Be an engaged citizen and vote

It’s official: the writ has been dropped and the federal election will be held on Oct. 21.

This is where I get on my soap box a bit and preach about the importance of being an engaged citizen.

One of the most substantive, tangible ways of being an engaged citizen is to cast a ballot, whether it’s in a local, provincial or federal election.

Some may feel that if they are not informed enough about the issues or the candidates, that it’s more responsible not to vote. However, it is the civic duty of every eligible adult to vote, and if one is not informed, it’s their responsibility to become informed and vote intelligently and with one’s conscience.

Voting represents more than endorsing one political candidate or another, it represents the sacrifices made that allow that freedom of choice and expression possible and even how complacency about such freedoms could lead to their cessation.

With a new, unknown candidate, it’s hard to gauge how they may perform if elected. All you have to go on is their resume, some interviews or news articles and possibly an online biography page.

With an incumbent though, there is the opportunity to see them in action, or at least judge them by their track record.

For example, I’ve always thought that anyone voting for a municipal council, especially when considering re-electing an incumbent, should witness at least one local council meeting.

I’ve attended several different councils as a journalist, and find first-hand observation to be invaluable in forming an opinion.

What issues does the councillor tend to fight for the most? Are they informed on issues and prepared to discuss them at a meeting? Do they speak up or just vote on motions? Are they willing to be a voice of dissent, even if they have no support?

Not everyone votes, perhaps for religious or other deeply-held personal views. For those who choose not to, although I disagree, there are still other ways to be an engaged citizen.

One method I don’t consider as counting as being an engaged citizen is complaining on social media. This has become ever-more prevalent as online platforms make it so easy to share opinions.

However, just expressing dissatisfaction online is not a meaningful way to participate in the democratic process and have an impact.

Sure, there is a chance the leaders you’re criticizing will read your online comment, but it is not very likely. Even if they do, when it’s not coming in any official capacity, it won’t be considered or have any weight on the formation of policy.

This should go without saying, but from some comments one sees online, it’s evident by how they directly address a certain leader that the poster fully expects that leader to personally see their comment.

Governments, small or large, aren’t trolling Internet comment sections for official feedback that will form future policies. That’s not how it works.

Similarly, online petitions from sites like Change.org don’t have the authority some people seem to think they do either.

So what does count?

Answering survey questions, even if being asked seemingly endless, inane questions over the phone makes you want to hang up.

Filling out questionnaires. Speaking at public forums. Writing letters to your local MLA’s and MP’s. Attending question and answer sessions.

The Town of Ponoka is currently involved in its annual pubic consultation process as it prepares to begin deliberations for its 2020 budget.

If you really want to make your opinion heard on how the town conducts its business and spends taxpayer dollars, attend a budget consultation meeting.

If you know of a street that is a problem area, instead of commenting about it online, fill out the form on the town’s website.

If you’re concerned about an issue, contact the right people, don’t just complain and then feel unheard when nothing changes.

Government leaders can only represent the voice of the people they are elected to represent if those constituents make their voices heard. This should include view points, concerns and priorities.

Otherwise any elected official is just making guesses and will be more likely to follow whatever the party line is, which may or may not actually represent constituents.

You could also take the next step and be part of the solution, and not just point out problems, like the parent who took it upon herself to initiate fundraising to add more trees and benches in the Ponoka Elementary School grounds. She didn’t just complain online or even complain to the school board or town — she saw a need and decided to do something about it. She was an engaged citizen.

Voting is just the first step in being an engaged citizen, but it’s a good place to start.

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