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!


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your blog Brian! I agree that apathy within Markham is a problem; however, I now see great improvement. I believe that people listen to our politicans without questioning... If the Mayor says or implies that something is a 'done deal' -- residents believe it is set in stone. They do not bother to voice an opinon or challenge the word of 'god'. In the case of the proposed arena, I totally agree with you, "...has awakened the sleeping Markham taxpayer like nothing that i`ve seen in my 13 years living in Markham." I have lived here for 32+ years and now see people, throughout our Markham community, join together to challenge and fight against taxpayer involvement. Pressure on the Mayor and Council, from 'new' and 'fresh' faces must continue. This is not a done deal and with more resident participation, I strongly believe that we can win back our Town. Let's not allow anyone to risk our financial security, for the benefit of a developer and promoter. Stop apathy and get involved -- if we work together -- we can win anything!