Municipal Elections and Why They Matter

Trevor Ritchie | Contributor

It feels like every year, there’s an election happening. It can be tiring to keep track of which level of government is being voted on and why that matters, but with the City of Prince George municipal election only days away, this is a last attempt to try and make people pay attention to the least public level of government, which is closest to the people and most important in our day to day lives.

The local government elections are broken down into three major categories of people who we will be voting on next week; the mayor and council, school board trustees, and regional district representatives. Each group is responsible for different priorities and issues.

The mayor and council are the local officials involved in the creation and implementation of bylaws. These are the local laws that affect everything from parking meter rates, to when and how garbage is picked up. Municipal governments are responsible for things like ensuring the sewage system is operational, and that local road repairs are completed in a timely manner. The local mayor and council are also responsible for zoning laws, which determine what kind of properties can be built in a given area and which can have direct impacts on the availability of housing and other needed amenities in a city.

Our school board trustees are the local and regionally elected officials that work to improve the school system. There are sixty school districts in British Columbia, with the Prince George school district encompassing many of the surrounding smaller communities in the region. These trustees engage in negotiations with the local school based unions to keep schools open and safe, and work on changing or creating policies to better support students and staff. The school trustees also have a role to play in the construction of new schools in the area, and work with the community to determine the best placement of schools.

The regional district representatives are a bit further removed from the municipal elected officials, and therefore they have to take a wider view of what their responsibilities are. Rather than being responsible for any one city or town, the regional directors are responsible for the concerns of an entire region of the province. The regional district representatives provide many local services, such as fire protection, waste management, and land use planning for the whole region. The Cariboo regional district in particular also ensures resident access to libraries and other regional recreational facilities.

Municipal elections almost always occur without political parties being part of the system, so you won’t be voting for any of the parties that you may know about. Instead, most municipal candidates are independents with no party affiliation, though they may be supporters of one party or another. This lack of party affiliation usually means that municipal candidates spend far less money on elections, so it is often harder to learn about the candidates or even to know that an election is going on. Voter turnout for municipal elections is always very low, so your voice matters that much more and can affect real change.

Take the time to look around town, most candidates will have lawn signs or other means of identifying themselves. Do what you can to learn about the candidates, who they are, and why they deserve your support. As residents of Prince George, you will be entitled to vote in the municipal elections as long as you’re registered to vote with Elections BC and have indicated that you are a resident of Prince George.

There’s only a few days left until general voting day on October 20, please don’t forget to do your civic duty and vote in this year’s elections.