Outside of election periods, most people scarcely give politics the slightest thought. Well, except perhaps to frown or sigh heavily at the antics elected officials always seem to be up to. Antics that never seem to be simply doing their damn jobs.
And people these days have a right to sigh or frown or furiously pound out the odd rant or two on Fort Informed or in one of the other community groups that link us as surely as hockey or soccer matches, Paint Nites at the Bear’s Den and the Trade-show at the Dow. People have, correctly, surmised that some of our elected representatives seem far more fond of the thrill of political gamesmanship and the quest for votes than of the actual jobs that result from the winning of an election.
While residents of communities wonder where the promises of elections have wandered off to, representatives from councilors to MLAs to MPs seem stuck in the moment just before they won. A time when selfies and throwing shade at opponents was the only job.
In Parliament, Question Period is talking points only. English or French.
The Alberta Legislation often most resembles a junior high class when the teacher steps out of the room for a few minutes too long.
And the Fort Saskatchewan city council?
It suffers from a chronic case of side-eye and shade.
From chickens to bees to common-sense regulations to keep liquor stores from literally becoming the alcoholic beverage equivalent of a Starbucks on every corner, the Fort city council hasn’t met a proposal that at least one councilor can’t find a reason to dismiss with dramatic effect. Never mind that residents have made requests and councilors have responded with actual initiative – there’s an election coming! In October.
And if anyone is wondering why the library suddenly has a gate? What would the lead up to an election – months from now – be without an issue worthy of gating?
Library-gate, a completely manufactured outrage wherein the all volunteer library board, using money it raised itself, had the audacity to purchase a vehicle outside the city limits. Much like many Fort residents do when the vehicle that best suits their needs and budget can’t be obtained locally.
At last night’s council meeting, the library board chair attempted to set the record straight – with actual facts – after the city’s only newspaper deemed the truth not newsworthy.
She read from her prepared remarks but was cut off by the Mayor when she mentioned one of the councilors by name.
How the record can be set straight without mentioning the names of the councilors involved – though she was allowed to name the councilor* the Mayor doesn’t seem as fond of – is a mystery. And after a few minutes of back forth, the library chair finished her remarks and left the council chambers clearly angry**. Not an emotion that city councilors or the Mayor should want to foster in volunteers who step up and run important boards like the library board.
Fort Saskatachewan has an understanding reputation for volunteerism and publicly smearing volunteers is a good way to kill community appetite for stepping up and pitching in.
And that’s the current state of good governing in Fort Saskatchewan. Volunteers and volunteer initiatives like the library board are sacrificed to petty politics.
Days, and sadly sometimes weeks, worth of drama follows every trumped up incident while no one mentions the elephant lurking in the corner. It’s an election year.
A year when council members – instead of going to constituents to remind them of all the good things that have been achieved and asking, “What can I do for you now?” – decide the best course of action is make the person sitting next to them at a council meeting look bad. And if that can only be accomplished through creating outrage where none exists, well, that’s politics. What were people expecting?
When citizens go to the polls to cast ballots for a candidate, generally they have an issue or two on their minds. Water bills, a new bridge, the puzzling overgrowth of strip malls that never seems to yield more than a new liquor store, take away pizza joints or a walk-in clinic that won’t be open on Sundays.
They’ve probably made a connection or two with new faces running their first campaign for office or reaffirmed commitments to sitting councilors who proved their mettle over the previous years.
Voters are reasonable people. They have wish lists. They have grievances. They expect to be heard and taken seriously. They are looking for representation and people who understand that serving at any level of government is service on behalf of the people. Not self-service.
Too many elected officials anymore – at every level of government – are still laboring under the assumption that governing is ruling like the feudal lords in Medieval times. They treat their time in office as though it was a rousing game of Catan or an episode of Game of Thrones. As if their actions don’t have real world consequences that can adversely affect the lives of real people. The people they are supposed to be serving, and the people they are serving with on council, in the legislature, and in Parliament.
Politics might be a game, but life is not. Voters are tired, but not so much so that they don’t see what’s going and aren’t taking notes. But whether this coming city election is a long and brutal House of Cards knock off or a responsible, thoughtful campaign where adults behave as though they are familiar with the idea of adulting, is almost entirely up to those who step forward to run. For the first time or again.
*Disclaimer – I know the Bosserts. Our daughters are school friends.
**Edited after speaking with Renetta Peddle, the library chair who assured me she was happy to get a chance to speak and furious at being silenced in her attempt to set the record straight and clear the reputation of the library board.