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Painful Truth: Is voter apathy justified?

If no leader can solve the big problems, what’s the incentive to vote?
Municipal elections were held throughout B.C. on Oct. 15. (Langley Advance Times files)

Voter turnout is down. Voter turnout is too low. Something must be done about voter turnout.

We say this every election, especially after civic elections, which in Langley Township and City are pretty dire. Fewer than 30 per cent of registered voters bothered to show up – in Langley City, it was less than 20 per cent!

So there’s the usual hue and cry being raised, calling for something to be done! More voter education! More incentives to vote! Maybe mandatory voting?

Let’s consider the alternative – the people who don’t vote have a point.

Does voting make a difference, that’s the real question here.

One of the big issues in civic politics, going back well over a decade now in Langley, is homelessness.

Every candidate has addressed homelessness. And things have been done – the Township and City came together to help get the Gateway of Hope shelter built, the Township approved the rezoning for Creek Stone Place unanimously.

And yet we have more homeless people on the streets than ever. For all their efforts, local politicians (and BC Housing, and provincial and federal ministers) have failed utterly to keep up with the scope and scale of the problem.

Then there’s housing affordability. Again, municipal politicians have been talking about this for years. And what has happened to the price of housing?

It’s on a downward slide, thanks to higher interest rates, but the average price of a single-family home hit more than $1.7 million in Langley earlier this year! It’ll have to fall all the way back to $1 million just to be where it was before the pandemic – which was already insane and unaffordable.

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How about new school construction? Well, your school board and municipal council can only do so much when Victoria controls the purse strings. So we have fields of portables.

So if any one of those three issues are what you really care about, the cynics are right. Voting made only a relatively minor difference.

To dispense with the cynicism for a brief moment, local politicians are not, by and large, corrupt or stupid or apathetic. But they lack the tools needed to tackle any of these problems. They have limited taxation authority, and limited jurisdiction over housing and school construction policy.

If you voted for a candidate who said “I promise to fix the potholes!” and they failed, and you voted for a different candidate who made the same promise, and they also failed, and so on, and so on…

A casual viewer of the political scene could easily come to believe that politicians are corrupt, or just useless.

But what’s happening is that local politicians do not have the tools needed to tackle the biggest issues.

It requires changing underlying systems, which is incredibly hard. But it’s necessary, because until local leaders have power, “voter apathy” isn’t a cynical deviation from democracy, it’s just sensible. Why vote, if they can’t fix anything?

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Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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