We got better last time around. In the 2011 civic election, 34.57 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot. That was an increase from 2008 when an abysmal 30.79 per cent of us voted in the lowest turnout in half a century. The City of Vancouver, ever optimistic, wants to raise voter turnout again this year with the long-term goal of doubling the turnout percentage by 2025.
We have a long way to go to get there. So why should you care?
The reason is simple: You may not want to help decide what happens at city hall. But city hall, and the park board and school board, helps decide what happens to you.
FOLLOW YOUR MONEY
If you own property in Vancouver, you pay taxes to civic government, including to the school district. You don’t have a choice. If you’re a renter in Vancouver, you’re paying your landlord’s property taxes. Depending on the value of the property, that adds up to hundreds or thousands of dollars a year. You’ll want a say in how your money is spent.
Look out your door or window to the street. That street, the sidewalks, the sewers and water lines running underneath it are all built by the city using your money. In fact, large physical infrastructure like roads and sewers takes up the bulk of city spending. They’re expensive and difficult to create, but they make cities livable thanks to the taxes you pay.
Look at the cars parked along the street. The amount of time they can park there, how close they can be to an intersection and, more importantly, the fines received (that’s more of your money) if they break those regulations are set and monitored by city officials whose salaries you provide.
See the person walking their dog? They pay the city for the licence required to own that dog. That licence is an example of the many fees you and your neighbours pay for various services, from putting on events to approval of renovations in your home.
The park they’re heading to is run by the park board, which maintains that park and decides how it can be used, all with your money.
The board controls where and whether that person can let their dog run off leash in that park. It even provides plastic bags they can use to pick up after their animal.
Now note the bike lane. The cyclists barreling along it might delight or annoy you. Either way, you paid for it. Bike lanes are controlled by the city and their steady growth throughout Vancouver in recent years is the direct result of city policy.
Watch the police car drive by. That vehicle, the officers inside it, and all their equipment is paid for by the city. How much they earn, where they patrol and their enforcement priorities are set by a police board chaired by the mayor. All with your money.
The firehall down the street is also run by the city. Their ability to respond to your home for a fire or medical emergency depends on your taxes.
Walk by a school. Your money helped build that school. It also pays for the salaries of the teachers and staff who watch over those young minds each day.
Finally, go to a nearby major intersection. Chances are tall residential towers are springing up there. The proposals to build those towers, the process, including consulting you, by which they were approved, and their design and implementation, were all controlled by the city, run by politicians and staff your money pays for.
Did you get your money’s worth?
All this spending adds up. The city’s operating budget approaches a billion dollars a year. The school board spends nearly half a billion dollars a year. How to spend $1.5 billion a year in a city the size of Vancouver has an enormous impact on your life. You can’t escape the reach of civic government.
FOUR MORE YEARS
If there ever was a civic election for you to vote in, this is it. In a recent change legislated by the provincial government, the people you elect to city council, park board and school board will be in power for four years.
Four years, nearly half a decade, is a long time in anyone’s life. Many of you will have upgraded through two new iPhones in that span and some will have bought a new car. You might have even changed spouses or partners. Certainly you’ll be older.
The mayor and 10 councillors you elect will be setting property zoning policies and guiding the development, or redevelopment, of neighbourhoods and transportation right through to November 2018. If you pay your mortgage monthly, that’s 48 mortgage payments for property whose value that council’s decisions will influence. For renters, that’s 48 months of rent at a rate also influenced by the decisions made by the people you elect to be in charge.
For parents and caregivers with kids in schools, four years is an epoch. That’s half of the time a child spends in elementary school. If your teenager started Grade 9 this fall, they’ll have the same school board trustees enacting district policies that guide public schools right into their graduation year.
Those nine school trustees you elect will have a significant influence on the education and classroom experience your child will receive.
DOES MY VOTE COUNT?
Yes, as much as the richest or poorest person in the city. The developer, the binner, the single parent and the first-year university student all get exactly one vote.
Our democratic system is flawed. Campaign donations should be curtailed and made transparent. The city should join other “world class” cities and introduce wards. We could all be more civil in our political debates.
But it’s remarkable in historic and global terms that we settle our differences and push our agendas, good or bad, not by mortar shells or rockets fired across Main Street but through the ballot box. In the month that we remember Canadian men and women who died in our country’s wars, voting in an open election in a free country is a fine way to honour their sacrifice.
MAKE SURE YOU CAN VOTE:
- Casting your ballot:
Voting in this year’s civic election has expanded with more hours, more days and more locations, and the city hopes the extra opportunities will encourage Vancouverites to cast their ballots.
This year, you’ll be asked to elect the mayor, 10 city council members, seven park board commissioners and nine school trustees for a four-year term. You will also help decide whether to authorize the city to borrow money for major projects including parks, roads, affordable housing, childcare and transportation.
- Double-check registration:
If you’ve registered for the voter’s list in the past, you’re likely registered for this year’s election. A voter information card will arrive by mail and likely has arrived by now. If you’re unsure of your voter status, visit elections.bc.ca.
If you’re not on the voter’s list you can register on the day you vote with two pieces of identification that indicate name, signature and residential address. If you have only one piece of ID, you can still vote if you swear a declaration of residence.
- Where and when to vote:
Advance voting has begun as of this guide’s publication and continues to Nov. 12 (excluding Nov. 11 for Remembrance Day), 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. There are eight advance voting locations at community centres and city hall. Additional support for voters with disabilities will be available during advance voting, including a sip and puff device, an audio system that will read the ballot and a magnification option.
Election day is Saturday, Nov. 15 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. You can vote at any of the nearly 120, high-traffic locations across Vancouver. New locations include Oakridge Mall, International Village Mall and the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Multilingual staff and audio devices will be onsite.
If you are unable to attend voting opportunities due to absence or ability, register online or call 311 to receive a ballot to vote by mail.
- Who can vote:
Vancouver residents (for at least 30 days before registration) and Vancouver property owners who live elsewhere in B.C. (for at least six months before registration) are eligible to vote. You are required to be age 18 or older on voting day and a Canadian citizen.
If you have no fixed address but a general place of residence such as a street corner or a commonly frequented shelter, you are allowed to register as long as you have two pieces of identification. The option to swear a declaration if you only have one piece is also open.
Young voters are a special target to reach this year. Strategies to encourage younger voters has included social media campaigns, city staff visiting UBC and welcoming election workers at age 15 instead of 18.
The goal this year is a 40 per cent turnout. The last civic election in 2011 saw 35 per cent, up from 30.76 in 2008.
The aim for turnout in 2025 is 65 per cent.
- Chris Cheung