Does it offend you when you drive into a highway construction project zone and see a big sign announcing the project, and it includes the name of the highways minister and premier? Or how about when you are about to enter a public building and there is a bronze plaque mounted outside, naming the members of town council and maybe some administrators at the time of the building construction? Or maybe you go to the rink at the community complex and there are signboards citing Regional District of Central Kootenay areas A and B as supporters, along with the names of the current directors (in quite small letters, to be fair). Do you think that it’s a reasonable use of tax dollars?
I don’t, but I can’t say I’ve laid awake at night stewing about it. The issue came up this week at a meeting that included the Creston’s four RDCK directors. The meeting was in the community complex and the on the agenda was a discussion about the signboards. Apparently a staff member had pointed out to manager Randy Fediuk that the signs were political in nature, something that is against RDCK policy. Fediuk referred the discussion to the regional directors.
Before I proceed, I should mention that the signs were made up by the RDCK to recognize the contributions from each area to the Creston Valley Thunder Cats. Directors did not request to have their names included and were apparently not consulted about the sign.
Not surprisingly, the discussion elicited different perspectives. Area A director Garry Jackman said he thought it was wrong to put the names of directors on such messages. It implies that the money was given personally and not by the area’s taxpayers, he said. Area B director John Kettle said the signs were a statement of fact, that he, for instance, is indeed the representative of Area B, so they are in no way political. Area C director Larry Binks concurred. Mayor Ron Toyota said he thought they were OK as long as they weren’t visible during an election campaign.
Whether or not the signs are intended to be political, they do provide name recognition, which is a huge advantage that incumbents have over their opponents in an election. To put it simply, the more times a voter sees a name associated with an elected position, the more likely they are to think of that name and position as one and the same. I’m betting that a statistical analysis would show that a large majority of incumbents win elections at all levels of government, in all democratic countries, and name recognition would have to be at least one reason.
On the other hand, it isn’t difficult to argue that people have the right to know what their elected representatives are doing, and to have names appear on signage is just another way of communicating activity. What’s the premier been up to? Well, at the very least he or she put their stamp of approval to get that paving done. Or a town council voted to spend our tax dollars to build the RCMP detachment. Or directors approved some grant-in-aid money to support Junior B hockey.
I don’t think there is an answer to this dilemma that everyone would agree on. And I think it is pretty rare for most politicians, at least at the local level, to be campaigning non-stop between elections. But it’s a healthy conversation to have, and if you have strong feelings one way or another, you should raise the issue the next time you are speaking to one of your representatives.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.