The importance of engagement

Township council candidate Bert Chen has set up an intriguing website, which allows for ongoing direct contact between citizens and elected officials, and allows for meaningful dialogue and discussion of issues.

Found at http://voteweb.bertchen.ca, it is something he plans to use for the balance of the election campaign to dialogue with Township ctizens. If elected, he would use it as a major means of communication. Chen is a believer in direct democracy, which at its most basic means that representatives vote the way the majority of citizens want them to, no matter what their personal opinions are.

He has come up with another way to use the web to get input. Other politicians,such as Langley MLA Mary Polak, are using Twitter in town hall forums, and Facebook is also becoming a popular means of communication.

All of these are important, because the reality is that many people, and particularly young people, are completely disengaged from democracy in general, and voting in particular.

A Vancouver radio station did “man on the street” interviews with a large number of people last week, and a full 50 per cent of them were unaware that municipal campaigns are underway. This isn’t surprising. I expect the numbers in Langley wouldn’t be that much different.

One of the few indications that an election is underway is the appearance of election signs. While they create visual clutter, they also create awareness.

Township council candidate Petrina Arnason is taking a bold stance in not using signs at all, but that also means that few people will know she’s running. She does have the advantage of a well-known last name, as her mother Muriel was a longtime popular councillor.

In Langley City, sign placement is so restricted that many City residents have likely not even seen one. As of this writing, I have only seen one sign in the City, on a lawn.

That may be one reason why voter turnout in the City is among the lowest in the entire region, despite the fact that it is a small community and it is relatively easy to personally engage with candidates.

But people won’t do so if they don’t know that an election is underway.

Younger people (most of those who are under 50) are likely more tuned to their phones and computers than anything else, so making use of modern means of communication makes abundant sense. But the fundamental challenge remains — to get them engaged.

On Friday, we will mark Remembrance Day, which remembers the sacrifice of Canadians in wars from the Boer War to the conflict in Afghanistan. Canadians took part in these wars because they were defending our way of life, and democracy is the foundation of that way of life. It gives us the freedom we have in Canada to have diverse opinions and openly express them, to worship or not worship and to live our lives relatively free of the oversight of ‘Big Brother.’

The Times is trying to help non-voters become more informed and vote. As of Friday, videos of 52 of the 58 candidates for office were posted at www.langleytimes.com. Check it out.

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