This is the Life: Democracy isn’t supposed to be easy

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The controversy swirling around the valley about the Regional District of Central Kootenay proposal to fund the Pet Adoption and Welfare Society as a tax service is largely based on a lack of consensus. Not on the funding issue itself or even the approval process, but on what exactly democracy means, as far as I can see. And that’s an argument that isn’t going to be resolved. Period.

I know there are people who simply don’t want a nickel of their tax dollars going to PAWS or any other support for pets of any kind. It’s their right, but they should also be aware that quite likely an equal or greater portion of the population is in favour. I have no doubt that the latter observation is part of the reason why the directors of areas B and C and the Town of Creston chose to propose funding part of PAWS operational costs by taxation. They hear, every day, about animal complaints and PAWS is an organization that can help alleviate some of the problems.

Directors have also heard regular presentations from PAWS volunteers about the nature of their work and of the difficulty in sustaining operations almost entirely through fundraising. Volunteers in almost every organization sign on because they have an interest in what the organization does, not because they want to spend time fundraising.

As letters to the editor in last week’s Advance correctly point out, the alternative approval process is not a construct of local directors or of the RDCK. It is described in the province’s Community Charter, the legislation that describes how municipalities and rural areas must perform. The provincial website describes the AAP as “a method to gauge public opinion in regard to certain types of proposed bylaws, agreements or other matters. It is most commonly used in relation to long-term borrowing bylaws. It is a less expensive option than using a referendum to gauge public opinion. It can be used whenever the legislation requires a local government to obtain the approval of the electors.”

It also says, “Some electors favour the alternative approval process over a referendum because they have more time (30 days) to express their opinion instead of the two days (advance poll and voting day) that are available to vote in a referendum. However, some electors may be critical of the alternative approval process because in larger communities, it may be difficult to obtain elector response forms from 10 per cent of the electors.”

It doesn’t point out that a referendum for an issue like the PAWS taxation costs about $20,000. So the referendum route is a bad argument for those looking to keep their taxes down.

Personally, I like the AAP better than referendums for smaller issues (and, like it or not, five bucks a year for the average homeowner is a small issue) because it is one of the rare decision-making processes in our governmental system that promotes the involvement of citizens. It doesn’t just say, come on out and mark your X on a ballot. It says, get involved, talk to your friends and neighbours, collect signatures and have your say.

We know that most people are disinterested in the electoral process and no one has any easy answers to address the problem. We know that we can expect only a small percentage of voters to turn out for elections and referendums. So if the AAP encourages people to get off their duffs, whether because of a fundamental opposition to funding some services through taxation or because they are just cheap with their pennies, why is the process perceived to be a negative one?

Timing of this particular AAP (which has been used before, for much larger spending proposals, and with little or no controversy) is a red herring. In the summer people are on holidays and “can’t” participate. In the fall the kids are getting back to school, crops are being brought in, yards and gardens need cleaning. In the winter many head south for several months, or bad weather can discourage people from getting out. In the spring, everyone is busy getting ready for summer.

Democracy is not, and never was, intended to be convenient. To succeed, it needs the involvement of the citizenry. In this case, the AAP is succeeding quite nicely.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.