By George Brown
Unless at least one brave soul stepped forward on nomination day, Ponoka will not have a race for mayor in the October municipal elections. Mayor Larry Henkelman seems to have no visible opposition. At this point, I’m not sure you’d want someone who can’t decide until the last minute to commit to serving as Ponoka’s chief elected official for the next three years.
There was at least one new candidate who declared he would seek a council seat, and the 38th Street shadow council was trying to recruit warm bodies to run — like they were recruiting for a weekend softball tournament.
There could be more if some of the long-serving councillors decide to retire; they’ve paid their dues, they’ve done their time and they’ve got the lumps on their foreheads to prove it.
This column is being written prior to nomination day so I don’t know for certain whether there will be sufficient candidates to require an election.
Assuming there will be an election, the Ponoka News will provide profiles on the candidates and reports from forums and council meetings. This is the basis for your education on the issues.
This is your best opportunity to influence the outcome of the election. This is your time to tell the candidates what they should be doing for you, your family and your community. The election is your opportunity to elect the people who will represent the way you feel about the need for a new north traffic bridge, about policing and fire protection, about 38th Street utilities issues, cutting down airport trees, and how often streets should be plowed.
It’s possible Ponoka’s electorate will be deafened by the number of shrill, one-note candidates who will have come out of the weeds to unseat the incumbents; certainly the issues of annexation and decades-old development have galvanized opinion. It’s anyone’s guess whether these “politicians” will actually be capable and interested in governing if they are successful in unseating a majority of incumbents.
As voters, our perceived lack of political knowledge creates problems for government. As people become less knowledgeable about how their government works, the more they believe that they are powerless to change it. This creates frustration and cynicism, which in turn creates a vicious cycle of non-voting, unresponsive representatives, and even lower voter turnout and disconnectedness.
You don’t have to understand mill rates, off-site levies, municipal development plans and debentures to make an informed choice on election day. Read the candidates’ literature, their profiles in this newspaper, attend the political forums and talk to the candidates when they come to your door. It’s as much their responsibility to educate you about the issues as it is yours to seek out the information.
Many eligible voters are intimidated by elections because they can’t or don’t follow all of the issues, candidates and platforms. It’s time consuming and inconvenient; and once elected the politicians do what they want anyway, right?
Voter turnout at the polls on municipal election days has become poor and part of the blame can be laid at the feet of the candidates. It is their responsibility to work hard over the next month to restore our faith in government and ease our frustrations. These candidates must make us feel included in the system and empowered to make change.
In Ponoka, voters will be filling six council seats in addition to choosing the mayor. If you are unfamiliar with some of the candidates, you have no obligation to vote for them. Vote for the one you have made a connection with. Randomly filling in the ballot or checking off six may knock out the one candidate that you do want to see elected and instead put people in power who do not share your views or who lack commitment to take the role of councillor seriously.
If there is a lack of credible candidates on the ballot, and a low voter turnout, the nutbars and axe grinders stand a better chance of getting elected and taking control of the political agenda for the next three years.
Confront these candidates when they come to your door. What do they see as the municipality’s greatest challenges in the next few years? Quiz them to determine for yourself their integrity, leadership, vision and suitability for office.
As in any multi-million dollar corporation, there will be differences of opinion among the board of directors as to the best way of achieving the goals of the shareholders and determining the most efficient operation of the corporation. I would rather see town council split 4-3 on important votes and know all sides of the issues have been discussed than see five yes-men whipping through the agenda believing they can do no wrong.
Municipal council exists for one purpose: to govern. It is accountable to the taxpayers and the community as a whole to see that the corporation achieves its annual and long-term goals such as economic growth, low taxes, sufficient police and fire protection, and maintaining infrastructure.
For some seeking office, sitting on municipal council is a matter of civic duty; for others it is an opportunity to push a personal agenda, to, oust an out-of-control incumbent, or to interfere with the administration of the municipality. It is not council’s job to oversee the day-to-day operations of the corporation — that is the job of the CAO hired by council.
The grassroots is fertile ground for the propagation of all sorts of creatures who feel they have “something to offer” or who wish to “give something back to the community” and offer themselves up for election. Beware the one-issue candidate whose purpose is to sabotage the community agenda for his own political ends. If municipal council is in touch with its residents, it enjoys the confidence and support of the community; it reflects the needs and ambitions of the community, contributing to the growth and benefit of the economy.
Councillors must offer visionary leadership that encourages business and residential growth, and which opens the door to new opportunities for success.
Be sure to elect them Oct. 18.