I’ve had many conversations with municipal politicians in person and on Twitter since I became involved in a successful grass roots lobbying campaign to change a piece of legislation I considered discriminatory in 2010. Some of those have revolved around accountability, and opinion differs (wildly) about what constitutes accountability. Certainly there are minutes of council meetings, and they are often web cast now as well as being broadcast, and certainly the voting record for elected municipal officials is available to anyone who chooses to look for it on municipalities’ web sites.
To some extent I believe accountability at the municipal level is handled nicely by those things we call ‘elections’ in a democracy – you get a chance once every three or four years to do that thing called voting. If you’ve voted you’ve exercised your democratic right and, for better or worse, you have to trust the process. Criticizing every single council vote by someone you helped to elect is your democratic right – but politics is an even bigger game of give and take than business and life itself. So while I earnestly and steadfastly believe everyone should always ‘vote their conscience’ I’m not naive enough to think one can always do so and govern effectively (sometimes that’s where the abstention option comes in handy).
But I also believe, as a communicator with expertise in issues management, that it is better to communicate proactively, to attempt to anticipate response and to deflect potential criticism. No one will ever have a 100% approval rating, and you really can’t please all of the people any of the time. But isn’t it better to discuss an upcoming issue (many of which relate to perceived non-essential spending) and engage in (hopefully) respectful dialogue about it than to wait till the popcorn starts to hit the fan and you find yourself suddenly playing defence?
I’ve seen many reports to councils from those who’ve attended the Federation of Canadian Municipalities annual trade show and conference over the last two years. The information presented during council meetings tends to be perfunctory. And while those who’ve attended sometimes create more comprehensive reports, these tend to be filed as information rather than formally presented and discussed at council meetings. This one from Kelowna Councillor Arjun Singh just blows me away in terms of its transparency, accountability, and eagerness to engage. (He’s on Twitter too.) I think it also makes the best possible case for attendance at events like this being not just essential but crucial budget expense line items for any elected municipal official.
And I can’t resist – regardless of the fact that pollsters got the last Alberta and British Columbia elections wrong – extracting the stats from Angus Reid’s keynote at the FCM Vancouver 2013 meeting. They’re well worth pondering – and debating.
‘Keynote by Angus Reid, Pollster
talked about three main challenges in polling in this era: hard to reach youth, hard to engage multicultural communities, and there is significant volatility in opinions.
Broke down Canadian public like this:
- 16% of Canadians are angry activists. Receive 70% of publicity
- 23% young and ambivalent
- 35% retiring skeptics
- 26% happy campers’
The implications of these stats – if anywhere near true – are phenomenal. The question remains, how to find out what the 84% of those who aren’t ‘angry activists’ think. Suggestions welcome.