Few changes when it comes to election issues

With so little time to figure out whom to vote for in the upcoming municipal election, every available piece of information can be quite important.

Since 2000, Loyalist College journalism students have worked on a website known as Vote! (http://vote.onlinedemocracy.ca) The site is an archive of each municipal, provincial and federal election since then. It is a great educational opportunity for the students to learn about politics from a hands-on point of view by exposing them to the fundamentals. It is also a crucible for training them how to cover elections as young journalists-in-training.

From a voter’s perspective, it is a web archive and portal to relevant election information for Northumberland and Quinte. Besides voter basics like where and when to vote, it gives residents a single place to find out how to get on a voter’s list or the names of all the candidates. There are lots of useful links, as well as posted information.

As the professor in charge, my bias is blatant. And, I am proud of the young people and the years of hard work.

But in gearing up for this year’s municipal election, it was striking to notice how rich a resource it has become. Through wonderful partnerships with local media, copies of stories were cross-posted; making is a treasure trove of promises made in the heat of a campaign. Also it is rich fodder for seeing what issues were raised last time, only to appear once again in the current campaign.

Candidates seem to be mowing much of the same grass as in 2006.

In Cobourg, greater communication between council and residents was a familiar battle cry for newcomers. The senior’s centre was an issue, but nothing close to the $27-million monster complex currently under construction. It was merely a $2-million building on Darcy Street just for seniors. In fact, Councillor Miriam Mutton (only a candidate at the time) wrote a scathing letter to the newspapers calling this meager project a “Taj Mahal” and accusing the incumbents of lacking vision. She blamed council for missing a golden opportunity to buy Thomas Gilbard Public School on George Street as a potential senior’s building.

Policing was a high priority item due to a string of publicly embarrassing incidents, which caused many to believe a local force was no longer viable and the OPP was a solution council was pushing at the time.

There were also concerns over development and a desire to see the town not turn into a bedroom community. There were some suggesting a greater distance between developers and politicians, who seemed to roll over quickly for each project presented.

In Port Hope, the low-level radioactive waste clean up was a big issue, with an entire public debate devoted to it. Again, public accountability and transparency were high on the list. Just as in Cobourg, policing was a hot topic as questions around having the OPP police Ward 1 were on the table.

Economic development was front and centre. Mayor Linda Thompson said the existing industrial lands would easily generate 700 jobs. She pointed to Wesleyville as a future opportunity to create employment.

Election campaigns generate plenty of promises and an equal share of reneges once it is over. But the insight gained by looking at previous media coverage and old pamphlets can be revealing.

From one perspective, it demonstrates how certain issues never change. Openness, transparency and improved communications are perennial favourite for opponents. It is a fundamental part of democracy to be open about what government does, but it seems once in office, those assurances of greater access and insight behind the scenes never materialize or fail to be sustained.

While it may be a politician’s privilege to change their minds once in office, there is a greater issue at stake. It is one of trust and credibility, something that should be a hallmark of municipal politics. Provincial and federal representatives do not experience the same level of accountability as their municipal counterparts because they go off to Ottawa or Toronto.

Therefore, it should be easier to hold politicians living, and doing municipal business in the community, answerable, not harder.