THESE DAYS, it’s hard not to get cynical about politics. Rather than build us up, again and again there are those in politics who seem determined to tear us apart. There is the constant barrage of Trump inspired attacks on democratic institutions like the freedom of the press.
More local to home, there is the resolution at the Ontario Conservative convention to debate the recognition and validity of gender identity, as if human rights were not universal. Here in British Columbia, as the deadline for the referendum on proportional resolution draws closer, more and more acrimonious comments have been hurled from both sides of the debate.
One might think, if the most retweeted stories were all that one saw, that politics was always confrontational and combative, uncooperative and contentious.
Which is why, it is so good to know that there are also other ways that politics are done. And more often than not, it is local government politicians who lead the way.
As chance would have it, this week found me in Ottawa, the centre of Canadian political power. Not only was I in Ottawa, but so were hundreds of local government politicians who are part of the board and committees of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
Once a year, local politicians from across the country descend on Ottawa to speak to as many Members of Parliament, Senators, Ministers and Deputy Ministers as they can. This is the week they are in Ottawa. It is called Advocacy Days.
The local politicians can be from the smallest village in Newfoundland, or from one of the largest cities in the country, like Montreal. There are local government politicians from Canada’s North, and from the most densely populated areas of the country like around Toronto.
So that is how I found myself in Ottawa having dinner with the mayor of Silverton, a regional district director from Malakawa, the chair of Metro Vancouver, and our own City of Kamloops Councilor Arjun Singh. They had all traveled across the country to meet with federal politicians.
You might think they might be discouraged, facing off with the federal government. But listening to them, all I heard was optimism and hope that they could work with the federal politicians and make positive change.
They all know that individually, even the largest cities can go unheard by the federal government. But with one voice, and one message, the local governments will be heard. So every November, they come to Ottawa and tromp through the snow from Centre Block to the West Block, visiting every politician of every political party they can.
And no matter who is visited, they hear the same message. One year it might be a request for infrastructure, another time a request for housing. This year, the ask is to modernize the relationship between the federal government and local governments.
The politics of the federal and provincial governments dominates the news. But in terms of the day to day, it is local governments who make things happen. Only nine cents of every tax dollar collected goes to local governments, yet the services they provide directly impact the quality of life of everyone, whether rural or urban, Western or Eastern. Clean water and sanitation, roads and sidewalks, policing, fire protection, and land use are just some of the things local governments are responsible for.
Politics can be discouraging at time. But for me, meeting up with the local government politicians in Ottawa for FCM Advocacy Days, reinforced to me that there’s a lot of good politics happening as well.
Seeing the FCM, which represents 2,000 communities across Canada. speak with one voice reinforced that we can find commonalities and make change for the better.
Nancy Bepple is a former city councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.