2022 City Election



- by Jeffrey Alan Caldwell

When you go to the polls to elect members for council, you will do so by casting a vote for a mayor, a deputy mayor and votes for council. Owen Sound operates elections via an at-large system. Some of the advantages of the at-large system are that you have a greater choice and flexibility in elections, after which you will have a larger number of councillors to approach with concerns, and the hope is that every member of council will consider the entire city as a whole, rather than placing a priority on more parochial interests when making decisions. This seems like a good way to run a city, but it’s not, it lacks Accountability and Fair Representation.

The at-large system creates an environment in which every council member is supposed to be accountable. What that means in practice is that no one is accountable. Let’s face it, we’ve all worked jobs where everyone is responsible for one particular job, and that's the job that never gets done. In my experience, it usually means an empty coffee pot. Everyone ignores it because Jennifer will deal with it.

You have an MP and an MPP. Should you need someone to speak to someone regarding issues related to those levels of government you have one point of contact. You aren’t simply left to go down the list of members of those levels of government until you get a response. They are usually very responsive. Why? Because they are accountable to you but more specifically your vote. They covet your vote. We do not have that in Owen Sound.

If Owen Sound did away with the deputy mayor position and had 8 wards, simple back-of-the-napkin math reduces a councillor’s responsibility of voting age citizens to 2,200 rather than the entire city, a much more manageable and approachable number, one that would promote service and responsiveness. This, one would think, would be something that any councillor would want. So there must be a really good reason to not want it. The talking point of most politicians is that “People are telling us this is what they want, it lets us serve the people better”. Let me translate that for you: “It's what we politicians want.”

The research suggests that in fact, at-large systems do the opposite of the sales pitch, they better serve politicians and their buddies. Representative democracy already unfairly benefits the upper social economic classes. That’s likely not you. When democracy is diluted further by elections at large, research shows that problem gets exacerbated, and the public suffers for it. Your paychecks get smaller, your taxes go up (3% property tax increase every year), in turn, rents go up, housing becomes more precarious, people have less money so food insecurity rises, and the pebble of at-large voting turns into a tidal wave of social damage. So while everyone gets the shaft the rich get richer. We’ve seen this in action in Owen Sound, the development charge holiday, grants, and vacant property tax breaks, all of which benefit one group, the wealthy investor developer. The taxpayers are left to pick up the tab

Politicians of all stripes tend to come from a very specific socio-economic background, which means they tend to live in concentrated areas of their cities. This is the situation we face in Owen Sound: most of our councillors live in the southwest of the city, and one sitting councillor doesn’t even reside in the city proper (owning property  is his ticket in). Not a single councillor in Owen Sound lives north of 10th street. A ward system would mean that many of the city council would have to run against each other, in essence, a municipal hunger games (no need to wish them luck they’ve already stacked the odds in their favour). So it’s no surprise that most municipalities have dissolved ward systems.

I’m sure many have good hearts, and intentions, but let's be honest, how can they relate to the issues faced by those members of the city who live on the median household income of about $50,000, those that make less, or those who are on a fixed income, or those that make none? They might be able to sympathize but they certainly can’t empathize. You deserve to have someone that represents you because they, well… represent you. This is not to say we as a group are divided in our goals, or our desires for the city we live in, I don’t think that's true. But wouldn’t it be nice if our representatives were our neighbours, that live as we live, that value a dollar the same way we do? That eat out of a lunch pail, have to wear a uniform to work, or scrubs, or work boots, that might actually be in danger of breaking a sweat, who have to live on whatever their paycheck is that week. If you’re one of those people you aren’t represented on city council and as long as at-large voting exists you never will be.

What makes municipal elections so special? No other elections at any level of government are run like this, not even high school elections!

If none of the above convinces you, consider this: it's something that politicians don’t want and have worked to get rid of, which tells you all you really need to know.

Jeffrey is a candidate for City Council in the October 24th election.


image source: OpenStreetMap



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