“The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy.”
— Charles de Montesquieu, French philosopher (1689-1755)
Years ago, when I covered municipal politics for awhile, one of the most memorable experiences I had in that role had nothing to do with controversial developments or tax assessments.
Instead, it involved interviewing a six-year-old boy on Lime Street and asking him what he would like to see in his neighbourhood. His answer was what you would expect: a playground.
It was then that I really grasped the power and impact that municipal government can have.
Good ones can make neighbourhoods better and directly improve your quality of life. Bad ones can have the opposite effect.
This may sound trite and obvious, but I can only conclude that not everyone gets it or else more people would have turned out to vote in Tuesday’s elections.
I don’t believe that by not voting you give up your right to complain when decisions are made that aren’t to your liking — as if anyone could stop us.
But I do believe it means you just don’t care. And I don’t buy the argument that some people refuse to vote as a protest, because as a protest that would completely suck. I mean, who would understand the message you were purportedly sending?
The City of St. John’s issued a statement after the voting results were known, saying it was “very pleased with voter turnout,” which was a piddly 53 per cent, up from — wait for it — 52 per cent last election.
And yes, the city acknowledged it should be better. But the city has absolutely no reason to be pleased, and neither should those of us who exercised our franchise.
That voter turnout number means Mayor Dennis O’Keefe was re-elected by 20,047 votes out of the 35,688 ballots cast — roughly 56 per cent of those who voted.
That doesn’t sound too bad, but when you consider the city sent out 67,354 mail-in voting kits, that’s only 30 per cent of the vote. In other words, less than a third of eligible voters in St. John’s chose the mayor.
There’s a real disconnect going on here.
Think about how much municipal government affects your life.
I expect the City of St. John’s to clear sidewalks so I can walk safely in winter (though it doesn’t always happen). I expect the city to have garbage cans in parks so that I can dispose of my dog’s “offerings.” I rely on the city to take my garbage and recyclables away and dispose of them responsibly. I look to the city to take in an injured bird I’ve found. The city gives us clean water. The city provides recreational centres, maintains our ball diamonds, soccer pitches and public tennis courts. If my car breaks down, I can take a bus.
These are needs being met that directly affect the quality of my life.
My councillor is there to help resolve problems if I need him, and in fact, he has done so in the past.
When was the last time your MHA or your MP came to your house to discuss a problem?
Tuesday’s election saw an all-male council elected in St. John’s. That was disappointing. I would much rather have a more gender-balanced council.
But the lack of female representation is far from a capital city problem. Of the 33 communities whose results I tallied for the purposes of this exercise, 175 of 232 candidates elected were men. That’s 75 per cent.
But I can’t agree with former councillor and failed mayoral candidate Sheilagh O’Leary that the lack of women is disgraceful.
Lamentable, discouraging, depressing even. Yes.
What I find disgraceful about this election is the preponderance of people who simply couldn’t be bothered to be part of the decision-making process in choosing who represents them.
That’s not something the city, or anyone, should be pleased about.
We should never confuse ignorance with bliss.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and
The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email email@example.com.