The municipal elections will soon be upon us as three years have nearly passed and it is time to assess how well we were represented. The politicians will paint a glowing picture of how they managed our city, developing projects that were to improve our lives, and we should be grateful to them for spending our money so wisely on our behalf. But how well did they listen to us?
The re-zoning of the land for development in Akinsdale is symptomatic of the problems of democracy within St. Albert (and Canada, for that matter). You see, long before this matter was brought to the residents of Akinsdale’s attention, before this became so public an issue, plans and decisions were being drafted behind the scene with little consideration for the residents of this district. Land developers and interests groups had the ears of our politicians and bureaucrats without a thought for the people. In fact, everyone was reluctant to consult the citizens — the electorate — until the last possible moment when it was too late. No wonder there was such an outcry.
This is the same story over and over again. The political elite feigns interest as it suits them, but the real decisions are being determined in boardrooms without any public consultation and the question should be why? This is hardly a democratic ideal and these plans were never part of any election platform, so how can these political elite claim legitimacy of their actions?
The obvious argument put forth is that these politicians were democratically elected to represent us, but would that not require them to seek our input from time to time on such matters? Should this not be an obligation as part of our modern democratic system? There should be an onus on us as well to participate in this process, but who do we talk to in St. Albert. If you are one of the lucky few that knows these elected officials, do you truly feel you are being listened to? If not, whom do you contact?
These are important questions as our daily lives are mostly affected by municipal issues. And, according to a C.D. Howe report in 1999, this trend will continue to grow. As municipal responsibilities increase, so will their costs and that will result in higher taxes, franchise fees and service charges. Yet as these costs rise, the standard of living of Canadians has steadily decreased. As we carry heavier debt loads, something has to give. Because of these facts, there has to be more accountability within the political system.
Choosing to fire these politicians, if you feel they have not adequately performed their services to us, is one solution, but then we would face the same problem as we wait another three years to hold council accountable. Maybe it is time to change how we organize our municipal government in St. Albert. One solution would be a ward system enabling us to better assess and hold accountable the actions of these political elite. And finally, we need to know which interest groups and businesses are consulting with our political representatives. It is only with such transparency that we can truly know whose interests are being served.
John Kennair is an international business consultant and Doctor of Laws who lives in St. Albert.