Royal City Bloggers and Journalists Agree: We Suck at Voting

Who really won the recent New Westminster 2008 municipal election? Not us, because we are a bunch of chumps that can’t make it to out to stuff a slip of paper into a box. Do we harbour some long hidden fears of elementary school gymnasiums? Terror at the nasty chance of an electoral paper cut?

Our manifest idiocy has not gone unnoticed by the scribbling classes. Even here, at Tenth to the Fraser, we have noted our past 26.2% participation lameness. Now, with renewed evidence of our callous disregard for our franchise, Shelley Fralic boldy scolds us in today’s issue of the Vancouver Sun (Nov14, 08, A4) ,

In short, our growing pains, while an indication of a bright future and a solid economic base, are profound.

So you’d think the citizens of my town, who chose this place to live, would give a damn about what happens to it.

And you know, Fralic is not alone in her keen perception. She rightly points out that while New Westminster is the kind of town where you can meet with several generations on a bright day in the park and know all of them, we must reconcile that community spirit with the dearth of spirit that is made plain by this year’s dismal showing. Pat Tracy from the Record agrees in her blog and wants to cause a ‘hoofra’ of her own and call attention to the fact that with such apathy, even large families can sway a sizable portion of the poplar vote.

Strengthening the chorus of those who decry the poor participation, Niki Hope eloquently reminds us of what I have heard and also hold to be true, that:

It is pretty sad that so few people bothered to walk a few blocks to help determine how their hefty taxes will be spent and who will help guide their children’s education.

Now after that kind of drubbing, and from so many sources, come on citizens! I want to see you volunteering at the Shiloh Church food bank, donning an or joining a municipal committee. We owe it to ourselves to vote and further to participate in a meaningful way in our city. Dance with seniors, hug a hooded teen (or whatever); anything to ameliorate our mass participation in nothing on voting day.

New West says ‘no’ to change

Despite a well-organized campaign by the Voice party to convince voters New Westminster needs profound change, the resounding public response has been a polite, “No thank you.” Unofficial election results show only one new face on council: 12th Street booster, longtime Douglas College Student Union leader, Save St. Mary’s Hospital organizer and antipoverty activist Jaimie McEvoy, who appears to have stolen the seat of our longest-serving councillor, Calvin Donnelly . Donnelly has been a city councillor for 18 years, since first elected in 1981 (according to the city website’s official bio … I assume he has not been in office the whole time or else it would be 27 years, no?).

It’s the same story on school board, despite the vocal outcry over plans to situate a new school in Grimston Park, six of the seven school trustees are incumbents – and the seventh is former city councillor Casey Cook . There is a slight touch of drama here: Wright-endorsed newcomer Vivian Garcia was so narrowly edged out by incumbent Brent Atkinson (sorry, can’t find a link for his bio) that there will be a recount to confirm the tally.

And the final confirmation that New Westminster voters are pretty happy with the way things are? The response to the referendum question on whether council terms should be extended from three years to four was YES . That one’s a bit of a puzzler though – civic elections throughout the province occur every three years on the third Saturday in November . The referendum question is explicitly non-binding. Are we really going to put ourselves out of sync with every other municipality in the province and move to a four-year election cycle? I don’t know about you, but the first I heard that this question was on the table was when I had my Sharpie in hand at the polling station. It’s a surprise to me that we’re even considering the question.

The story of the night for me is just how poor a job the news media did of reporting election results from municipalities other than Vancouver and Surrey. Of all the TV stations, CBC included, only Shaw Cable (!) had special election coverage. Other stations just had superficial updates during commercial breaks. Online, the story wasn’t much better. The only site that did it well was the official City of Vancouver site, which reported faster results than any of the media sites (and, of course, didn’t cover New West!).

New West results were not online at all (except as reported by us, repeating Shaw Cable’s coverage). Because Shaw wasn’t online, and their numbers went by so fast, we actually snapped photos of our TV screen in order to capture local information for this blog. We were monitoring the Vancouver Sun, CBC, the Georgia Straight, 24 Hours, the Record and the Newsleader and it pains me to say that we were the first to report New West results online. The Record wasn’t too far behind in reporting the first results after all poll results had come in. The Newsleader had nothing until the results were complete. The big media organizations had nothing at all for New West.

The very best coverage was on Twitter. Big Media’s overstretched staffers couldn’t beat the efforts of dozens of passionate political junkies scouring the Internet for information on the election and sharing the dribs and drabs of info as it came in. CBC’s best move came in asking the Twitter community to tag election-related Tweets with the code #civicelection2008, which allowed for easy, consolidated tracking of most of the related commentary.

To me, all this is more evidence that the rest of the Lower Mainland considers New Westminster insignificant, and that is something I hope to change somewhat through my efforts online. I’d love to see more people blogging and Tweeting and Facebooking the New Westminster perspective and trumpeting our city’s successes so that the rest of the Lower Mainland might see that New West is more than what they view through the windshield trundling along Stewardson.

For those of you who didn’t choose to vote, you lose all right to complain for the next three (maybe four!) years. If you felt your taxes were too high, crime too bad, arts undersupported, parks lacking or schools crowded, you had your chance to effect change. Suck it up, buttercups.

The final election results will be posted on the City of New Westminster’s website on Nov. 19 after 4 p.m.

2008 online civic election results

If you’re looking for information on civic election results as they roll in, here are a few sites to check (I am watching and will post New West information as I see it as well):

Know of any other sources? Post ’em in the comments.