Readers may have seen the notice in this issue concerning the upcoming municipal election scheduled for Monday, October 24 of this year. That may seem a long way away, and we have the joy and fun of a provincial election to get through before that, on June 2. But, strange though it may seem to some, municipal government actually has more impact on the daily lives of residents. Municipal councils set tax rates, and in North Dundas the approved 2022 Municipal Budget includes a 5.3% increase to the residential tax rate over the previous year. This follows a 1.1% decrease in 2021.
Municipal Council also raise taxes for local school boards and the United Counties, so that has a serious impact on your budget. Councils also control, to a large extent, residential and commercial development in the Township, with zoning, building permits, site plan agreements and other issues as part of their mandate. In this issue of the Times, there are articles dealing with water supply and quality in Winchester and Chesterville, as well as news of new types of housing developments coming to the area. Roads, garbage, heritage, and so many other topics of real relevance to residents in North Dundas, all are discussed and decided at the municipal Council table.
Which brings us back to the looming election in October. No matter how well or poorly a specific council may perform in the course of their four-year term, there will always be those who find fault with them, or believe they could do a better job, given the opportunity. Well, that’s what elections are for. Democracy is something we perhaps value ever more highly these days, when we see how other countries are afflicted by autocrats and dictators. The fact that we can, to some extent, choose our political representatives is a genuine privilege. There was a time in Canada when most people didn’t have that right, particularly women and those owning no property.
Thanks to the struggles of our predecessors, we have been able to change that. And yet, we tend not to take advantage; the number of those voting in elections of any kind in Canada is always far less than they should be, given the power and influence of elected governments. In provincial and federal elections, our choice is narrowed because of party political activity. Parties choose their candidates and we are left to consider whoever is put before us. The Party rules. Party loyalty often (usually?) overrides any doubts we may have about the candidate they anoint.
But municipal government is different. In theory, municipal government does not involve political parties. Candidates put themselves forward as individuals for our consideration, and are not running on a party platform. This means that each Councillor is free to vote whichever way they feel is best for the community, not the party they represent. Once again, in theory, a council is made up of individuals, each of whom brings forward ideas, and votes on motions, as an independent representative.
There are some councils, of course, who “speak with one voice”, and who work together and decide on matters through consensus. This teamwork approach may be fine most of the time, but it does limit the transparency of decision-making, as a lot of what is voted through may have been decided behind closed doors in advance. This is not strictly legal, but it does happen. On the other hand, in situations where individual councillors develop personal animosity against another “colleague”, it can lead to friction, deadlock, and a destructive atmosphere which affects the entire community.
All of which underlines the importance of voting the right people on to a municipal council. You, as a resident, can choose and vote for the position of Mayor, and for a number of candidates for council. In North Dundas, the Council is made up of a Mayor, Deputy Mayor, and three Councillors. In the Township, all members of council are elected “at large”, meaning they represent the entire Township. In other municipalities, the area is divided into Wards or districts, and councillors are elected for a particular Ward.
It should be noted that the municipal election also includes the election of School Board Trustees, another really important role in the community. If you are interested in running for a position on the North Dundas Council, read the notice published in this issue, and think about what you would do as a representative. You will need 25 signatures on your nomination form and must pay a fee of $100 ($200 for mayor), along with proof of identity and residence. You can start collecting signatures for your nomination, which can be filed any time between May 2 and August 19. Advanced voting begins via phone and internet begins on October 19.
The provincial election may be coming first, and will certainly have a higher public profile than the later contest. But local is vital, and local government is, perhaps, the purest form of democracy we have these days. So, think about it. Consider the work of the current council and how they have performed. Think about whether you would be a worthwhile candidate in October, or whether you may know someone in the community you would encourage to throw their hat in the ring. This is your chance to stop the complaining about how things are done, and do something to make the lives of your friends and neighbours, not to mention your own, better for the next four years. It’s time to start thinking.