Local elections are happening in many provinces across the country this fall.
Here’s a brief explanation of what local governments do, why Christians should care about local elections, how local elections work, and how you can get involved!
🤷♂️ What Do Local Governments Do?
Local governments impact the day-to-day lives of citizens more than any other level of government. Municipalities, governed by a mayor and councillors, are generally in charge of:
- Managing local police forces and firefighting detachments
- Maintaining most roads (large highways excepted)
- Planning and managing development through zoning and permitting of construction projects
- Providing utilities such as water, sewage, electricity, telephone, internet, and gas
- Collecting garbage
- Maintaining most public parks
- Promoting basic order and decency (e.g. bylaws against littering or swearing in public)
While mayors and councillors govern municipalities in every province, local school boards govern public school districts, though only in some provinces such as British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario. All provinces used to have elected public school boards, but many have abolished their school boards in recent years. While many matters of education are determined by provincial ministries of education, local school boards are in charge of:
- Hiring and firing teachers and school administrators
- Overseeing the school board’s budget
- Maintaining school buildings and facilities
- Making decisions to open new schools, close old schools, or amalgamate schools
- Pick specific curriculum, textbooks, and courses
- Mediate between provincial governments and individual schools
- Listen and respond to the concerns of parents
- Developing the school district’s overall strategic plan
- Developing school district-wide policies (e.g. safe school policies or homework policies)
🗳 Why Care About Local Elections?
Many Christians think that local governments aren’t in charge of any “big” issues that are of concern – regulating abortion or euthanasia, promoting biblical marriages and families, or safeguarding rights and freedoms – and so they ignore local politics.
But our local governments need the input of Christians. Skim through the following articles to learn about how local governments are either promoting or opposing biblical principles.
❓ How Do Local Elections Work?
Local elections are quite a bit different than federal or provincial elections, though it is difficult to generalize about local elections because each province and sometimes each municipality within a province have different rules for their local elections. In federal and provincial elections, citizens vote for a single candidate who represents them in Parliament or the Legislature. Because these candidates usually run under the banner of political parties and the parties and their leaders get major media coverage, there is usually lots of information available about where the local candidates stand on various issues.
Local elections are different in a number of ways. First of all, most municipal candidates usually don’t represent a particular sliver of their jurisdiction – they each represent the whole area. For example, a municipality might have six councillors, all of whom represent you. This is called an “at-large” electoral system. Some municipalities, particularly larger cities in Ontario and the Maritimes, use a “ward” electoral system that is more akin to provincial and federal elections. For example, a municipality using a ward system might divide their municipality into six wards, with each ward electing a councillor to represent them on municipal council.
Secondly, citizens have to vote for many different candidates. For example, citizens in a municipal election might have to vote for one mayor, six councillors, and nine school board trustees. And those are just the positions that need to be filled. There will often be more candidates running for the position than spots that need to be filled. For example, in Vancouver’s 2018 municipal election, seventy-one candidates were vying for just ten councillor seats!
Finally, these candidates usually don’t run under a political party with a well-established platform. Instead, most candidates are independent and have their own thoughts on what the greatest problems are and how to fix them. Only a few large cities such as Vancouver and Montreal have municipal political parties.
This means that citizens are often expected to vote for more than a dozen positions at once, with scores of politicians vying for those roles at the same time. At the end of the day, the local voting ballot can start to look overwhelming. So overwhelming, in fact, that many people vote for candidates arbitrarily. (There are studies that show that candidates listed at the top of the list or at the end of a list tend to garner more votes than people in the middle of the list just because those names catch voters’ eyes first!)
🏃♀️ What Can I Do?
When it comes to local elections, the most important thing that you can do is to learn.
With so many candidates vying for office and so little information on them that is easily available, take some time to do some research on the candidates. Google their names. Look them up on social media. See if they have a website. Attend an all-candidates meeting.
Find out which issues are important to them and where they stand on these issues? Do their priorities match yours? Do their policy positions match yours?
After doing this, share your findings with friends and family so that they can cast an informed vote too. Better yet, reach out to your local ARPA chapter and see if you can put together a local election guide that compares all the candidates who are running. Such a local election guide can be invaluable to people who don’t have the time, ability, or interest to research many of the candidates. The information you glean could be distributed on social media, via email, or at church.
If you really like one or more candidates, volunteer for their campaign. Candidates are almost always looking for volunteers to knock on doors, make phone calls, or scrutineer throughout the election and especially on election day.
And finally, vote! The average voter turnout in local elections is much lower than for other elections; only an average of 43% of eligible voters turned out to vote in the 2018 local elections throughout British Columbia and even fewer fill out their entire ballot.
Want to Get Involved? Check out These Organizations
Christians That Care (in Ontario, British Columbia, and Manitoba)
Parents Voice BC (in British Columbia)
The Bottom Line
This is the branch of politics that has the most immediate impact on our day-to-day lives. It is also the branch of politics that we can most easily affect. If the Christian community is 1) knowledgeable about the local candidates and 2) shows up to vote, we could dominate local election results and quite literally seek the welfare of the city where God has sent us (Jeremiah 29:7)!