deserve".
Most voters did not vote for Rob Ford because of his platform, but they voted for him because in general, they were either voting against something else or someone else, or they were supporting the "underdog" syndrome. Even the Toronto Sun scoffed at many elements of Ford's platform, although they backed the man himself. Despite Ford's wealth, he identified himself as a kind of outsider in Toronto politics. That idea can attract voters. Unfortunately, people did not take the time to learn about Mr. Ford and his ideas before they marked their ballots. I anticipate he will be faced with many gaffes during his term of office, much like his prior colleague Mel Lastman did. Ford is also going to have to work with a very disparate council, some on the far right, some on the centre right, some in the middle, and some on the left, and even a returning councillor that once led the Manitoba Communist Party - all of whom have an equal mandate to be there as does he.
My city's election was more of the same, with positions filled by people who are similar to those that left them. The Mayor was re-elected, not only because he had scant competition, but because many people do support his agenda and the work he did in the past four years. Many other mayors were turfed in Niagara in favour of somebody else, usually one of the city councillors that chose to run for mayor in their respective city. This further diversifies the make-up of our new regional council, which is sworn in after December 2010. Their first order of business is picking a regional chair, usually from somebody from among them, although the law permits the regional council to choose somebody else.
I think our job as voters is to now follow these people to make sure they do not take us another step backwards on many issues that they reluctantly moved forward on, through only mere baby steps. One thing I do not want is somebody to offer me to save what would amount to $16 on my taxes, but force me to cough up more money out of pocket for taxis, for instance, because they do not recognize transit service as important as roads and bridges. I don't want these people to cost me more. I do not mind paying a small amount more on my property taxes so that we can all be assured of better and improved services.
I just don't want to participate in what seems to be a popular race to the bottom.