On October 20th citizens all across BC will have an opportunity to elect mayors, councilors, and area directors – the leadership of our local government. Unfortunately, only about 25-35 per cent of those citizens will exercise that right. As a participant, a few years back, in a group called the Citizens Voice Project, I feel strongly that not voting in these elections is a serious omission. Local governments are the most accessible level of democratic expression and City Hall, in many ways, has the most influence on people’s day to day lives.
Trade union activists are aware of that fact and so local labour councils, in partnership with the Canadian Labour Congress, have for decades sent to unions lists of candidates who reflect the values of working people in their communities. These lists, in turn, are sent out by the unions to their members.
How do they come up with these lists of endorsed candidates? First, Labour Councils, like the Campbell River, Courtenay and District Labour Council, strike up sub-committees that carry out the process of advertising, sending out questionnaires, conducting interviews and finally making recommendations to the labour council as a whole. Full disclosure, I was one of the members of the subcommittee for the Comox Valley elections.
Candidates approach the labour council requesting an endorsement. Those that are new candidates are sent a five page questionnaire. The questions are varied and wide ranging.
“In a strike situation would you support back to work legislation for municipal workers. Would you cross a picket line…?’
‘How do you see creating family supporting jobs while protecting the environment?’
‘If elected, how would you support the inclusion of community members who are marginalized and/or members of equity seeking groups when making decisions?’
One to one interviews are set up with all the candidates including incumbents who have been endorsed in the past. These interviews allow us to dig a little deeper into their backgrounds and into their platforms, and question the incumbents about their time in office.
One example of a question we asked of the incumbents was ‘What was your proudest moment on Council? What was your most difficult decision?’
Doug Hillian, after citing the tree bylaw and the new servicing agreement with the K’omoks First Nation, stated ‘The motion to approve the building of 46 supportive housing units was the one that stood out. The opportunity was offered by the new Government in Victoria, and Council acted.’ Reflecting the complex nature of the decisions councilors often have to take, he said that the most difficult decision was the same motion. ‘Some of the neighbours expressed real concerns and fears as to the effect this project would have on their lives; however there is also a real need for social housing and this project will alleviate some of the very problems that led to these neighbours fears in the first place.’
It was a pleasure for the most part going through this process and we would like to thank all the candidates who took the time from their busy schedules to fill out the questionnaires and meet with us to do the interviews. I must say I was impressed by the integrity and community awareness of these candidates. As a trade union activist, it’s always positive when candidates make the effort to connect with unions and the people they represent.
The Campbell River, Courtenay and District Labour Council endorsed the following candidates:
Courtenay City Council – Will Cole-Hamilton
Cumberland Village Council – Roger Kishi
School Trustee District 71 Area ‘B’ – Michelle Waite
Campbell River Council – Michele Babchuk
School Trustee District 72 – Richard Franklin
This list is simply a guide for our members to help them sort out the many names and positions on election day. We expect people to take these recommendations and explore them further; check out the campaign material and talk to the candidates directly.
There is some debate within the labour movement as to whether we should be recommending all candidates who have gone through our process and who meet our criteria, or whether to limit the number to just the number of positions up for election. For instance, if we had 8 people who were deemed good choices but there were only 6 positions open, would we recommend only six of those 8 candidates or would we recommend all 8 and leave it to people to decide which they would choose to vote for? Luckily in these elections it’s only a theoretical debate.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not state why the Labour Council’s recommendations should be given legitimacy. Unlike the “taxpayers alliance” which is secretive not only in its process but in fact telling us who they are, the Labour Council is transparent about how we arrived at these recommendations and all the members of the Executive are listed. Unlike the taxpayers alliance, whose use of the word “taxpayers” betrays their narrow focus, the Labour Council is concerned not just about the working conditions of our members but the democratic conditions of our members as citizens of these communities.