Sunday, 28 October 2012

Has Markham voter apathy finally bottomed out?


Dear Readers,

The Editor of the Markham Economist & Sun on October 26, 2012 asked an interesting question so I thought I would pass it along verbatim for comment....

Has voter apathy finally bottomed out?

Voter turnout. It’s a familiar topic of discussion on this page. We’ve lamented the ever diminishing number of voters who cast ballots during federal, provincial and municipal elections and have made suggestions about how to curb this alarming trend.

Our letter writers, too, have weighed in on the topic, suggesting everything from clearer signage at polling stations to better embracing new technology, such as Internet voting.

All good ideas, but the reality is election day is simply too late in the process to push people to vote.
It’s really about community engagement — recognizing government decisions often have a huge impact on your neighbourhoods and lifestyle and you must speak out on the issues affecting you and your family.
And, with fingers crossed, it appears there may be signs this way of thinking is taking hold.

A handful of issues are taking centre stage in York Region these days and residents are speaking out in droves — attending community meetings, writing letters to the editor and commenting on our website, — to ensure their opinions are being heard.

Some examples:
• More than 200 people filled Richmond Hill’s council chambers earlier this month over plans to build a 10-storey, 225-unit affordable housing  development and youth shelter at Yonge Street and Crosby Avenue. Close to 30 made presentations and, leading up to the session, The Richmond Hill Liberal was flooded with letters from supporters and those opposing the plan.
• Markham residents have been equally outspoken on the city’s plan to build a $325-million NHL-sized arena, the GTA Centre, at Kennedy Road and Hwy. 407. Recognizing the voices of residents, Markham councillors, this week, delayed approving a key part of the development process until after a public meeting last night.
• In Newmarket, residents have been equally outspoken on plans to redevelop the Glenway Country Club on Davis Drive and plans for Slessor Square, a high-rise retirement residence and special needs centre around the corner on Yonge Street. Public meetings have been filled to capacity and letters continue to roll in on the proposals.
• In East Gwillimbury and Georgina, hundreds of residents are attending meetings over the Upper York Sewage Solution project — putting pressure on government to ensure their neighbourhoods and natural resources are protected at all costs.

When combined with voices on a host of other recent issues around the region, it’s truly an encouraging sign.
It suggests voter apathy has bottomed out and, in this region of more than one million people, the voices of residents are playing a greater role in decisions at our council tables.

And it’s high time. Here’s hoping the trend continues and you, the taxpayer, remain politically engaged, particularly after the issue that has you fired up is settled.

From the upcoming regional governance review to traffic congestion to environmental concerns, there are a host of other issues that equally impact your life.

Stay involved and stay vocal. If so, this should translate into better voter turnout and a stronger slate of candidates vying for your vote when we go to the polls again in 2014. response:

Is it ignorance or apathy? Hey, I don't know and I don't care! Do these famous words by Jimmy Buffett sum up the the other half of the voters in Markham? It is said that roughly 50% won't bother voting in the next municipal election in 2014 so, being the curious type, I was going to hold a little discussion about voter apathy, but no one was interested! So, being determined, I asked a few questions, promising anonymity and what I heard was very disturbing! It appears that voter apathy can be traced back to three reasons.....

Distrust Politicians - distrust of politicians has reached 'epidemic proportions', driven by specific factors like chronic deafness. For too many area residents, the question for the next municipal election is not whether to re-elect the current council. Instead, the question is, “Who cares?” Citing reasons from lack of interest in politics to lack of trust in the candidates, many voters just don’t plan to become involved. “It really doesn’t matter who wins,” is the popular refrain. “It’s going to be the same old thing,” says another. “I try to stay away from that as much as possible,” said another. “Politics is just too difficult... I feel like a lot of times it`s all just optics.....they’re just saying things people want to hear," said another. "They’re not saying things they actually believe in or know to be the truth,” said another. On a positive note, one said they would be more interested in voting if voting was not an automatic right, but a status contingent on passing an exam designed to demonstrate understanding of the political system. "Look at it this way,  you wouldn't trust an untrained person to drive a car, so why are we allowing the ill-informed to drive the City?" Others say politics "should be a required high school module based on current events and economics to appeal to those less knowledgeable about government; with almost complete apathy toward politicians." What say you, taxpayers?

Distrust Pollsters - the political pollsters are being accused of turning the 'prediction of political results industry' from a science into an art. At a time when all kinds of science appear vulnerable to skepticism and challenge; climate science, medical science, economic analysis, even the scientific data in Markham census, political pollsters are feeling the heat too. “Skepticism is growing, increasingly, everywhere,” said a pollster whose own firm shook up the business with a sharply written assault on what it sees as more questionable 'innovations' from competitors. “Some marginal pollsters count on your ignorance and hunger to make the news to peddle an inferior product. Others are using your coverage to ‘prove’ that their untried methodology is the way forward for market research. Instead of being their own biggest skeptics (which is what pollster training instructs), they’ve become hucksters selling methodological snake oil,” says another pollster. “All of this MUST stop. We are distorting our democracy, confusing voters, and destroying what should be a source of truth in election campaigns; the unbiased, truly scientific public opinion poll.”

Distrust Media - far too many voters say they have little or no trust in the media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. "Instead of reporting the news, too many in media are suspected of showing their bias, thus alienating the very people they shouldn't...their viewers and subscribers," said one! "Few trust the internet for valid information and have to rely on experienced journalists who have an intrinsic duty to report the news...not make it up on the fly! When the voter suspects bias, the natural reaction invariably is to automatically do the opposite," said another! Which is as it should be, as the virus of instant awareness is upon us, a virus that may well wipe out the propaganda anachronisms first, then go airborne and eliminate even the non-traditional media outlets. At this most critical time, there will no doubt be some in the media who may be frozen on the sideline as this once in a lifetime historic opportunity runs by on the open field. Others will embrace the new reality to their company's benefit! While the lure of turning news into more eye balls may well be a powerful motivator, it behooves media professionals on all sides of the discussion to establish and enforce standards to live by...come hell or high water!

                                                    photo/ Sjoerd Witteveen/yrmg

It has been reported that very few Markham taxpayers attended previous meetings when the proposed Markham Arena was initially presented yet Council Chambers was overflowing last Tuesday. This is a testament to Donna Bush and Karen Rea of the Markham Village City Ratepayers Association...who just won`t let go!

                                  Donna Bush and Karen Rae show their colours at the over-flowing
                                                          Markham Council Chambers!  
                                                        photo/ Sjoerd Witteveen/yrmg

The popular refrain......I was going to hold a little discussion about voter apathy, but no one was interested could just be a sentiment of the past!

The public-private financial aspect of the proposed Markham Arena debate; where the profits stay private while the taxpayer risks subsidizing the loses has awakened the sleeping Markham taxpayer like nothing that i`ve seen in my 13 years living in Markham.

The Editor of the Markham Economist and Sun likes it...and I like it, too!


Friday, 26 October 2012

Witnessing a dichotomy!

Dear Readers,

Seldom do we get the opportunity to witness a dichotomy so profound, it creates a new threshold but in the Markham Council Chamber last Tuesday evening, our mayor tried desperately to stretch a bunt into a triple while hostile taxpayers tagged him out at 1st base!

As so eloquently phrased by taxpayer Toinette Bezant, of the Bayview Glen Residents Association, public participation with a private partner where the profits are privatized and the losses are socialized will be "carried by Markham taxpayers for many years to come" while Donna Bush of the Markham Village City Ratepayers Association demanded that council do their due diligence on all proposed arena private partners!

Yes, on October 24, 2012, our Council Chamber was overflowing with vociferous taxpayers. Folks were standing up and speaking their minds to our mayor and council while a dubious arena promoter with his supporters in tow sat on their collective hands and frowned every time the crowd erupted in support of each and every taxpayer as they begged our Councillors for a fully privatized arena. 

To digress, a year ago, I was covering the Provincial election riding of Oak Ridges/Markham as a blogger for Speak Your Mind, a Toronto Star initiative and despite fine work by many folks doing their best to get their message out, on election day, apathy received a majority, again! So, fearing that council had already made up their minds and this latest public meeting was just about 'optics', what was unfolding in the Council Chamber reminded me of an old story...

In 1887, Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at the University of Edinburgh had this to say about the fall of the Athenian Republic some 2,000 years prior:

"A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse over loose fiscal policy, (which is) always followed by a dictatorship."
"The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

From bondage to spiritual faith;
From spiritual faith to great courage;
From courage to liberty;
From liberty to abundance;
From abundance to complacency;
From complacency to apathy;
From apathy to dependence;
From dependence back into bondage."
If our mayor is correct in saying that "95% of the people he’s talked to agree with him" about his Arena, as reported by Amanda Persico in the Markham Economist & Sun the next day despite the obvious signs of voter unrest present in council chambers, could we be past the 'apathy' phase of Professor Tyler's definition of democracy and moving quickly toward 'bondage'?


Thursday, 25 October 2012

why should Markham taxpayers have to be unwilling partners?

                               Donna Bush and Karen Rae show their colours at the over-flowing
                                                          Council Chambers last night!  
                                                    photo/ Sjoerd Witteveen/yrmg

Considering the positive economic evolution taking place in the GTA, it is clear that should the new Markham pro sports facility become a reality, it could be built solely with private capital for construction, maintenance, and operation. Just because there may be insufficient private sector willingness or ability for risk-taking of this magnitude with the current partners is no excuse to put wary taxpayers at risk! Judging by the reaction of the crowd at last nights Council Chamber meeting, that would appear to be the logical conclusion but Mayor Scarpitti sees things differently! He says that borrowing $325 million because 'government gets a better rate' than millionaires is the right move. Even derisive catcalls from those who filled the chamber couldn't get through to him. Considering the alleged dubious business practices of the arena promoter, as reported by the Toronto Star, is it any wonder why many Markham taxpayers are questioning their Councillors? Even Donna Bush, vice-president of the Markham Village City Ratepayers Association, asked councillors to do their due diligence on each Arena partner. “Markham taxpayers, who is misleading you,” she begged the angry crowd, deferring to a picture of Mayor Scarpitti on the large screen.

Which begs the question...why should Markham taxpayers have to be dragged into this scheme; a potential 'white elephant', kicking and screaming while the Air Canada Centre (ACC) in Toronto was built with private financing. The ACC’s revenue stream remains strong, hosting up to 200 events annually. The Rogers Arena in Vancouver  and the Bell Centre in Montreal were also privately financed. The fact that these three arenas host financially successful NHL teams as their anchor doesn't hurt either. Hell, even Scotiabank Place in Ottawa was also privately financed.

                                  It was standing room only last night as interested residents turned
                        at council chambers to hear more details about a proposed NHL-size arena.  
                                                      photo/ Sjoerd Witteveen/yrmg

No, the GTA; the largest urban centre in Canada, provides the right economic conditions for privately financed pro sports facilities and if dissenting Markham Councillors won't take taxpayer concerns to heart, they may just find it hard to get voted Dog Catcher, in 2014.