Why I’ll be Voting in Municipal Elections (And Why You Should Too)
On Saturday, October 20th, residents in municipalities all over British Columbia will cast their ballots to elect mayors, municipal councillors, and school trustees. Other than the overload of campaign signs you have probably seen staked at every intersection, there is a noticeable lack of awareness on the importance of voting in local government elections.
In 2014, only 39% of registered voters in Victoria cast a ballot. There is clearly an apathy towards the role our local elected officials have. When you consider their responsibilities, it is unfortunate this is the case.
The truth is, everyone, including students, should take these elections seriously. I would even goes as far as to argue voting for municipal representatives is more important than Federal and Provincial elections as they have an immediate impact on our lives. If you are concerned about the future of our parks, transit system, libraries, fire services, road maintenance, and other public services, you should pay attention to local government.
Personally, having lived in Victoria for two years, I am concerned about the lack of affordable housing that exists for students. It’s no secret that once a listing goes up, there is an overload of demand that requires a lot of time and effort to find a house during the busy school year.
There is a noticeable lack of purpose-built housing, which forces students to search through ad-hoc websites and live in expensive basement suites in a highly unregulated market. This increases stress on students and puts many at risk of abuse by landlords. Many students have even begun to expand into Esquimalt and Langford in order to find a rental at an affordable price.
Despite efforts by UVic to increase on-campus housing, more pressure needs to be put on municipalities to increase affordable purpose-built rentals for students by eliminating restrictive by-laws. There also needs to be more incentives for builders and landlords to open their rentals to students.
Relating to housing, I am also concerned about the increasing homeless population of the Capital Region. I believe there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the institutional problems that lead to homelessness. Rather than making generalized assumptions about those who likely suffer from mental health and addiction issues, we should elect municipal leaders who are committed to tackling this problem in a meaningful and sensitive way.
I understand this is a highly complicated issue but municipalities have a unique responsibility in being able to mitigate this problem. It is important that our future municipal representatives include this in their mandate. This should be seen as a problem that affects everyone and not just for those who are less fortunate.
There are a large number of other issues that can be remedied in a practical manner at the municipal level. The stakes are especially high for students who are concerned about the transit system, affordability, bike lanes, and environmental sustainability.
Voting should not only be important in federal and provincial election years. It is our duty to have a say in the decisions of our government on a practical level. I would urge everyone to read the candidate profiles of the councillors running in your district and make sure their platforms speak to you. On October 20th, make your voice heard!
If you are registered to vote provincially, you are also registered for municipal elections. If you are not registered, you can do so on the day of, as long as you bring two pieces of ID. Check the ID requirements on your municipality elections website.