Oak Bay has always enjoyed a high level of voter participation for local municipal elections, with a consistent voter turn-out of well over a 55%. But have the last two and a half years of the pandemic and COVID taken a toll on public engagement? Will apathy overshadow voter participation and turn-out? I hope not.
For local governments, as for residents, over half of this term was particularly challenging. After all, we are the governments closest to the residents and communities we serve. Without the ability to see and hear residents during their attendance at Council meetings or to attend other municipally-sponsored forums, events and gatherings, the significant voices of residents and voters were muted.
Normally, Council members would look forward to regular opportunities to meet and mingle in person, together with our community (nothing beats in-person conversation). But for over half the term, I felt like my right arm was missing because of the lack of person-to-person engagement.
When I ran for Council in 2018, I promised regular neighbourhood meetings as a tool for better public engagement. In 2019, the municipality managed to host three of them, with a commitment to continue through the remainder of this term. We had good turn-out and residents seemed to appreciate the opportunities to meet informally with Council members. Unfortunately and suddenly, the pandemic intervened and the whole landscape changed. Lockdown plunged all of us into an unprecedented period of isolation and since that time, the return to normalcy has been careful and cautious.
Electronic media platforms, including Zoom and Teams, have been uneasy substitutions for direct, in-person communication. While we have all learned to adapt, it has been an awkward and difficult transition, especially for the public at large. Not everyone has a computer or is comfortable with online platforms, so that accessing, sharing and processing information has waned.
As in-person meetings and gatherings slowly resume, I am hopeful that public engagement will also recover. I hope that Oak Bay residents will be even more motivated, not less, to participate as informed voters in this fall’s election on October 15, 2022.
Representative democracy depends entirely on active citizen engagement and involvement, especially at election time. It must be a two-way communication process. And as elected representatives, we have a duty to ensure that our electorate remains well informed, not only at election time, but throughout each 4-year term.
If elected this fall, I will again advocate for the resumption of neighbourhood meetings, among other public events, to ensure that residents feel that their voices have meaning and can genuinely make a difference to the Council and the local government they elect.
There is an undeniable correlation between the level of public engagement and the level of voter participation at election time. The opportunity for voters to shape the future of their communities reflects the very best principles of a representative democracy. Please get involved and informed during this election and finally, PLEASE VOTE.