Today I ran a mock election thanks to CIVIX, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes civic engagement for youth. It was exciting to allow my students to cast real ballots the same day as municipal elections taking place around the country. Despite the fact that I would argue that the activity was a success, it also reminded me of larger social attitudes toward politics, in particular at the local level.
To start with, in Canadian federalism there are multiple levels of government. Traditionally there are three components: the federal government, the provincial governments, and local governments. At the local level, however, there are city and regional governments.
The setup leads to a significant amount of confusion. Local politics are probably the most difficult to understand, the least covered by media, and the least discussed in daily life. It's ultimately rather unfortunate since municipal government is what impacts us most, from public transit to social services to parks to water. Ballots in municipal elections require voters to make multiple selections, unlike in provincial or federal ones. Moreover, there are no party affiliations. This makes it much more difficult to feel connected if you are only keeping up sporadically.
The setup also leads to a sense of implicit hierarchy. It's easy to get the impression that the federal government is at the top of a pyramid with other levels subjected to it. The Canadian constitution stipulates what powers belong to which level of government. In the one hundred and fifty years since negotiation between the federal and provincial governments have led to the arrangements that are in place at present. Municipal governments have traditionally taken on responsibility for services that neither other level can effectively provide. In addition, in the past decade or so governments across the country have been downloading responsibilites to local government.
It certainly doesn't help that local politics aren't particularly exciting. The lack of parties, media attention, or controversial issues means that it's often more difficult to get engaged. There are, of course, notable exceptions. The eyes of the country are on Toronto today. Much in the same way that most Canadians in 2008 reported that they'd give away their vote in Canada to vote in the United States, I would not be surprised if most Canadians would trade their local vote for a vote in Toronto.
When it really comes down to it, it's definitely more difficult to get involved, but isn't your community worth having a say in? Get out and vote in today's municipal elections. They impacts you more than you think.