Democracy leaves Canadians idle

By Nigel Gordijk.

Guest article published in the New Hamburg Independent (2011).

Perhaps you've noticed the lawn signs scattered around the township: we're in the throes of municipal election fever. On October 25, the residents of Wilmot Township will be choosing a new mayor and five councillors.

A lot of residents seem to be showing an interest, having stayed away from polling places in their droves the last time round in 2006. Back then, there were 13,403 eligible to vote in Wilmot, but only 24.7% of them bothered to do so, down from 2003's already pathetic 26.1% turnout. This election is more compelling because Mayor Wayne Roth is stepping down and three current councillors - plus a non-council community leader - are fighting to replace him.

Unlike some immigrants in Canada, I was fortunate to move from one prosperous, democratic country - the United Kingdom - to another. Many people from mature democracies take freedom of choice for granted.

Like the U.K., Canada is notoriously apathetic when it comes to politics. Sure, we enjoy complaining about our politicians, but at least we have an enviable system that enables us to change the people who represent us in Ottawa, Queen's Park and Snyder's Road West.

Key to this process, of course, is actually caring enough to get out there and cast a vote. There are four candidates vying for the position of Wilmot mayor, while there are seven names on the ballot for the two available council seats to represent New Hamburg Ward 4 alone.

Now that we have such a wide choice, there really are no excuses for apathy. Until three years ago, I always lived in large cities. The city where I was born, London, has a population of over 8 million people, so it was easy to feel disenfranchised.

Only now that I've moved to a rural community - where strangers stop me in the street to say "hello" - do I realize what I was missing. I feel more connected to New Hamburg as a place - and, by extension, Wilmot - than anywhere else I've lived. Living here is an engaging experience, where everyone is encouraged to get involved.

Wilmot is small enough that all of its residents can feel connected. That's what makes this such a marvellous community, one which comes together to celebrate its culture. The Mennonite Relief Sale and Quilt Auction, the New Hamburg Fall Fair, and Moparfest are annual events that instantly spring to mind.

Local democracy is so much more compelling than provincial or federal politics - especially in a small township like Wilmot - because we have so much that connects us to our neighbours. It's likely that you're on first-name terms with at least one candidate, either for mayor or in one of the four council wards.

Entrepreneur Michael MacMillan said: "We need to be engaged more as citizens. This goes beyond voting, although that is a great start." I couldn't agree more; voting is a privilege that we should all exercise.

So don't just sit there. Take time to find out more about the candidates who are running. Then go out on October 25 and vote.