Invest in Democratic Infrastructure...

Elect R.J. for Mayor

More Background - Proposal A

At most only 2.5% of the city’s total population elected any one councilor in our current city government. The average positive support for members of our city council was even lower at only 1.8%.   

Those apologists who suggest that it is more accurate to base a councilors election results on the population of his or her individual ward overlook the fact that councilors actions are not limited to impacting only the ward that elected them. When a councilor casts a vote the consequences can be binding on 100% the people of the city.

Ironically these same apologists don’t appear to object as adamantly to existing plebiscite requirements that are based on “total population counts" rather than on “eligible voter counts". According to current provincial legislation a 10% total of any municipal population is required to force a plebiscite. In Edmonton's case 78,000 notarized signatures need to be collected within 60 days to initiate a plebiscite. Prudence dictates that extra signatures need to be collected to provide a cushion in the event of any unintended entry errors.  In the 2007 election getting a plebiscite on the ballot would have been as difficult as getting the equivalent of 67% of all councilors elected.  A truly daunting task.

Still other apologists would like the public to believe that all ward results can be added together to get a higher overall total of representation for the whole city. (1.8% times 12 councilors would then produce an overall total support level of  21.6%).  Yet, we all know from experience that if you have 12 individual coffee creamers each containing 12% butter fat and you pour them all into one glass you will definitely have more liquid but the butterfat content remains fixed at 12%.

Some apologists will demand that we not include non-voters in these calculations. For the moment let’s avoid debating the double negative implicit in such a demand in favour of focusing on the inherent arrogance suggested when apologists are prepared to have winning candidates begin their tenures in office by accepting calculations that actively choose to ignore non-voters who make up the largest portion of the people that newly elected councilors are expected to represent.

City Council’s recent decision to elect 1 councilor in each of 12 wards instead of 2 councilors in each of 6 wards still produces a total of only twelve elected councilors. Under the "new system" each of these 12 councilors will still be expected to represent an average of 61, 783 people. Even with Council’s recent change Edmontonians will continue to be vastly under represented.

In the Edmonton municipal election, held on February 10, 1892, six aldermen were elected. That is one councilor for every 117 people in the town.  It is ironic that the chances of getting time to speak and interact with a councilor were probably better in 1892 than they are today. What adds to the irony is the fact that there were no sophisticated electronic communications technologies like phones, faxes, or computers available to support citizens or councilors in 1892.

The percentage of support for individuals councilors underwent a dramatic decrease with the introduction of the Ward system in Edmonton in 1971.  Since then "mandate driven authority" has been centralized more and more in the office of one elected individual - the Mayor. Prior to 1971 Edmonton councils had the potential of being made up of at least a few members who had mandates that were equal to or more potent than that enjoyed by the mayor.  Such members could speak on any issues comfortable in the knowledge that they were speaking from positions with equivalent electoral backing and support.

Since the declines in councilor support and “mandate size” are traceable to a structural origin imposed by electoral changes in 1971 it behooves us to work to improve participation and involvement by modifying electoral procedures today.

The true power of a citizenry closely connected to local government becomes apparent when one realizes that very few citizens, with very little infrastructure, and no provincial government yet established to help, where able to build so much in early Edmonton.

Decentralization is not new to Edmonton. A decentralized organizational model has operated successfully in the public sector of Edmonton for the last 30 years.  Specifically, Edmonton Public School with 195 schools, a staff of 7,445 and 80,000 students has used a limited form of distributed budgeting and decision making without suffering any Wall Street scale financial calamity or requiring the elimination of vital centralized authority.  Community leagues and industrial/commercial area associations could operate a distributed model that is at once similar and simultaneously more bottom up and democratically accountable than that which is currently used in Edmonton Public Schools.

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