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OPINION: Where are the big ideas?

Charlottetown Youth Matters board members, from left, Lydia Peters, Zac Murphy and Alex Youland chat with Mayor Clifford Lee following an event Tuesday night aimed at encouraging young Islanders to become more politically engaged.  The evening saw a presentation from Elections P.E.I., as well as from Lee and other members of city council answering questions on how the municipality operates.  ©THE GUARDIAN
Charlottetown Youth Matters board members, from left, Lydia Peters, Zac Murphy and Alex Youland chat with Mayor Clifford Lee following an event aimed at encouraging young Islanders to become more politically engaged. The evening saw a presentation from Elections P.E.I., as well as from Lee and other members of city council answering questions on how the municipality operates. ©THE GUARDIAN - Mitch MacDonald

A quick scan through most candidates’ webpages is a lesson in run-of-the-mill sobriety; they all look the same

BY JEFFERY WARREN REYNOLDS

GUEST OPINION

Elections are supposed to be exciting times. They’re supposed to be important moments, for people to collectively debate their future. To put forth big dreams. To discuss where, collectively, they want their community to go. To publicly acknowledge the fact that in a democracy, it is the people that rule; the elected ‘leaders’ merely our humble servants, elected to do our bidding.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost sight of much of this. It’s a phenomenon I blame largely on the profound lack of big ideas.

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A quick scan through municipal candidates’ webpages is a lesson in run-of-the-mill sobriety. It even has me wondering whether somewhere there’s a “municipal election webpage generator” that candidates can use to automatically generate platform, website and campaign materials all in one fell swoop.

Certain tropes recur repeatedly: Better snow-clearing. More affordable housing. Consultation with communities. Better infrastructure. Strong economy. Insert candidate photos in front of a photo-shopped city backdrop, and voila! You too can be a candidate.

My jibe is a good-natured one: these are important (albeit vague) issues and I in fact have profound respect for all those who put themselves forward as candidates (and double the respect for those who do so because they care about their city.)

Indeed, these candidates are superior to you or me in at least one capacity: they have chosen to put themselves forward for election. That – just as much as voting – is an imperative for a healthy democracy.

So, kudos to them. But that does not excuse the lack of compelling platforms (nor, for some candidates, the apparent lack of platforms altogether).

There appears, in municipal politics even more than provincial and federal politics, to exist a principle I shall refer to as “competitive status quo.” This principle appears to consist of a commitment to promise no more, or less, than other candidates (if promising anything at all).

We do ourselves a disservice by failing to realize that our municipal governance has implications far beyond the everyday issues of what time the garbage gets picked up in the morning. For the people, we elect do not just enact policies which affect us living here today: they enact policies that will affect generations of residents into the future.

It is that ability to conceptualize and propose policies that take into account not only the immediate needs of the present, but which also set the stage for future growth and development that we most need.

So, where are the big ideas?

I suppose that’s what lies at the core of my dissatisfaction with municipal politics. Municipal politics can be so much more. It needs to achieve a fine balance between meeting the everyday needs of today, while developing the vision of a future far beyond the next four years.

It’s fine to try to keep up with the standards of Halifax or Moncton. But I’d much prefer we exceed them. There is no reason our city cannot be among the greatest in the world – if we have the vision to build it that way. We need leaders that don’t follow the ways of every other city in the country, but that lead by developing creative and innovative new ideas right here. We need to set ourselves the task of not merely holding our own against every other city in North America, but of becoming the greatest. And that requires leaders capable of big visions, big dreams, and big ideas. Will we one day see such leadership?

There are many fine and earnest candidates out there. At least some of them deserve our votes, because to not vote is to disrespect the freedoms on which our entire society and way of life are founded, and the fortunate destiny of this place in which we live.

But let us hope that among those we elect – now and in the future – there will be those who neither fear nor fail to think big.

- Jeffery Warren Reynolds, Emyvale, analyzes P.E.I.’s elections

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