GUEST COMMENT: Rural voters dissatisfied with disparity of system

I was a candidate in the area with the lowest voter turnout in the Regional District of Nanaimo.

To the Editor,

I was a candidate in the area with the lowest voter turnout in the Regional District of Nanaimo, 13.3 per cent, down 11.4 per cent from the 2008 election turnout.

Although I was not successful in being elected, I did get a good chance to meet residents at the doorstep.

Time and again I was met with the admonishment, specific to Area A, that “it doesn’t matter who gets in, they’ll do what they want anyway.”

Many of those I spoke with in this rural area are feeling bullied by the City of Nanaimo and RDN board decisions which often ignore local residents’ wishes.

I was told about a lack of accountability, and consultations that are often token – meant to push government and development agendas that have already been decided behind closed doors.

Why bother to vote, they asked me, when it doesn’t make a difference?

My only recourse was to suggest that this time things would change, that someone would stand up for their interests. That a strong representative could ensure that the City of Nanaimo does not vote as a block and ignore their concerns, or that the RDN will not rubber stamp urban tax grabs, or permit developments to be dumped on their border that externalize problems onto rural residents.

With minimum coverage of rural issues during the election, however, and only one hastily-organized all-candidates meeting on a Sunday night, Area A voters were feeling that they neither knew the candidates nor understood what they promised to do if elected.

In other words, residents I met were feeling ignored, and victimized by a system that facilitates RDN and city decisions without regard to the effect it has on them.

Development plans are being fast-tracked, water taken from local aquifers, and government appears to simply go through the motions of public consultations – with decisions already made behind closed doors.

My impression was that the low vote here is indicative of a battered electorate, and a political voting system within the RDN board that permits the city to run the show.

If we want to see voters express their democratic right we need to show them that their votes count, that their concerns will be heard and their interests honestly addressed.

I’d like to also suggest that, with climate change and food security concerns increasing, and greenspaces and habitat being rapidly lost, urban voters need to consider how they will require their elected representatives to vote with rural areas and the greater public interest in mind.

Covering every available hectare of land with a mall, store or residential development is not the answer.

At the  moment I am sorry to say that many in Area A believe the system is broken, and they will register their vote by not showing up on election day.

‘City folk’, the onus is then on you, until the system is changed. You need to require a significant change in the way decisions are made if we want a balanced and sustainable approach to our collective and mid-Island needs – one that will not impose an urban self-interest upon rural neighbours.

Laurie Gourlay

Cedar