Maple Ridge candidates did a good job

The system would work if people would bother to make the huge effort and spend the 15 minutes it takes to drive to a polling station.

The oaths have all been sworn, councillors, old and new, have been given their marching orders and told on which committees they’ll sit, and a three-year mandate now faces this group of seven who’ll lead Maple Ridge.

Cynics will say only a quarter of eligible voters bothered to choose a Maple Ridge council on Nov. 19, giving those who did, way too much power.

They’ll also say that special interests, through judicious financing and campaigning, are making a mockery of the process – to which I say, nonsense.

The system would work if people would bother to make the huge effort and spend the 15 minutes it takes to drive to a polling station, park the car, walk across the parking lot, open the door and present yourself to a polling clerk. In Maple Ridge, you didn’t even have to show identification in order to vote. Not sure how that worked.

Still, I’ve got some sympathy for the average voter who had to choose from the 28 candidates, let alone school trustee candidates.

I had the same problem in my home town, Abbotsford.

I’m in the news business, and to be honest, there were only a few people I wanted to see on council, though I knew exactly who I didn’t want.

There’s an argument to be made for limiting the number of candidates during an election. Requiring a certain number of supporters to sign nomination papers could pare down the quantity of candidates, along with requiring deposits – in order to weed out the less serious.

Requiring publication of candidate finances before voting takes place could also spur interest. The current practice of releasing campaign financing after candidates are voted in, 120 days later, makes no sense. Actually, it’s an affront to the democratic process.

It just doesn’t make sense that campaign donors don’t influence council decisions.

The voting records speak for themselves.

This last election offers much to build on, however, all to the betterment of Maple Ridge.

Despite the pessimists, the level of debate on the issues was exceptional. Candidates discussed and criticized: urban sprawl, municipal finances, taxes, shopping, even motherhood municipal issues – where, when and how sidewalks and roads and parks should be built.

The Neighbourhoods Maple Ridge group, a collective of five community associations, did something different this time around by tossing candidates tough questions, then having them explain themselves and their answers at an all-candidates meeting.

Other evenings at Webster’s Corners and Fraserview Village Hall (and presumably Whonnock Community Association, which I didn’t get to) did great jobs of managing 28 contenders and drawing sensible responses from all of them.

There were also time-consuming surveys that sounded out councillors on cycling, housing, the arts, as well as questionnaires from media, including our most exceptional, succinct, three-question survey that perfectly informed voters.

The campaign, and the challengers, raised tough, valid questions that shook loose some complacency.

The public, all 25 per cent of them, have said it’s no longer business as usual and that council needs to do more than mail it in.

They want shopping, they don’t care where, they just want to be able to get to a chain store without driving 40 minutes. It’s a heart-breaking reality, but that’s what many want – along with sidewalks that lead to schools, so kids don’t have to walk on busy roads.

Shopping was a preoccupation when they were pounding the pavement, candidates said. Maple Ridge residents want to be able to get stuck in a huge mall parking lot, mill about endlessly in an American Eagle or Banana Republic store, wait in a cashier line for 20 minutes, and buy exactly the same stuff as they do in Chicago or Calgary, just like their city neighbours in Pitt Meadows.

This last election will help Maple Ridge in the long run if all candidates stay connected, maybe write the odd letter, join a group and keep working for their cause, even show up at a council meeting. Just by virtue of slogging it out during the election, the also-rans have a louder voice.

That indeed is what’s happening, according to candidate Carly O’Rourke, who says a council-watch committee is being formed. It could be followed in a year by a shadow council.

Staying involved, though, isn’t the responsibility of the aspiring politicians, but all residents, voters or not.

Maple Ridge will be the better for it.

 

Phil Melnychuk is a reporter with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.

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