By Jason Menard
In the interest of informing its citizens, It may not only be time for London’s municipal government to join the party — but it may also be time for potential ‘guests’ to send in their 2014 RSVPs early.
Though I’m generally opposed to party politics, I’m not so naive to think that there aren’t like-minded councillors representing wards in municipalities across the country. So maybe it’s time to ‘out’ the factions at the beginning of the process and afford London’s citizens the respect they deserve by giving them the information they need.
It can be argued that the municipal level has the most day-to-day impact on our lives; yet it’s also the level of government that many know least about. Being up front and honest about pre-existing affiliations at the municipal level would help citizens make a more informed decision. It would behoove citizens to know not only who’s drinking which flavour of Kool-Aid, but — more importantly — who may be spiking the punch bowl with potentially biased information.
And that’s why — if we’re truly talking about creating a better London — having those considering running in the next election express their intent now would be in our city’s best interests.
Much of our political knowledge is a matter of perspective. Information is filtered through various prisms — ones that may lean left and ones that may lean right. Other filters stand in opposition to the status quo — and it’s only fair that we understand where that information is coming from.
After the fact is too late and can be considered as deliberately misinforming the electorate. A comment or criticism levied by a concerned citizen and a comment or criticism levied by a concerned citizen who intends to run against the councillor in question is not the same thing. I know the grain of salt I use to accompany a Conservative’s criticism of a Liberal platform is far different than the grain I use in measuring a Liberal’s support of that same idea.
At the very least, the electorate should have the right to form their own opinion — and to expect a retroactive vetting of criticisms with “new” information is unfair.
Allowing party affiliations at the municipal level, as they do in Montreal and Vancouver, would help people understand where their votes are going. We can be altruistic and say they should find out for themselves, but in the interest of starting along the path to a better London here and now we need to be honest — municipal politics is a game of name recognition.
What I hate about the party system is that it undermines the ability of the elected representative to represent. Whips and policy influence votes far more than the constituents’ desires. Yet where the party system has a clear benefit is in providing the electorate with a fairly easy frame of reference upon which to inform their votes. Most Canadians, it’s safe to say, have a fairly solid understanding of where the Conservatives, Liberals, and NDP fall on issues like economics, social policy, and the environment.
Now if you had candidates running under various banners (should I copyright cheesy Vision London, Opportunity London, and Future London party names now or later?) with clearly outlined party platforms (on transit, urban sprawl, development, culture, etc.), then that gives voters yet another piece of information with which they can base their decision. And if people want to remain independent, they can do so.
Misinformation campaigns work because people are easily misinformed. The vast majority of citizens are interested in politics at the broad-stroke level, but tend to gloss over the minutiae.
And that exactly why the haphazard application of labels like Fontana Eight are so insidious — and potentially damaging. It applies a broad-stroke perspective to something that’s far more nuanced. For example, my Ward councillor, Sandy White, is frequently listed as part of the Fontana Eight. Yet the Fontana Eight label applies to her even when she votes against the so-called bloc — as is the case with the recent 1.5 per cent pay increase vote.
Come election time, what’s a more easily digestible sound bite? The Fontana Eight — and its negative connotations — will stick in the minds of the casual voters; the detailed examination of her voting record, which shows that she’s not always in the so-called ‘eight’, will get lost in the shuffle.
Some call it the Fontana Eight; I tend to think of it as a voting bloc. In any other level of government, it would be known as a party. We know they exist and have for various councils — after all, one person’s Chinese buffet is another person’s chicken wing.
Yes, the average citizen has a responsibility to inform themselves. But if the information providers themselves have a vested interest in the process, shouldn’t that be known up front? Doesn’t the average citizen have a right to that frame of reference when examining a position or statement?
It’s true, no politician or wannabe politician has a legal obligation to declare an affiliation. But I would argue that they have a moral one. And in an election as important as the one on Oct. 27, 2014 will be, being up front, honest, and open with the electorate is vital.
After all, if we’re serious about engaging the citizens of London, isn’t it fair that they at least have an idea of what type of party they’re going to be attending?