In less than one week, we face a civic election that may well be critical for the future of our fair city. There is a very large slate of candidates contesting the nine available seats on city council (eight plus the mayor) some of whom are well known to most of you and others who are relatively new to the political scene.
This might make it difficult to choose, and there may be a tendency to vote for those you know, thinking “better the Devil I know than the one I don’t know.” Nothing could be further from the truth. We need to find out as much as we can about all of the candidates, to ensure that we are choosing those who will best represent our views and interests when they are governing our city.
I especially urge you to seek out candidates who will be independent thinkers and will not simply go along with whatever is suggested by the “slate” they belong to. Slate politics is relatively new to municipal government in B.C. except in larger cities, and those who have experimented with it are beginning to learn to their dismay that it is not what they expected or want.
Where council meetings were once venues where topics of local interest were discussed and debated to ensure that opposing views were heard, now issues appear to be merely rubber-stamped because the majority slate has enough votes to ensure that their wishes prevail.
When, like in present-day Abbotsford, a council of this ilk is led by a powerful mayor, it in effect becomes an autocracy, where key decisions are made by a single person. This is not the democratic system that we desire and expect in our government.
This type of decision-making is even more alarming when the issues involve current and future development within our city, which have far-reaching implications on our tax base and ultimately, on the tax burdens to be borne by all of us.
An Official Community Plan is meant to be a guide for future development, not a strict code which must be adhered to. The legislation provides for applications to amend the plan to permit appropriate and desirable developments, but if such applications are rejected out of hand before ever getting to open council meetings for discussion and debate, the intention of the legislation is made meaningless.
What we need and want in our local government is firstly, more openness and transparency, where the citizens can see for themselves how they are being governed and secondly, more independent thinking by those who are elected to serve and govern us.
I urge all of you to keep these thoughts in mind when casting your ballot this week and, above all, I urge all of you to get out and vote. Democracy is defined as government of the people, for the people and by the people. In order for government to be by the people, the people need to exercise their right to vote and be involved in it. Your vote can make a difference and, if you don’t vote, you have no grounds to complain about the government you get.
Paul Esposito Sr.