Why Local Elections Matter

It’s no secret that municipal elections experience the lowest voter turnout among the three jurisdictions. Despite still being considered historically low, federal elections have had a voter turnout between 58.8% and 68.3% since 2008. Provincially, BC has had turnout rates between 54.5% and 61.2% since 2009. In 2018, 35% of British Columbians (source: CivicInfo.bc.ca) voted in their municipal elections (or 42%, according to CBC News). In the Township of Langley, that number was more dismal: 30.4% voted. Shockingly, that was HIGH! Only 21% of Langley’s eligible voters voted in 2008.

I personally believe the reason for this is obvious. I don’t think it is an inherent human psychology to be more engaged with politics that is farther away from us. I believe that we are conditioned to believe that what we see more often is more important, even if this is a misperception. The persistent reach of federal politics, which is covered on regional, provincial, and national news media due to the logical economy of scale, manufactures the idea of its increased significance. Alternatively, the closer we get to home, the less media coverage we receive, by nature of the medium, and therefore, so goes the misperception, the “less important” it is.

In my opinion, this is foolish.

This may be the philosophical communitarian in me (communitarian – not communist), but I’ve felt that the government – the institution that governs the way society structures itself – closest to us is often what should matter most. I have always been in favour of increased authority and jurisdiction given to the more immediate government body, with regional oversight. The closer they are to you, the closer you can keep your eye on them. Ottawa is, obviously, very detached from Langley. Access to Parliament, for the average Langley resident, is simply unrealistic. We generally depend on one person, almost always associated with one partisan individual, to be our proxy in a massively complex national bureaucracy with pretty high level responsibilities that affect just shy of 39 million Canadians. The jurisdiction of municipal governance may not be sexy as the provincial or federal level. It isn’t provincial healthcare or social welfare. It isn’t national defence, immigration, criminal law or the national economy. At first thought, what do they really do? Pass some bylaws, rubber stamp some homes, supply our water and waste, build some parks? Au contraire. It is so much more than that. Not only that, these things may affect us every single day arguably more than anything else.

Our Homes

Yes, our local council approves every home. And yes, it often feels like rubber stamping. But it doesn’t have to be and sometimes, it isn’t a bad thing that we stream line some housing. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel for every building project. But council does have a responsibility to guide how we live. While the market does decide much of what housing is developed, council has a significant say in its direction. From how many homes are built on an acre to how high they can be built or how spread out we consume the land, this is all up to them. On the long term, these have significant ramifications for housing affordability. Langley’s housing inventory, as of 2021, is 47.6% single family home (benchmark = $1.556m, Sept, 2022), 21.6% townhome/rowhome (benchmark = $871,700, Sept 2022) and 10.1% in apartments (benchmark = $599,800, Sept 2022) with the remaining in suites, manufactured homes and duplexes. Over the past 6 years, the Township has been playing “catch up” to provide more housing options for the entry and retirement target as the market inflated. How does this affect you? Well, other than market and non-market housing options and affordability, the neighbourhood plans decide how close you will be to schools, parks, trails, and shopping. Whether you can attain any of these by walking, transit, cycling is decided here.

Our Roads

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a bit obsessed with roads and road safety. My earliest recollection of this frustration is when my sister got hit by a car in the middle of our suburban Cloverdale cul-de-sac. Any sort of potentially fabricated concept that suburban cul-de-sacs were safe for kids evaporated before the age of 10.

Our street design and network is done at the local level and yes, they are important. The design affects your overall mobility, their connectivity to transit, the path from your home to your job, school, and play, and your safety. This isn’t just about whether you can shave off an extra 30 seconds – this is about the 290,000 road crashes, with over 90,000 injuries, that happen every year in BC. Over 2,900 British Columbians have lost their lives in motor vehicle accidents between 2010-2019. Speeding and driver confusion are constantly the highest contributing factor to fatalities – so why do we keep designing roads for speed over safety?

I could have lost my sister that day. Luckily, she ended up with just a broken collar bone. There are proven methods that reduce speeding and, in turn, save lives. In Sweden, traffic fatality rates have been cut by 50% since adopting Vision Zero in 1997. The country of over 10.3 million people had under 200 traffic fatalities in 2021. I couldn’t find our most recent statistics, but before 2020-21, our lowest number of traffic deaths in BC was 252 in 2019 – in a province of under 5.1 million at the time. So why not expect more road safety from the people responsible? That’s who you are voting for. It could be you, your child or your friend whose life could be saved because of safer streets.

Our Local Economy

Why is our local economy less important than our national economy? They are all interdependent, and it’s all important, but our local economy is what hits home.

Are local businesses thriving or surviving? Is capital flowing within the community (entrepreneurship, locally owned businesses) or does it go outside (chains, big box stores)? Are taxpayers subsidizing large corporations? Do those subsidies later pay off for the residents? Are there enough jobs in your community or is it a bedroom community where residents spend increased time commuting rather than generating revenue or spending family time or leisure time? Are there discrepancies for business success in different neighbourhoods? Can local businesses be competitive? These are all matters that your municipal government have significant authority over.

The resilience, or lack thereof, of our local economy is something many people take for granted. When it’s working, it’s hardly noticeable. When it’s not, you might not have a job nor be able to live in the community any longer.

Our Food & Farms

Most people know that 73-75% of Langley’s land is in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). But did you know that the Township of Langley has 38.5% of all farmland in Metro Vancouver? That’s more than the next two municipalities, Delta and Surrey, combined (15.4% and 15.2%, respectively). Langley’s farmland is crucial for food sustainability in the future of the region.

It is true that the Township of Langley is a regulated community by the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) on it’s farm lands. However, Langley has its own agricultural farm strategy and can do, and does do, plenty to encourage food security and protect farmland. It is also the front line for understanding the local farming affairs and must be a positive conduit to the province.

Our Culture

Langley is the birthplace of modern British Columbia with an even richer history of First Nations predating the settlement of the Hudsons’ Bay Company. However, whether it is this our histories or the encouragement of the arts, our local government has a significant influence in protection and promotion of our local culture. Sometimes this is through government grants, or sometimes support and building of facilities that otherwise are not privately viable but still extremely important to our community.

Protecting heritage and promoting the arts are significant parts of adding to the vibrancy and livability of a community. It fosters community pride, decreased crime, healthier lifestyles and innovation in business. It adds to the enjoyment and enrichment of our daily lives, while also teaching us lessons about ourselves to benefit our social growth.

Our Water & Environment

We certainly aren’t going to solve climate change by ourselves. We are just one very small part of of an overall paradigm shift. Actions such as the declaring a Climate Emergency, such as that which was lobbied heavily by Cheryl Wiens and brought forward by Councillor Petrina Arnason, is just one step in a bigger picture.

That said, protection of our local environment has more imminent concerns. The protection of urban trees is not just for tree-huggers. The clearcutting of Langley’s trees in development areas have serious affects for current and future (human) residents, not to mention, the displaced wildlife. Our diminishing water tables and destroyed ecosystems all have repercussions that lead to health and economic issues.

Let’s not forget that although many Langley residents have their own wells and Metro Vancouver is supplying other water, it’s still a municipal jurisdiction – and once it’s here, we need to make sure that the infrastructure is maintained. If you don’t have running water, that’s more than a bit of a concern.

Our Health & Safety

This is such a massive topic and it’s incredible how much our municipal government has a responsibility for in our mental and physical health and safety. From crime prevention to fire safety to safer streets to homelessness and addiction. Our cities may not bear all the responsibilities for these matters, but they are on the front lines.

Does our RCMP detachment have the funding we need to keep up with the needs of the community? Is the Mayor and Council working in a positive cooperation with the the RCMP and providing tools at our disposal? Do we have the fire stations and fire fighters required to service a rapidly growing municipality? How many lives could be lost due to a reduced budget because lower property taxes were demanded, or something “more important” was allocated, or new infrastructure needed to be subsidized? These are huge questions that any empathetic elected official must wrestle with and make the best decision they can.

BC is experiencing mental health, overdose and addiction crisis’ and Langley is no stranger to any of them. While many Township residents assume that these are “City” problems, this is a dangerous mistruth. While there are statistics floating out there, the reality is that these problem know no borders. People and their challenges cross municipal boundaries, as do our solutions.

Our Neighbours

Who is thy neighbour? Well, for one, the people next door. After that, it’s the parents at the school, or the colleague at the work place or the other shoppers in the mall. The very basis of government is how society structures and governs itself, both encouraging freedoms as well restricting it to protect citizens from each other. Politics on the local is how we interact and govern daily problems at the most intimate scale.

From seemingly trivial noise bylaws to restrictive environmental policies to budgeting life-saving fire services – city politics is, at its core, about your personal enjoyment and protection of daily life in relation to each other. Both bylaw enforcement and RCMP is affected in one way or another at the Council table. These seem to be pretty important things, wouldn’t you say? Again, if it’s working relatively well, you barely notice it. But if it completely breaks down, the extreme is literal anarchy.

Our Leisure

What do you do on Saturday? What family events do you have planned for Sunday? What do you do after work? This isn’t just about large community facilities like the Langley Events Centre or Aldergrove Credit Union Community Centre or even our parks and trails that our local government is directly responsible for. It’s also creating the opportunities for the businesses that cater to leisure.

Municipalities can easily become “no fun” cities due to archaic regulations, overzealous zoning restrictions, or not incentivizing businesses that add to the vibrancy of a community. Additionally, if a town is completely auto-centric, it’s very difficult for a community to develop. Every event must be hyper-organized and force people to drive from their homes to the event space. Walkable neighbourhoods promote more accidental interaction among neighbours and community groups that lead to ad hoc events and draw in more people in an organic way.

Our Garbage & Waste

Not the most appealing topic. Yet if it isn’t working, we certainly know it. Even a week without garbage pickup leads to pretty disgusting consequences. We take this service for granted. Beyond this, how about our sewers? What if we don’t keep those maintained? What if they are done improperly? Not much else to say here other than we all notice when something has gone wrong.

Our Taxes

Whether you are a homeowner, a business owner, or a renter, you’re affected by the local budget and its consequences on property taxes. There is no free ride. Even fees and levies placed on developers have an indirect affect on the end consumer. Every election cycle, many candidates will talk about keeping taxes low, and every budget cycle someone tries to keep taxes lower while sacrificing necessary infrastructure maintenance or operating expenses.

Personally, I loathe the term “taxes”. It share the same connotations from feudal times where we paid tithings to lords for “protection”. Yet in today’s democracy, even though we all love to hate them, taxes are a mandatory communal investment in the services that we share – roads, parks, schools, etc.

The reality is that we require a more efficient way of building and unless our council understands this, taxes will continue to rise or operations and infrastructure will deteriorate. While municipal government obviously doesn’t directly accumulated nearly as much taxes from your household as provincial or federal, it should be remembered that they do rely on grants and major investments from high levels of government. So when we build a $35 million community centre that has a $9.88 million investment from the federal government, we have to remember that even federal money is still our tax dollars at work.

Regardless of whether you feel our tax dollars are going to waste or if we’re paying too much taxes (I’ve rarely heard someone say they don’t pay enough taxes, other than Warren Buffett), local elections matter because these are the people deciding where your mandatory investment is going.

Go Vote

There are many resources, including this website, for you to get to know your candidates and the issues involved. So please, take a few moments, get educated, meet a few of your candidates and this October 15, 2022, go vote!

Do you believe in a more economically and environmentally sustainable Langley? Do you believe in the work being done here? Do you want to support the work of Better Langley?

If so, please considering donating!

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