Most municipal politicians are white, male and 50 plus in age. That is simply a statement of fact and nothing else. Communities across this province are fortunate to have been able to attract good quality people who are civic-minded to serve on councils. However, in many smaller communities, elections often fail to garner much interest and many seats are filled by acclamation. Even when there are election meetings or election polls, the turnout is often low.
Over 30 people attended a meeting recently in Charlottetown aimed at getting more young people, women and minorities to put their name forward next November or work on campaigns. The session was designed to provide information on what potential candidates need to know. While the meeting organizers weren't expecting anybody to commit just yet, several participants did say they were thinking about throwing their hat in the ring.
This is excellent news and the organizers of the meeting are to be commended. The P.E.I. Coalition of Women in Government, which was one of the sponsors for the meeting, indicated they plan to hold more sessions as the election draws closer.
Municipal governments have the most direct contact with the people they serve. As well, they operate outside the party framework that is a defining feature of provincial and federal governments. Having a list of candidates that reflects the makeup of a community is true democracy in action.
It is particularly appropriate since next year's elections could be instrumental to the future of municipal government in the province. That's because the new Municipal Government Act passed last December will start to come into force.
The main purpose of the new legislation is to convince communities to join forces and become larger - even if the government shies away from using the world amalgamation and insists there will be no forced marriages.
Within three years municipalities will be required to have an approved emergency management program in place and they will need to have land-use plans and supporting bylaws in place and are required to have a municipal office that is accessible to all members of the public open for a minimum of 20 hours per week by the end of five years.
Meeting these requirements is going to be a major challenge for many smaller municipalities. The only way possible will be to join with other existing municipalities or expand their boundaries to include unincorporated areas. Bedeque tried the latter option a couple of years ago and met strong resistance. Now, people in two unincorporated areas near Georgetown that would become part of a new Kings County town that would be formed with the amalgamation of seven existing municipalities are voicing their concerns.
That makes it doubly important the people that will be dealing with these challenges at the municipal level have a strong mandate and represent all sectors of the community.
- Andy Walker is an Island-based freelance writer and commentator