Archive for the 'the way I see it' category

2014 Voting Guide

November 14, 2014

So, tomorrow is municipal voting day here in BC. We all know it’s important, but most people usually don’t bother to vote. This voting guide will explain why, then offer some suggestions on who to vote for. These are my perspectives as a KPU psychology student and former White Rock City Councillor.

Why don’t most people vote?
Because it’s confusing. The whole thing sounds simple enough – show up at a voting station and make a little mark beside names on the ballot. Simple… but not easy. The hardest part seems to be choosing the candidates who best reflect your priorities. But there’s lots of things inside our own heads working against us.

Too many candidates
Municipal elections are perfectly designed for apathy. In most cities, there are at least a dozen candidates. This creates a paradox of choice problem. When faced with lots of options, we tend to feel like we should know them all so we can pick the *best* ones. Which, let’s be honest, almost nobody has the patience to do. There’s all kinds of guilt that comes with the realization that we don’t really pay much attention to government affairs, beyond headlines or cynical social media posts. So, we suffer a sort of decision paralysis. Too many candidates, not enough information, no interest in spending time on such boring issues (yeah yeah, we know they’re important, but important doesn’t make them interesting).

Too much information
This idea that people should be “informed” on the issues before voting is hard to argue against, but sets us up for democratic failure. As any new-school economist will tell you, efforts toward an informed choice is to chase an illusion; there’s no end point. There will always be more to learn, more questions, more perspectives to consider. Condescending comments about people needing to be informed voters are counter-productive. All it does is make people feel like they shouldn’t vote because they don’t really know what’s going on. Please, stop the guilt-tripping.

Ambiguous impact
It’s also common to hear people complain that voting doesn’t make a difference. They might be bitter because a candidate they voted for in the past didn’t win. Understandable, but from my time on council, I found that most people inside city hall listen to the issues promoted by opposing candidates and notice how much support they got. Elections are important for raising issues and advocating for solutions. A candidate’s campaign will still have influence, even if they don’t win.

Some say it doesn’t matter who gets elected, nothing changes… well, that’s a completely and totally fallacious argument, but a topic for different post. Don’t be tempted to follow the idiotic idea that the system sucks, so everyone should stop voting. This is the absolute best way to ensure government does not reflect your priorities. Don’t defeat yourself by pouting and refusing to put your opinion in the ballot box.

How can we overcome this inertia?
Let go of the feeling that you need to be fair to all candidates by getting to know every single one before choosing any.

Stop feeling guilty for having only a couple issues that you pay attention to. Yes, you *should* know more about storm sewers and tactile curb cuts, but let’s get real, almost nobody does. Don’t be embarrassed by the limits of your knowledge. When people pretend they know more than they do, really really bad decisions happen. So, don’t feel guilty for following the advice of someone who knows more about it than you do. It’s ok to defer to expert opinion.

Vote for what’s important to you, not what other people tell you to care about. If you’re indifferent about arts funding, but lots of people you know are angry about it, stay focused on your own priorities. If you don’t don’t even notice how tall the building down the street is, but others are lighting their hair on fire about it, stay focused on your own priorities. Don’t let other people’s passion convince you to vote for people who don’t reflect what’s important to you.

Who should we vote for?
This is a hard question to answer because every city has their own set of candidates. And I don’t know what youre personal priorities are.

Also, municipal issues are different than provincial or federal. At the city level, potholes and leaking pipes don’t really care about ambiguous arguments about economic theories or social justice. The pipes need fixing and everyone has to pay for it. Technical, boring, no philosophical debate. It’s harder to get away with vague, moralistic rhetoric. But this also requires citizens to dive into the details more than they have to during federal or provincial elections. And ugh, nobody really wants to do that. So much easier to just go with the person who matches how we’re feeling and hope they know what they’re doing.

Well, here’s some suggestions on how to pick your candidates.

1. Consider their people skills.
Don’t vote for mean people. That’s not necessarily saying to vote for the nicest people, just avoid the candidates who are telling you that everyone else is stupid and city hall is corrupt. We all know people whose intolerance and distrust best reflects their own inability to empathize or think critically. So steer clear of the haters.

Vote for candidates willing to upset people. You know the best way to end up with a city council that does nothing? Fill it full of people who are scared to upset anyone. If they’re too scared to take a risk, they will be too scared to try new things. Some of the least effective city councils ever have been full of the nicest people. A councillor being too nice is just as bad as being mean. Vote for candidates willing to rock the boat and bring forward new ideas.

Vote for people who get along well with others. In my experience, some of the most important conversations happen outside the televised meetings. For a member to be effective, they will need to gather information, share it, and explore differences in perspectives. All this is impossible for councillors who rub people the wrong way, are abrasive or cynical. It will be tough for your candidate to influence other members of council if nobody likes them. And from my experience, being likeable is far more important than political party membership.

2. Consider how they approach diversity in opinion.
Avoid anyone who talks about using “common sense.” This is a giant red flag. This term is used to belittle or ignore people who disagree. Not cool. It’s also a sign of intellectual laziness, as if to say they shouldn’t have to explain something that they think is obvious, or that lots of other people want to hear. In council chambers, common sense isn’t good enough.

Vote for people who express an interest in consensus. It’s an impossible goal, but candidates who are always talking about the will of the majority are really saying that, as soon as they get what they want, they stop trying. Truth is, there’s always a way of making things better. A willingness consider and work through opposing opinions toward a better a decision shows that everyone matters. This is a strength, not a weakness. If a candidate can’t handle diversity in opinion, pick someone who can.

3. Consider their vision.
Vote for people with a forward-looking vision. Avoid candidates who dish out nostalgia. Moaning about how things were better in the good old days is a solid sign that a candidate has a really hard time with change. Since change is inevitable, whether intentional or not, vote for candidates who recognize opportunity within change. Be very wary of candidates who talk about “preserving” a way of life. If it seems like they’d rather live in the past than look to the future, move on.

Vote for people who frame issues positively. This is similar to staying away from nastiness. Candidates who can only tell you what’s wrong are really going to struggle to do anything other than complain on council. Of course, every governance chamber needs a critical voice – someone to challenge assumptions and look for alternatives – but if they don’t know how to champion something, they will only be successful at tearing down other people’s ideas. Not cool. Council members need to work through differences in perspectives as a team.

Vote for people who stand for real issues. Don’t vote for candidates who tell you that they’re going to lower your taxes; there’s no better sign that they’re full of… manure. Likewise, stay away from candidates who say empty stuff, like they “listen to you” or “represent all the people” or “stand up for… whomever.” I call bullshit. In my six years as a councillor, I met hundreds, if not thousands of elected representatives. I can count on my fingers and toes the number that I felt didn’t listen to their constituents with genuine compassion and work very hard to advocate on issues affecting their community. If all a candidate offers is that they will listen or work hard for you, move on to others who have something real to say. What are their passions? What are their skills or experiences? What principles or philosophical lens they use to make decisions?

Yeah but, who do I vote for?
Take a few minutes to think about what’s important to you. What do you most enjoy about your community? How do you want to feel over the next four years? Pick candidates who talk about those things and reflect the feeling you want to have. Do they talk about wanting a friendly city, but yet complain a lot about other people? Skip to the candidate who actually models what you want. If finding corruption and being rude to your neighbours is your thing, then vote for candidates who think people in city hall are stupid. If dog parks and friendly neighbourhoods are important to you, pick a candidate who likes dogs and is welcoming to all kinds of different people.

Remember that, although you can vote for many candidates, there’s no minimum. If there’s only one person you feel good about – that’s cool – just vote for one. Don’t water down your choice by voting for people just because you know their name or you met them once and they weren’t a dick. Let your vote reflect your priorities, even if that means there’s only one candidate you know anything about. If they make you feel good about voting, vote for them.

But most importantly, vote.

like Soylent Green

June 24, 2009

Government is people!

Unlike Soylent Green, we already know this, yet the inevitable reaction to humanness in government is horror and outrage. There is an obscene expectation that those who are elected suddenly become infallible, more knowledgeable and more intelligent… in their agreement with our own assumptions.

With each passing month, this current city council is becoming the devil they claimed to exorcise from city hall. But did that evil actually exist except in the minds of cynics and pessimists? Similar to Councillor Campbell’s description of misguided protesters in the Peace Arch News today, perhaps those who protested the alleged arrogance and secret agendas of city councillors were themselves unwilling to consider alternate perspectives?

The allegations of corruption and coersion are a result, not of misdeeds within city hall, but of the human condition that leads people to assume that their perspective is more correct than anyone else’s. In attempt to explain why someone with responsibilty would make a decision different than we assume we would make, we make up stories. Newly elected officials who vowed to be different soon find themselves, after carefully considering the information available to them, acting very similar to their predecessors.

Government is people.

under a microscope

June 3, 2009

In the NOW newspaper last week, when asked whether I would be seeking a councillor seat in the coming by-election, I replied that “I don’t want to work with most of the people on this council. It’s not a team I could work with.”

Yesterday on this website, I elaborated on that statement with a brief critique of each council member. That post has now been removed. Shortly after writing it, I was speaking with City Manager, Peggy Clark. Our conversation reminded me that know what it is like to be in public office and the subject of personal commentary. On reflection afterward, I realized it was unfair and ungracious of me to post judgement on their character in the manner I did. Now in reversed roles, I should practice what I had preached and offer them the dignity and trust I wish I had been given when I was in their chair.

Speculation on whether or not I would be able to work with current councillors is pointless. I accept and respect the electorate’s decision to not elect me in November. My defeat was decisive and unambiguous. The message was clear. I followed the direction provided by voters of White Rock and have moved on. I will not be seeking a return to council in the by-election regardless of the current members’ traits. Read on »

public opinion irrelevant?

May 30, 2009

White Rock was the subject of another monumental Supreme Court decision last week. City Council’s decision to deny the Yearsley’s a development permit a few years ago for a six storey tower on the beach was overturned by the courts; the City has been ordered to allow the development to proceed.

The judge explained that “reliance on public opinion is not a relevant consideration if it is not linked to legitimate factors within the zoning bylaw or the OCP.” Since the six storey height of the building is permitted within the bylaw due to a fluke of how the property is sloped, public opposition to the height is legally irrelevant.

This is incredibly disappointing for three reasons.

First of all, it undermines the discretion that citizens believe City Council has for influencing development in the community. It greatly diminishes the authority I thought I had as a member of city council to direct the look and shape of buildings. In my decision to deny the permit, I believe that the building will not complement the surrounding neighbourhood or fit in with the general feel that is intended for the waterfront. Elected representatives for the community ought to have the authority to interpret public opinion and define the vision for the community’s future. Removing subjectivity from City Council’s judgement neuters its ability to respond to neighbourhood concerns and the community’s evolving vision. Read on »

politicians are human too

It seems a lot of people assume that most politicians are compulsive liars. Unfortunately, my successful petition to have a lying politician ousted from office may reinforce that belief. While the behaviour of James Coleridge was certainly deceitful, he is a very rare exception.

The problem with politicians isn’t that they’re dishonest; it’s that they’re human. As such, they have emotions; they can want things to be true that aren’t, making themselves susceptible to self-deception; and they can just simply be wrong because they can’t possibly know everything about all things. So, if an elected official says something at one time then says something different later, is it that they were lying the first time? Or did they learn something new, hear a compelling alternate opinion, or see things from a new perspective? Maybe, after some more careful consideration, they just changed their mind?

In the case of the Coleridge deception, he said things that he knew are not true and then refused to accept responsibility for that lie until forced to do so in Supreme Court. This is an unusual exception. This isn’t a case of him changing his mind or misunderstanding the facts at hand; he told people things even though he knew they were not true.

Ignorance, misunderstanding and naiveté is understandably human and tolerable. Deception is also human, but much less tolerable. But it’s not enough to demand more integrity from politicians. Deceit should be equally unacceptable for all people, not just elected leaders.

People who step up to serve as leaders in our community should not be set up for ridicule with unrealistic expectations that, upon being elected, they should suddenly become smarter and less susceptible to self-deception than everyone else in the community. The best way to raise the standard for politicians is to raise the standard within the whole community.

survival of the deceptors

March 22, 2009

Are we born to be deceivers? If humans evolved this way, it might have been good for cavemen, but doesn’t work so well now. So, how can we inoculate ourselves against something we’ve inherited in our genetics?

There are some things we are pre-wired for. From birth, we know how to eat and have a fear of falling — nobody has to teach us. Our brain structure is set up in such a way that emotions can easily take command of our reaction to something before we’re even consciously aware of it. Even smiling is thought to be evolutionary because it seems there is no culture or society, no matter how isolated, that does not understand what a smile means. These shared traits were established within our neural circuitry before groups of Homo sapiens struck out on their own (which was relatively recently) to discover new lands, eventually forming new races and developing unique cultures.

Unfortunately, it seems we also share a less constructive human condition. We have a tendency to form assumptions based on almost no information and to try to escape responsibility for things that go wrong. It seems more important to have a complete explanation than for the story to actually be true. So, when faced with a lot of unknowns, we just fill in the blanks ourselves. Likewise, impulsively at least, figuring out whether a mistake was made isn’t as important as avoiding responsibility for it. This is witnessed frequently, daily. Read on »

shades of honesty

February 23, 2009

This morning on CBC Early Edition, Rick Cluff asked me an uncomfortable question; “Did you ever lie when you were in office?” Uncomfortable because there’s no safe, honest way to answer the question directly. It fits among others, such as… Do I look fat in this dress? or… When did you stop beating your wife?

As noted in previous posts, particularly we’re all liars from just last week, Homo sapiens are not perfectly honest creatures. We lie to ourselves and each other frequently, daily. Anyone who says he doesn’t lie just proved himself a liar. I am just as human as you are. I have lied. I remained human when I held an elected office. I lied there too. Given the realities of human nature, is the issue of honesty black and white? Is it realistic to expect someone seeking public office to suddenly shed their humanness to become the most honest person in their community?

I’m hoping my petition spurs a public dialogue on the shades of grey of honesty. At what point does an innocent white lie, intended to make a better story or prevent unnecessary insult, become a black lie of unacceptable deception or unfair characterization? Read on »

perception stains

February 8, 2009

I find it interesting how my reflexive tendencies for righteous irreverence is both celebrated and reviled in the community. The difference is usually whether a person agrees with me or not. If they do, they thank me for my courage to state what so many others have been too polite to say publicly. If they don’t, they chastise my lack of respect for social conventions. Read on »

it’s all Bosa’s fault

December 9, 2008

While walking to the grocery store today, I was asked for change by 2 people. I’m normally only approached by no more than one panhandler… That’s 200% of the usual number!

I was warned by the citizens of White Rock that, if tall buildings are built, they would act as a beacon to all the homeless people in the region. Clearly the trend shows that the new buildings are already attracting more and more homeless people to White Rock.

This got me thinking… Have any of their other dire prophecies come true? Read on »

redefining democracy

December 8, 2008

When considering my previous post, think about the most recent federal and civic elections in White Rock:

  • Both had very low voter turnout;
  • Both resulted in a mandate to resist change;
  • Both were laden with empty-calorie rhetoric;
  • Both had undercurrent debates about the meaning of democracy;
  • Both illustrated a high degree of ignorance among citizens on how government functions.

Read on »