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EDITORIAL: Informed electorate necessary in selecting council members

Municipal voters will have their say on who they wish to have represent them for the next four years when it comes to local decisions. The Oct. 18 municipal election will allow voters to see who will round out their local councils and be at the table
October 14, 2021
Cartoon by Patrick LaMontagne/www.lamontagneart.com.

Municipal voters will have their say on who they wish to have represent them for the next four years when it comes to local decisions.

The Oct. 18 municipal election will allow voters to see who will round out their local councils and be at the table when deciding on topics important to the various Bow Valley communities.

Though some council decisions have an immediate impact on residents, many of the choices made are generational in nature.

The issues are rarely cut and dry and more often than not, are significantly complex and arduous.

The role of a councillor on paper is meant to be a part-time position, but between committee appointments, council meetings and hearing from the public it is a much more onerous position.

Agendas can often be several hundred pages in size, issues are mostly multifaceted, meetings with community and business leaders are many and a simple trip to the grocery store can lead to conversations with a dozen residents to hear their concerns.

The role of a municipal council is also on the bottom of the totem pole compared to the provincial and federal level. Newly elected officials are often quick to learn their role and the limit their lone vote can have.

And while we rightfully expect a lot from our elected officials, it is crucial for voters to have a factual understanding of key issues or at least those important to them.

It is unlikely most residents have time or interest in regularly watching council meetings, but they can still choose to be informed on select issues of matter in their community. Whether it is on environmental impacts, development in the community or determining the role tourism has in the years to come, residents can choose what is important for them.

It is essential for residents to ask their candidates where they stand on specific issues, how they came to their conclusions and understand their vision on where they hope to see the community be in the coming years.

All too often people voice distaste on decisions made, but an informed electorate is imperative.

Thomas Jefferson, a Founding Father who was the third president of the United States, may have highlighted the importance of an enlightened citizenry in the running of a democracy, but the first steps in doing so needs to come from each individual.

However, municipal voter turnout has historically been low in the Bow Valley.

In the 2017 Canmore election, roughly 4,500 of 11,000 eligible voters – about 41 per cent – marked ballots for candidates. In Banff, only 2,215 eligible voters also cast ballots in 2017.

With the federal election potentially causing further voter apathy or exhaustion, the actual turnout could be lower than in 2017.

But several polarizing issues in the Bow Valley could see a more engaged electorate.

From development, tourism, environmental and wildlife concerns in each of the MD of Bighorn, Canmore and Banff, the unease of what the valley will look like in coming years could lead to a higher than average voter turnout.

While COVID-19 has limited in-person events, the ease of engaging candidates through social media and live-streamed forums has brought a significant amount of people in greater touch with the issues.

In Canmore, the six days of public hearings on the proposed Three Sisters Mountain Village area structure plans are also close enough in the rearview mirror to show residents can be engaged when the discussion can impact a community.

Community groups such as Banff and Lake Louise Hospitality Association, Bow Valley Engage, Bow Valley Builders and Developers Association and Canmore and Area Mountain Biking Association have all worked to further publicly engage candidates on their positions through election forums.

The biggest step, however, comes from each eligible voter.

As the municipal election approaches and passes, an informed electorate is necessary when it comes to selecting representatives to act in the best interests of the community.