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Editor's column: Be careful about "letting them get on with it"

Richmond News editor Eve Edmonds offers some cautionary advice when it comes to apathy or indifference towards municipal elections

And the race is on...

It’s hard to miss if you commute through some of Richmond’s high-traffic areas. The stretch travelling north on No. 2 Road between Blundell Road and the No. 2 Road Bridge is loaded with campaign signs. Not surprising, perhaps, given there are no less than 45 contestants all vying for a spot on either city council or the board of education.

It’s hard to say if this municipal election will have the kind of energy (some say animosity) that marked the last one, but there is no shortage of critical issues — affordable housing probably topping the list.

The challenge, even for those of us genuinely interested in municipal politics, is wading through all those names, slates and signs to know who stands for what.

We’re going to try to help with that in next week’s paper with our Yes/No survey where we ask candidates how they would vote on particular issues. Still, it’s a lot. There are just too many names, and we don’t even have parties and party leaders to help guide us.

At the provincial or federal levels, voters often don’t know or even care who the local candidate is, but they can still make an informed decision based on party platform or leadership.

Granted, at the municipal level some like-minded candidates may form a slate, but this is a loose coalition that forms and re-forms in different combinations, changing their names along the way.

I’ll bet most of you haven’t a clue what the political leanings are of Richmond Rise, One Richmond or Richmond United, unless you know the leanings of some of their candidates. Fair enough, those slates  only came into existence since the election has been called.

And if it’s a challenge at the city council level, try school board.

A couple of years back we did a random poll asking residents if they could name a single sitting school trustee. No one could except one woman, who happened to be a school principal. And even she could only name the board chair.

So, I get it. It’s confusing, overwhelming and just too much work to figure out, and who has the time. It’s understandable if you just want to get on with your business and let someone else take care of those tedious zoning bylaws and school policies.

But be careful what you wish for.

I just happened to be listening to a podcast recently about the 18th century political theorist Benjamin Constant. To be honest, it had more to do with insomnia than a burning interest in some old philosopher. Regardless, some of his ideas were timely, and timeless. Among them was his point that (to paraphrase) wealthy men who hire stewards to look after their finances and let the stewards just get on with it soon become poor men.

He was actually talking about representative democracy and the danger of letting others govern in our interest without our governing them. If we don’t pay attention, stay informed, read newspapers (his words, not mine), the stewards will soon start governing in their own interests.

I think we would do well to think about this, particularly in terms of school trustees, perhaps the most thoroughly ignored level of politics.

Boards of education don’t have control over teacher contracts and have limited say in school curricula. But don’t be fooled. There is a reason why, since the inclusion of more LGBTQ-friendly policies, there has been a concerted and well-coordinated effort on the part of social conservatives to get involved in school governance. (See page 19)

Point being, don’t tune out. It may be confusing, but a number of all-candidates meetings will be held next week.  (See page 12) One of which we plan to stream live on our Facebook page.

If we want representative democracy to truly represent us, we have to represent ourselves at least at election time.

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