Sometimes it’s the things that are closest to us that we take for granted and notice the least. When it comes to governance and politics it’s often the big “newsy” stories that catch our attention, such as the approaching American election, the Brexit decision, or the Royal Visit, – big stories, big headlines, famous people. But right here in our own communities, our local representatives are making governance decisions that directly impact our safety, economy, and the life chances of our next generation. That’s not an exaggeration, that’s fact.
Our municipal and regional councillors make decisions that control our policing, fire safety, businesses, water quality and local infrastructure to name a few. Our school trustees set policies that decide what, when and where our children will learn, who will teach them and who will keep them safe. These children, whether yours or not, are our future neighbours, leaders, employees, and citizens. Yet this critical work of these women and men often goes unnoticed and unacknowledged. On average, less than a third of us vote in our municipal and school trustee elections. It is ironic that our school boards and municipal councils get so little attention and support even though they preceded the existence of our provincial and federal levels of government. There was local before there was provincial or national. Although we tend to think that the really important decisions come from those levels it is the day-to-day work of our councillors and trustees that have the most direct impact on our lives.
Last week in British Columbia the BC School Trustees Association and the Union of BC Municipalities (the provincial bodies that represent boards of education and municipal/regional councils in BC) re-signed a Protocol on Consultation and Cooperation that recognizes their common interests in the “social, economic and environmental well-being of the Province and its communities and particularly in the importance of the public education system to communities and their residents”. The Protocol pledges mutual respect, cooperation, and the harmonization of projects to maximise efficiency and effectiveness. Most importantly, the Protocol symbolises the critical link that exists between local levels of governance and the communities they represent.
In between the attention-grabbing government news on the global and national stages, I encourage you to take a moment to think about – and thank – the dedicated women and men who represent our interests locally on a day-to-day basis. They are your neighbours, not professional politicians. They receive minuscule stipends and put in thousands of hours on your behalf. Before your next municipal election take a bit of time to find out who is running and the issues on which they will represent you. Most importantly, get out and vote. If you don’t then you are taking the local out of local governance – and democracy is diminished.