Summer is over and its time to get serious about the upcoming municipal elections. In the past mayor and council served for three year terms. On Bowen this meant that they almost had time to do something, but not quite. This time the term will be four years and a council with four likeminded individuals could do a lot to change the face of our island, for better or for worse. To make an informed decision about who to ultimately vote for we should remind ourselves about how politics work on this island. The nuances of who supports what and why they do it needs to be explored.
The two groups that most quickly come to mind are the Eco Alliance and the Improvement Association. A newcomer to the island once observed that he thought both groups had some good ideas and considered joining both of them. He soon realized that was something akin to joining both the NAACP and the KKK. So lets start by looking at the worldviews these groups represent.
I think its fair to say that the Eco Alliance is dedicated to preserving things as they are for as long as possible. I believe their worldview goes something like this. People don’t move to Bowen to get rich. Those seeking financial opportunity move to large cities or places like Fort McMurray. Those who choose Bowen are choosing a natural environment and slower pace of life. They accept that services are lacking because our population is small. We will never have significant natural resource extraction or manufacturing or large institutions because of transportation, infrastructure and population constraints. And we don’t want those things. Bowen needs to be protected, not exploited.
At the other end of the spectrum we have the Improvement Association. Their members are builders; people who want to improve things. I think it is fair to say their worldview includes the desirability of property development, population increase, infrastructure improvements and economic growth in general. While they agree that Bowen is a very pleasant place to live they see a lot of room for improvement and seek to promote for public office those who share their concerns for the island’s economic stagnation.
Between these two groups are the rest of us. Our concerns are pretty straightforward but by no means universal. Retirees on fixed incomes and long time owners of summer homes are usually concerned about tax increases. Many commuters are opposed to land development schemes that would increase the population and put more pressure on ferry capacity. Families with young children worry about more traffic on the roads. Those who love hiking and exploring the island value our open forests while owners of larger properties fear for the erosion of respect for private property. Local business people remember the hard times and many support those who will work for economic growth. But the reality is that we’re basically happy campers.
Our greatest concern at election time is the fear that we’re going to elect a Council that will do something stupid. And that’s why this next election is so important. Four years is enough time to actually do something. In the last election Duntz, Jennings and Rhodes ran as a slate and all got elected. Eventually two of the three had to resign due to conflicts of interest but not before they demonstrated just how much power a unified block could wield.
This time around we need seven individuals with their own ideas. At its best Council represents the people of the community, not one portion of the community who managed to elect a majority of Councillors. Those elected who are determined to follow their group’s agenda in spite of the wishes of the majority of the community create considerable unnecessary discord. Seven councillors with unique points of view would go a long way to actually representing all of the different groups on Bowen. The question is how do we get strong independent thinkers to actually run?
Our municipal councils have made their jobs far too difficult. They have spent endless hours in meetings discussing great long term plans that have been discussed a dozen times before and will probably never happen, anguished hours trying to figure out how to extricate themselves from a council decision that the public hates and a frustrating amount of time trying to muster support for the one or two things they personally believe would have a positive impact on the island. At the end of the day they don’t appear to have had very much fun.
But it really doesn’t have to be like that. The trick is to get councillors who have opinions of their own, who will discuss them openly and honestly. If they are truly representative of the many perspectives held by islanders the majority of them won’t do stupid things like requiring development permits to cut down trees on residential lots or at the other extreme throw out a bylaw that prohibits private docks across public beaches.
Let’s hope that this time around we can move our game up a notch and elect some sharp people who effectively represent those of us who don’t have axes to grind. Nominations open September 30 and end October 10. Let the games begin.
(OK, I might have one or two little axes, but that is for another column.)