It is oft said that during the election season in the United States you get to vote for everyone from President to the local dog catcher. While that may seem a bit like overkill, the opposite can lead to where we are here in rural Canada.
As Canadians, we get to vote for our federal and provincial members of Parliament every four-ish years. We also get to vote for our municipal leaders and school board trustees every four years. And that’s it. After that, we sit back and reap the decisions our check marks on the ballot have sown.
Through amalgamation, our municipalities and school boards have become larger, while our representation has become smaller. Municipal elections used to be every two years, then three, now four. Once elected, our say is over. If we don’t like the results, too bad for the next four years. Voting for the county coroner, roads supervisor or town clerk do not sound like a hot-button election races; however, those voters in the United States get choices, we don’t.
Much of the day-to-day running of government is left to un-elected bureaucrats. Those numbers were to be reduced through the amalgamations that were rammed through in the 1990’s. Yet we have not seen the promised benefits of the reductions, only higher costs.
Meanwhile, provincial decisions are made by bureaucrats and ruled on by politicians with an urban view. Little perspective or thought is given to the rural areas except for ‘safe’ ridings or ones that might flip in the next election to that party’s representative.
Contrast that to our friends on the other side of the St. Lawrence River. School districts are smaller, their yearly budgets are voted on by the taxpayers. If municipalities want to undergo large projects, it has to be approved by the residents either at election time or by special referendum. The people have a say, and some measure of control.
It is hard to point exactly where we lost our way, where we stopped giving a damn about who represents us, or about having a say. It could be in this area in the 1950’s when the Seaway Project was rammed through and there was nothing local residents could do to stop ‘progress’ or during the Harris years when amalgamations were rammed through in the name of efficiency.
Whenever it was, we need to go back to having more say and control over decisions made by government in our lives.
Is the US system better than ours? Well, consider these two challenges. We are facing a severely micromanaged process designed to decide if our high school will close. We are facing constantly rising electricity bills. And in both cases, there seems to be no real way for us, the public, to exert any kind of control. In some fields, anyway, the grass across the river might seem a little greener.