Council Declines Opportunity to Canvass Public Opinion
At Council’s meeting on January 10, 2022 it considered whether to take advantage of the ability to place “referendum” questions on the municipal election ballot later this year. This is a mechanism availability under the Municipal Election Act that allows a municipality to put “YES” or “NO” questions to its electors as part of the voting process. The next municipal election will be in October 2022.
I had brought this suggestion forward to Council, through the Administration and Finance Executive Committee, in response to feedback I have heard in the community – as well as comments from around the Council table at various times – suggesting that some questions ought to be put directly to voters. It goes without saying that we need better public engagement in the decision-making at Council and that our Council does not reflect the diversity of the community. Ballot questions provide one method of getting powerful, representative mandates from the community.
Unfortunately, no one else on Council wanted to pursue this. I am disappointed that I couldn't get support to move forward with this type of binding consultation, as the opportunity will not arise again until 2026.
While Council members are elected to represent the public, and our positions on issues are influenced by what we hear from our constituents, ballot questions are another way to capture the public's view on an issue. At various points this term, some members of Council have suggested that we do so – for example, on whether to rename Colonization Road (which would be a silly ballot question because we are required by law not to give discriminatory names to civic property).
We are a community facing significant social, economic, and demographic transition, and ballot questions could help provide a mandate to Council to move forward in a new strategic direction.
The community is also generally interested in sharing their views and knowing they will count toward an outcome. Earlier this year, I conducted some public opinion surveys of the community, and these had significant uptake. The results of my surveys decisively called into question the feedback other members of Council had claimed to have from their constituents. One wonders why members of Council have suggested we poll the community and then don't take the opportunity to do so, or whether they are afraid that the results will part ways with their own views.
For my part, I will continue to look for other ways to solicit input from the community in the remaining year of this term, and I am pleased to hear that our CAO is bringing forward a community engagement plan which will respond to some of this need for more community participation in Council processes.
For the information of readers: if Council had decided to place ballot questions in October 2022, it would be required to enact a bylaw saying so by March 1, which must be preceded by a public meeting. The questions must all pertain to matters that are exclusively within municipal jurisdiction. For example, whether to build a splash park, whether to revisit the proposal to get truck traffic out of residential neighbourhoods, whether to improve green space in the community, whether to move back to a ward system, and whether to grow or shrink the size of Council.