Democracy counts - but not some voters

"The greatest threat to democracy, as evidenced by elections at the national, provincial and municipal level, is voter apathy, the failure of citizens to engage in the electoral process and their failure to cast a ballot."

Reema Faris, trustee candidate, West Vancouver Board of Education, Nov. 2, 2011

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EIGHT days after Remembrance Day ceremonies honour those who have defended our Canadian democracy, British Columbians will have a chance to respect veterans' sacrifices by voting in the municipal election on Nov. 19.

Unfortunately, as West Vancouver resident Reema Faris noted in her letter to the North Shore News, too few of us hold up our end of the bargain.

In fact, as News reporter Tessa Holloway wrote in her Nov. 2 story Advocates at a Loss Over Youth Vote, "In 2008, just 16.7 per cent of all eligible voters in the District of North Vancouver cast a ballot and 17.7 per cent turned out in the City of North Vancouver."

Judging by the 2008 count, Faris can expect, at best, about 33 per cent of West Vancouver voters to consider placing a check mark beside her name.

The numbers are depressing. So in addition to attracting youth, what more can be done to encourage voter turnout?

Should voting be mandatory for all elections?

Do you agree with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association that prisoners serving sentences for minor offences should be able to vote?

How about allowing businesses and commercial property owners to cast municipal ballots like their residential neighbours?

Should polling stations be set up in multi-residential dwellings - whether rented or owned?

Or are politicians and their lobbyists happier with low voter turnouts?

Hold those thoughts while I tell you a story.

The Lower Mainland Treaty Advisory Committee was formed by way of a March 22, 1993 Memorandum of Understanding between the Province of British Columbia and the Union of B.C. Municipalities, and a 1994 protocol agreement which outlined local government participation in treaty negotiations.

According to the treaty advisory committee, the memorandum recognized local governments have "a unique and special government interest in the negotiations."

Renewed in 2003, the Gordon Campbell government revised the memorandum in September 2008 to "establish a role for local government in the negotiation and implementation of agreements encompassed by the New Relationship with First Nations."

In the Lower Mainland, negotiations included five First Nations: the Katzie, Musqueam, Squamish, Tsawwassen and TsleilWaututh Bands.

On Apr. 3, 2009, 19 years after provincial discussions with UBCM began, and 18 years after LMTAC was formalized, the Tsawwassen First Nation Treaty took effect. To date, it is the only treaty of the five to be finalized.

That treaty conferred government-to-government status on the Tsawwassen and the right to sit at the Metro Vancouver regional table.

The final step in that part of the story happened last month when the Metro Board - including Kim Baird, Chief of the Tsawwassen First Nation - quietly approved a consolidation of [LMTAC] with Metro Vancouver's existing aboriginal relations program.

What does this have to do with voting?

The proposal before Metro would alter the boundaries of municipalities to exclude reserves, thus leaving reserve residents with no municipal vote and no municipality they are eligable to run in.

If Metro continues to open LMTAC's can of worms, not only could eligibility to vote in municipal elections be eliminated, the resulting turmoil may well end up in the Supreme Court of Canada.

According to a Sept. 22, LMTAC discussion paper, Voting in Local Government Elections and Referenda by Residents Living on Indian Reserves, the B.C. Voters Guide states: "residents of Indian Reserves, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal, are entitled to vote in the elections of municipalities and regional districts in cases where the Indian Reserve is located within municipal or regional district boundaries."

Here, I must declare a vested interest: I have lived on Squamish lands since 1990 and have exercised my democratic right to vote in every election since attaining Canadian citizenship more than 50 years ago.

My bias established, the LMTAC document continues: "The ability of these residents to participate in municipal elections and referenda is a concern to local governments as they are not subject to local government regulation and do not pay local governments taxes. . . ."

Which regulations? You could have fooled me.

While taxes are a necessary evil, the concept of paying for the privilege to vote in this country is abhorrent.

I concede that because I am a renter I do not pay property taxes to the Squamish Nation or to the District of West Vancouver. In that respect, I am no different than thousands of renters across the North Shore, including those in illegal suites.

If my municipal vote can be "disappeared" by a whim of Metro and the province, so can theirs because, while their rents include a pro rata portion of their landlord's property taxes, so too do the lease-rents of residents on First Nations lands include the pro rata costs generated by shared-services agreements.

If the quasi-elected members of Metro and/or our three elected councils feel shortchanged by the portion of my rent they receive from the agreements they negotiated, I suggest the fault lies with them, not with me or with my fellow renters.

In all other respects, I obey local regulations and pay regionally-imposed gas taxes, carbon taxes, recycling fees/deposits and more.

I support business owners North Shorewide - all of whom pay an array of provincial and federal taxes, on top of regional and municipal business taxes and licences.

In fact, I contribute at least as much to our communities as those who, for example, lobby District of North Vancouver council for $885,000 in mountain-bike trails that end up in pieces on local mountains; or those who demand public works for gas-tax supported bike lanes, but who resist a return to the bicycle licences of the past, or ICBC insurance on their vehicles.

And how about the contribution of the average 75 per cent who cannot be bothered to vote but demand services anyway?

Suffice it to say this: Lower Mainland residents can decide whether they have received value for money from nearly 20 years of LMTAC, but I predict last week's happy little "consolidation" between the committee and Metro Vancouver will come home to roost.

For years, I have urged municipal councils to stand up for themselves against Metro-creep and provincial downloading; it has suited them to remain silent.

But if councils do not quash any idea of stripping otherwise-qualified North Shore residents of their democratic right to vote, the gloves are off.

rimco@shaw.ca

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