Local Government 101

It can sometimes be difficult for the average elector to understand exactly what a BC local government is supposed to do. It?s a specialized field, they don?t say much about it in high school and as discussed previously, few people directly involved with its day-to-day functioning are obliged to explain it to us.

But here we are again on the cusp of expressing our opinion by selecting a new one. Do-what-to-do?

In keeping with our past themes of ?sorting? and easily used evaluation techniques, let me suggest another way that might help.

Since we?ve already talked about the future and present tenses, today we?ll talk about the past.

Specifically, we?ll look at what our local government has done in the past that will help us select who we want on council following the election.

First, some sorting: when I think of the overall role of local government I find it easiest to sort it into two categories: it is supposed to provide services to the residents within its geographical boundaries, and it is supposed to resolve conflicts within its own jurisdiction.

It provides services by passing bylaws using the powers it has been granted by the provincial government, and it resolves conflicts by enforcing its own bylaws.

Granted, it can take a lot of time and technical knowledge to attend every council, commission and committee meeting and understand all the things council does. So for our purposes today we?ll presume that wasn?t possible for us to do and just use something we all have: our personal skills of observation.

For example, do you know how many local bylaws have been passed since the community was incorporated? Do you know how many of them have been updated in the past three years? Do you know how many are still in effect? Do you know how many have the potential to affect your daily life?

If you said ?no? to these questions it doesn?t make you a bad person. In fact, I?d suggest that probably makes you normal.

The point is, how many of these questions can the present slate of candidates answer correctly? This is an important issue for present council members because they?ve been doing the job for the last three years. But it?s also important for new candidates because they?re asking us to give them the job!

Passing, amending and rescinding bylaws is the fundamental way that council expresses itself. Bylaws are the only legal means of providing services to the community. And only council members may create them. It?s only my opinion, but I think every piece of paper and data file in the municipal office that isn?t a bylaw, is just a ?detail?.

Bylaws are the tools for doing all the things we expect done. And since only council members may use them, what kind of ?product? might we expect if a candidate doesn?t even know what they are or anything about their present status?

I expect every candidate to be able to speak to me in bylaw terms. Because if a subject isn?t already in a bylaw or something new a candidate proposes won?t legally fit into one, then I think the value of what they are telling me is suspect.

Therein lies the technique for sorting them out: have you observed any council members or new candidates focusing on the importance of bylaws? Or have they only talked about the ?details??

?Bylaw-talk? is the first language of their job. Can they speak it?

Another closely related sorting technique is to ask yourself: have I observed enforcement of any local bylaws? Have I seen lots, some or none?

Up-to-date, unbiased, well- publicized bylaws, if fairly and diligently enforced, are the very best way to prevent conflicts in the community and to prevent small conflicts from becoming big ones. Has this been happening?

To be sure, it?s a legalistic and complex subject and enforcement powers are presently changing for the better. But the point is, of what value are even the most up-to-date bylaws if they aren?t enforced? Bylaws are council?s tools. Enforcement is the act of using them. Would you hire a plumber who can?t even name his/her tools, or a carpenter that never uses a tape measure?

It?s quite possible that any candidate who can?t speak intelligently about bylaws and bylaw enforcement won?t ?build you much of a house?.

There?s a lot more to doing the job properly than knowing flux from nails.

Please plan on voting.

David and his wife Colleen live in Port McNeill. He holds a degree in Canadian Government and Politics and retired there after a lengthy public service career. He may be contacted via this newspaper.