Robert Barron Column: Municipal elections are hard to cover

It’s going to be a busy fall in the newsroom with the next municipal elections set for Oct. 15.

Unlike provincial and federal elections in which there are usually no more than four of five candidates at the most for each contested seat, municipal elections are much more complex.

In the Cowichan Valley, there are four local governments and a school board that the Cowichan Valley Citizen covers in which seats at their governing tables will be decided during this fall’s election.

That amounts to 19 seats for council positions in the City of Duncan, the Municipality of North Cowichan and the Town of lake Cowichan, nine seats for electoral areas in the Cowichan Valley Regional District (the other six CVRD seats consist of elected members from the municipalities) and seven on the board of the Cowichan Valley school district.

That’s a total of 35 contested seats, and dozens and dozens of incumbents and many new candidates typically come forward in an effort to win these positions.

That makes it very difficult for us at the paper to give every candidate the attention they need and deserve to get the word out there on what they stand for and what they would do if elected.

A number of community groups usually hold all-candidate meetings for many of the positions up for grabs to give the public a sense of who is vying to take on these positions, but with so many people running for office in local governments, there just isn’t enough time for each candidate to satisfactorily explain their whole platforms and make a meaningful impression on the voters at these venues.

However, these are still valuable sessions and I’d advise anyone who is interested in local issues to check them out in the weeks leading up to the election.

We at the Citizen face the same problem in that we simply don’t have the space or the time to adequately interview all the candidates running in municipal elections.

It has been our practice at the paper in past municipal elections to contact each candidate and invite them to send us an overview of their platforms, with a very limited number of words, and a picture of themselves that would appear in the paper before the election so our readers will have some sense of who they are and what they stand for.

As much as we would love to spend an hour or so interviewing each candidate, like we usually do in the less congested provincial and federal election campaigns, that’s the best we can do during a municipal election due to our small staff and the limited space we have in the paper to cover so many people and their issues.

Even organizing that takes a considerable amount of our time and energy so, as the election campaigns begin in earnest as fall approaches, I’m asking for people’s patience and understanding in advance as we attempt to do our best to get as much information out there as we can while trying to be fair to each candidate.

Having said all that, the run up to a municipal election is an interesting time for a writer like me.

After four years of interacting and watching local politicians debate and argue their points at the various municipal tables, I have gotten to know a lot of them well and I wonder which are going to run again and which are more interested in moving on.

These positions are very time consuming (some meetings can go on for hour after hour) and sometimes stressful, and most are not very well paid.

That’s why I’m so impressed during each election cycle with the fact that so many people want to step forward and work so hard for their communities.

It proves to me that democracy, which is being so hard pressed in other countries around the world, is alive and well here in Canada and the Cowichan Valley.

So don’t forget to vote on Oct. 15.


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