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A sad state of democracy

A lack of candidates will do nothing to counter voter apathy.

It is well known that municipal and school board elections are the poorer cousins of provincial and federal contests when it comes to voter turnout. School trustees can be elected with a couple dozen votes in regions with thousands of voting age citizens.

What is turning this election into a particularly pitiful example of democracy is the number of candidates, or lack thereof, looking to take the reigns of power at community councils, district boards, and school boards.

The village of Hazelton has a choice of what they already have, and nothing else. Acclamations all around. Smithers is stuck with Taylor Bachrach for another term as mayor, whether Smithereens want him or not. Coast Mountains School District could not even get enough people to fill all the seats on its school board: only one person from Terrace decided it was worth the effort when the board has three spots reserved for the city of over 11,000 people.

So what is the deal? Candidate apathy certainly won’t put a dent in voter apathy. This is not a good state of affairs, and calls for a closer look.

An easy start would be to abolish school boards, or at least cut the number of board members. This should not be done because of voter apathy, but for efficiency. Less democracy is almost always the wrong way to go, but with school boards, there is not much democracy lost.

A school board is beholden to the wishes of the province it resides in. Ever since Canada was founded in 1867, education has been a provincial responsibility. The province chooses the curriculum, how much money to spend, and where schools get built or closed.

District-specific ideas like the proposed multiplex in Smithers are mostly costed and conceptualized by the administration. The school board seems to exist to simply vote on accepting money. A good trustee will try to engage the public in ideas like what technology to use in the classroom, but so does a good superintendent or teacher.

The best way to be engaged with what schools and school districts are doing is to show up to board meetings, where the superintendent and other administration usually run the show to explain the goings on, or to join a parent advisory council. The councils carry more weight than any trustee could, which is the way it should be.

A lack of municipal candidates is more troubling. They actually shape the community through boring but oh-so-important zoning bylaws. Those choices help a downtown thrive, or push business and services to decline.