Democracy is a two-way street.
To properly work, it needs citizen involvement. It’s not a new concept, but as Canadians grow more politically phobic and just plain complacent, it’s a notion that’s quickly forgotten.
That’s until an issue we care about hits our doorstep. Then, like a slap reaching out from the past, we’re suddenly awakened to the importance of being an active member of society. While it’s great that we’re sometimes lured out of our comfy cocoons, it’s often too little, too late. And here’s where the blame game starts.
Armed with petitions and speeches, citizens pound on governments’ doors.
“Why weren’t we told!” “Why weren’t we informed!” “Where was the public consultation?”
There are times that politicians quietly take advantage of Canadians’ sleepy involvement in the country’s democratic processes, but often, especially at a municipal level, governments are begging for citizens’ input.
It starts with voting. The 2011 federal elections saw 61.1 per cent of Canadians cast ballots. Voter turnout plummets further at the municipal level. Last year’s election for a new District of Squamish council dragged a mere 38.6 per cent of eligible residents to the voting booths.
So I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the district seems to be clambering for citizens’ input in its many initiatives — the Squamish Parks and Recreation Master Plan being one example.
Under the guidance of consultants Lees and Associates, the municipality set out to brainstorm with the community Squamish’s 20-year vision for its parks and recreation facilities. A 300-resident phone survey was conducted to create a statistical sample of citizens’ recreational wants and needs. More than nine user groups were interviewed, an online questionnaire was developed and for two weeks the paper form of the survey could be picked up at city hall.
To top it off, three open houses were held. Of the open houses, the largest turnout was 150 people. If only members from the nine interviewed stakeholder groups attended, that equates to 16 people per organization — five more players than what’s needed for a soccer team.
The consultants did receive 322 filled-out questionnaires, some of which would have been completed at the open houses. And to date, only 10 letters and emails have been sent their way.
While there’s always room for improvement, and consultants admittedly hit some hiccups during the process, Squamish residents can’t complain about a lack of opportunity to add their two cents’ worth to the plan. Short of going door-to-door, municipal staff threw multiple communication lines into the community. Unfortunately, not everybody grabbed on.
Government staff are not babysitters or mind readers. Our fee for living in a free and democratic country is participation in the system, whether that be voting, filling out a questionnaire or letting government employees know about investors interested in our community.