Opinion

Town halls offer a chance to connect directly with elected representatives

The latest in a series of town hall meetings involving representatives of all levels of government took place Saturday.

I’ve been privileged to moderate many of these meetings, and each of them has been an tremendous opportunity for citizens to connect directly with politicians who are making decisions that affect all of us.

Saturday’s meeting was co-ordinated by the City of Langley, with Debra Joyal doing much of the work to make it all come together. The City took the event seriously. While Mayor Peter Fassbender took direct questions, five of the six councillors were on hand and all had a chance to connect with citizens. Administrator Francis Cheung and Supt. Derek Cooke, who heads Langley RCMP, were also on hand.

Other levels of government were represented by MP Mark Warawa, MLA and Minister of Transportation Mary Polak and Langley Board of Education chair Wendy Johnson.

I have to tip my hat to Langley’s elected representatives. They are much more willing to connect directly with citizens than their counterparts in many other commuinities.

For example, in several Surrey federal ridings, candidates would not even attend all-candidates’ meetings during the 2011 election campaign. If they aren’t willing to answer questions when running for office, what are they likely to do if elected?

While representatives of local governments tend to be quite available to citizens, even that isn’t always the case. When cities get large, members of councils often place a few barriers in the way of direct access. While I have never personally experienced that, I’ve been told that it isn’t always easy to connect with some Vancouver councillors.

Provincial politicians vary widely. As a member of the media, I’ve usually been able to get through to MLAs fairly quickly. One of the most accessible was former finance minister Colin Hansen, who returned my call on the day the HST was announced back in 2009. While that tax doomed his political career, he didn’t stop being accessible.

When the NDP formed government under Mike Harcourt and Glen Clark, some of their MLAs were very accessible — others were not. Some of them basically wouldn’t talk to community newspapers, except in challenging conference calls where reporters had to stay on the line for an hour or more to be able to ask one question.

I was fortunate to be working in Mission, where MLA Dennis Streifel was one of the most accessible MLAs in the NDP caucus. He even called me at home to answer questions I was putting to him.

The current federal government is often very difficult to pin down, yet our local MP is very accessible and makes himself available to us at any time. He also makes himself available to the public, and was on the receiving end of plenty of questions on Saturday.

That’s the way democracy is supposed to work. It works well in Langley, as those who took part Saturday proved.

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