These are grim days for democracy. Every level of government that matters to us—from city to province to country—is running with little regard for us. Prime minister Harper's contempt for free speech and open debate is well known. Premier RodMac rarely opens the legislature for work. And city council is out of step with what's happening on the streets of Halifax. Is it any wonder voter apathy is on the rise?
The lone bright spot is that a municipal election happens a year from now, October 18, 2008. While this is a chance for the status quo to receive another depressing four-year term, it also happens to be our best shot at getting some change for Metro. Making the election work demands candidates, whether they're challengers or incumbents, willing to confront the growing disconnect between citizens and elected representatives. It's a big job, but it comes with instructions: Here's what Halifax needs from its next council.
1) Do less: One day Halifax might be running so smoothly city councillors have nothing better to do than legislating cat freedom, eradicating graffiti and debating the name Halifax Regional Municipality. Until then, however, we'd like all 24 members of council to focus on the problems that matter. Violence in the streets is the biggie, and it requires more effort than council's current musings about vigilante volunteers stepping in. A symbolic starting point would be holding a town hall meeting. On the Common. At night.
2) Ride a bike: Speaking of things that make us reluctant to leave our homes, traffic is the other thing Halifax has to get a handle on. It's a symptom, like increasing violence, of a city growing faster than its officials can deal with. Council has so far been part of the problem, fighting about parking spaces on Grand Parade and pushing to widen Chebucto Road (screwing Chebucto residents to enable the commuting status quo). Time for individual councillors to lead by example on transportation options—if not the bike, then take the bus. And find out first-hand why we're desperate for more bike lanes and better Metro Transit service.
3) Video replay: YouTube launched in February, 2005, just a few months after Halifax's last civic election and it transformed video from a tool of society's powerful institutions—TV networks, politicians, corporate advertisers—into a medium of conversation. In America's ongoing presidential campaign, for example, regular citizens can ask questions of candidates in a way that was once reserved for White House correspondents. Halifax has to catch up: Broadcast council meetings online as they happen, and keep an archive of video from old meetings at halifax.ca.
4) RTFM: Read the fucking memo. Mayor Peter Kelly embarrassed his office recently when a Chronicle Herald reporter called up and asked him why the city hadn't yet kept its promise to release Commonwealth Games bid information. As we mentioned in "Reality Bites" last issue, "Kelly told the Herald that council hadn't received the detailed financial documents they were expecting." Which sounds great, but is actually completely wrong. The documents were released days before by city staff, with an announcement to the public (and council). Kelly's gaffe is a variation on council's tendency to ask for reports on subjects that have already been extensively covered by staff research. If council can't be bothered to know what's happening in city government, it follows that citizens won't give a rat's ass, either.
5) Make a stand: This list will be posted at thecoast.ca through election year. Prospective candidates are invited to comment about these steps. Your public is waiting.
What do you want to see from our next council? Tell me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And hurry. This year will go by fast.
Liquid Paper: In last week's cover feature, "State of Confusion," a quotation ("Yes I'm personally upset...") was incorrectly attributed to Lori Hill. It should have been attributed to Lauren Dale. Our apologies for the confusion.