Don White News Nanaimo
ANALYSIS

In 2018, resolve to vote (and rid Nanaimo of bad governance)

This council epitomizes what happens when voters are not vigilant, well-informed, and missing at the voting stations. But we are capable of climbing back
The year 2018 is going to be a big one for Nanaimo and the United States. Voters in both venues can make a significant move to having a governing body that more accurately represents their voting populations. There are enough disturbing similarities between the two to warrant a comparison.

US president Donald Trump was elected in 2016 after winning the electoral vote, but losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. Adjusted for voter turnout, Trump was elected by only 25.4% of eligible voters (and is now endorsed by only 18.2%). Propped up by the GOP, Trump’s US is now the most prominent example of a sham democracy: government for the few, by the few.

But this may change come November, when all of Congress and one third of Senate seats come up for grabs in mid-term elections. Should a full spectrum of voters turn out and vote, the resulting Federal government may more closely represent the majority of the country’s voters.

Things are not much different in Nanaimo. In our last municipal election, only 34.1% voters turned up to vote. Bill Bestwick received the greatest number, 7.4% of all votes cast. Diane Brennan received the lowest number among elected candidates, just 4.7%. Adjusted by voter turnout: Mr. Bestwick was endorsed by 2.5% of the eligible electorate;  Ms. Brennan by 1.6%. The other elected council members lay between those margins.

We need to care desperately that nothing like this current council occurs ever again within our city.

Councillor Jim Kipp has said more than once that this result means 65.9% of voters in the 2014 election didn’t care and continue not to care. Given that he uses this fact to refute contentions that voters want accountability, Mr. Kipp can be interpreted to mean that the council’s minimum majority of himself, Mr. Bestwick, Gord Fuller, Jerry Hong, and Bill Yoachim can do exactly what they want. Certainly, their record indicates that’s exactly what they have done.

For one, they hired their preferred CAO despite protest from the council minority about the unusual process. Competition for the job was reduced by setting the four-year contracted salary well-below market value, then after appointing Tracy Samra, they raised her salary by almost $25,000 with a similar bonus a few months later. Few details were provided for the public record.

They actively instigated a lawsuit, police complaint, and citizen’s legal action against the mayor, only to let all collapse after the immensely shaming, reputation-damaging headlines for both Mr. McKay and Nanaimo had run their course.

They attempted to create a taxpayer-funded, WHL Hockey rink and abandoned the project only when voters in a mandated referendum emphatically refused to authorize their borrowing $80 million to fund the arena, leaving them without the financial wherewithal to carry on.

They shrugged off the alarming flood of senior staff and managers who were either dismissed or took early retirements under the “restructuring” of their CAO, leaving Nanaimo crippled in its ability to handle even the most routine business in an efficient manner.

They collaborated with their CAO to reduce public scrutiny by conducting public business in a spate of in camera meetings — like spending $8M to automate the city’s garbage trucks (which later required them to increase garbage fees 40% in an open meeting. Not to mention impeding public access to council during open meeting question periods by adopting a written-form submission introduced by the CAO while she withdrew staff entirely.

After giving voters multiple assurances that no tax increase was needed to service the requested $80M loan and proposed operating deficit of the ill-fated ice arena, they floated a 2.7% property tax increase six months later without providing voters with sufficient fiscal details to justify the budget change.

I could go on, but enough is surely enough. Whether Mr. Kipp is correct about the disinterest of Nanaimo voters in 2014, there are more than ample reasons for his claim no longer to apply. Nanaimo voters very much need to care. We need to care desperately that nothing like this current council occurs ever again within our city.

We need to pledge, if only to ourselves, that the behaviour and actions of these five councillors along with their senior managers will be the low point of our city’s history. We can climb back by recognizing 2018 as our time for action.

But we cannot afford the mistake of thinking that the arena referendum shows we are already on track and all is well. The referendum turnout was a meagre 35%, only 0.9% more than in the 2014 election. The turnout for the by-election that put Sheryl Armstrong in office was only 11%. And that was just months after the ice rink referendum was defeated.

We need to recognize that our biggest challenge will be initially to inform all voters and then get them out to vote. To the first task, all of us need to actively engage in disseminating relevant information to our families, friends, neighbours, and the community at large. We need to actively seek out and involve new residents. If we do that, their voting in October will follow naturally.

Most of us recognize the need to discard the limited perspectives of long-standing Nanaimo feuds and factions.

Most of us believe Nanaimo is a much, much better place than the image created by our current City Hall. Most of us recognize the need to discard the limited perspectives of long-standing Nanaimo feuds and factions. The majority of us want to move away from narrow, out of date, small-town thinking that appears to characterize so much of what this council majority does.

Most of us believe that fiscal competence and ongoing integrity are essential qualities for civic governance. Neither of those qualities have been particularly evident in the fiscal management or the numerous, embarrassing headlines featuring Nanaimo in the national media during the current term of office. We must trust our elected council with almost $200 million annually of our money to administer. We expect and need more for our votes than fiscal spin and “Bite me.”

This council will always stand as an example of what happens when voters are not vigilant, well-informed, and missing at the voting stations. Moving towards a more truly representational government is a task we share with the US. In both venues, autumn elections will show, to our betterment or detriment, the degree we have achieved that goal.

Make no mistake, the stakes are huge. We are choosing who will be empowered to govern not only our community, but ourselves. Thankfully, having seen the bottom in Nanaimo, we are capable of climbing back towards the top and restoring our city to be, once again, a place of pride.

If you are so inclined, make accomplishing this task your New Year’s resolution.

About the author

Don White

Don White

Don moved to Nanaimo from the BC Lower Mainland almost four years ago, but has visited the Island regularly for more than thirty years. He considers local government to be a crucial factor in determining not only our quality of life, but also our efforts to protect and responsibly develop this beautiful but vulnerable setting we live in. This view became his motivation for continuing to inform and engage Nanaimo voters.

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  • Not a new problem! Letter to editor from 2010:

    Iraqi voters should be inspiring to Canadians
    Lane, Bob Author Information View Profile. Nanaimo Daily News; Nanaimo, B.C. [Nanaimo, B.C]11 Mar 2010: A.10.

    “News reports this week stated that the voter turnout in Iraq was 62%.

    Wow, in spite of bombs, intimidation, and threats, voters flocked to the voting stations.

    Compare that with how we Canadians do.

    We cannot even get 50% of voters to the voting booth on a sunny safe day.”

    Bob Lane

    Nanaimo

    Credit: Bob Lane; The Daily News

    • We must be prepared to distinguish the present city council, they are bunch of incompetent people. I always say,if you had a business and needed a manager, which one of the famous FIVE on city council would you hire to run your business. Not one of the famous FIVE

  • I notice Don, that you moved here around the last election. The election turnout in 2014 was higher than it was previously, largely because there was a lot of unhappy voters with the council of the day, which showed in who got the votes. The voter turnout is notorious for being low, probably because most people really don’t know the candidates enough to feel confident in who to vote for. That is an important point which should be addressed, but is difficult, especially because there is conflicting information depending who you talk to. I don’t agree with Jim Kipp, I think people do care, they just don’t know how to be well informed. Watching a council meeting now and then is a very superficial means to informed voting. Perhaps creating a spread sheet on who voted for what would help.
    In-camera meetings were a major issue for voters during the last term. That unfortunately seems to still be an issue. Voters, in my opinion, were also very unhappy with the majority council rubber stamping the CAO’s recommendations. Not doing their homework but relying on staff to tell them how to vote.
    At the beginning of this term the previous CAO deliberately ignored councils resolutions and undermined their direction when they disagreed with them. There was a lot of turmoil in the beginning of this term for many reasons, largely, I think, because the status quo was upset.
    Memories are short and all information is biased. What I value more than anything is information that is not presented as black and white, good versus evil, but as information. That, to me, is sadly missing. The majority on council are not evil, set out to make our lives miserable. We may not agree with their decisions, and I definitely was disappointed when they ignored a citizens survey showing very clearly the public did not want a publicly funded event centre, but in order to vote I want to feel confident the information I am getting is not to manipulate me, but to inform me. Do I want to see changes on council? You bet. But I want to do that with good information. Information that respects my intelligence and is balanced, not reactive and manipulative in nature. How about a survey to see what people have experienced from their dealings with the individual councilors. Who are the approachable ones, who return calls, emails etc? Which councilors have gone out of their way to be available and support concerns? Which councilors have done their homework and followed up on issues? I could see a whole list of questions that I would love to see answers to.

  • Hello Don,
    To say “Trump’s US is now the most prominent example of a sham democracy:” is rather interesting considering that the
    United States of America is not a democracy but rather a constitutional republic. Canada is not a democracy either as
    it is a constitutional monarchy. Our municipal government is a democracy and you have determined it is a sham also.
    I guess if we are to be governed by people like ourselves we will always have problems.
    I agree with you that the antics of our council and staff is an extreme example of bad behaviour that I expect would not
    be tolerated in a kindergarten class. Voting for council is like buying a used car. You don’t really know what you’ve
    till after you buy it.

    • Just a check on your civics, Ian. Canada is a Parliamentary democracy, a federal state, and a constitutional monarchy. All immigrants to Canada are required to learn this for their citizenship test.

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