Of course, all elections are important. In a democracy, the people are the sovereign. It’s up to each of us to tell government what their priorities must be. If voter interest trails off, other interests become more powerful and fill the vacuum.
Municipal elections are the most important elections, because the local level of government has the greatest impact on the world we actually live in. Want gay-friendly cops? You need to vote. Want a downtown with a fun pedestrian street life? You need to vote. Want programs that give street kids a second chance? You need to vote. Want the Pride festival to be treated the same as other festivals for a change? You need to vote.
And on it goes.
It’s particularly important for all local citizens to vote this year, because Ottawa is at the sort of junction that comes along once every generation. Amalgamation is behind us. But city policies haven’t caught up. We’re still acting like a big little city, or a group of them. But we’ve actually transitioned to, as Alex Munter likes to say, a little big city now. We’ve got to pool our resources and begin to act like the capital city of a G8 nation rather than a one-industry provincial backwater.
Finally, it’s even more important to vote if you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans. That’s true of every election at all levels of government (as a vulnerable minority, there are only a limited number of ways we can leverage our influence, and voting is near the top of the list) but it’s especially true of this election.
City council at the moment is more or less evenly divided between progressive forces and conservative forces, with a preponderance of conservatives coming from the rural areas and the farther ends of the suburbs. It’s already hard to get support for downtown issues, arts and culture, festivals, public transportation, bridges across the canal, homelessness, harm reduction strategies and so on. But in this election, some of the strongest progressive voices in the core are in danger of losing and being replaced by law-and-order types and those with a fetish for tax cuts at any cost. I bet you can already guess that those progressives in the core are also the backbone of the city’s limited acceptance of the queer community.
Fact is, the next council could be even more hostile to our issues than the last one. That’s saying something in a city that’s pretty much deliberately blind to the existence of an actual queer community (they’re pretty good on acknowledging that gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans individuals live here but have not in any way adapted to the reality of our community).
So, like all things in a democracy, the burden falls on your shoulders. In a democracy, we’re responsible for our personal success and the success of our collectivity. As sovereign citizens, we’re empowered to take action to make the world over in our image. Voting is a great place to start. It’s a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to making life better for ourselves and others traditionally left out of the social equation.
But who to vote for? Well, whoever it is that you think best represents you and your vision of what Ottawa could be. Check out the answers of the mayoralty candidates on pg 14 and come to the first-ever mayoralty candidates debate on queer issues on Fri, Oct 27 at city hall (after coming the previous night to the Community Achievement Awards, of course). Check out the brochures of your local candidates.
I am going to tell you which candidates supported our community when the Pride Committee asked for an emergency bail-out this summer just weeks after two other festivals had even larger bailouts. (You may be someone who believes government should not fund festival bailouts at all. Fair enough.pBut if two festivals get cold, hard cash, then surely the third one should, too. You don’t really think it’s coincidence that the line got drawn — and mainly by rural and suburban councillors — when the uppity homos asked for their share, do you?)
Councillors Diane Holmes, Alex Cullen, Clive Doucet and Georges Bédard supported our community — and it will cost them votes. In fact, Cullen in particular is in a really tight race with a vicious pterodactyl of a man, Terry Kilrea. These same four councillors have been consistently queer-positive in their voting histories. You may have issues with how they did or did not deal with other issues, but their positive approach to our community puts them in a clear minority on council. It’s payback time.