Here’s a good litmus test for the quality of journalism in your community, if you live in Ontario: Is the municipal election in your community getting coverage?
Municipal councils now have four-year terms (up from one year in the 1960s, two-year in the 1970s, when council positions were sort of honorary spots for local business leaders). In medium and large cities, being a municipal councillor is now a full-time job. The work isn’t glamourous, but it’s important: building and maintaining infrastructure like roads, parks and sewers; setting transit policy; providing affordable housing; overseeing medical officers of health. (And, at the same time, we have school board elections.)
In my hometown, there are two online newspapers that replaced the three bi-weeklies that were killed off years ago. I see no municipal election coverage on those pages, not even the printing of handouts from the candidates, which is the most lame type of local election coverage. In Ottawa, where I live now, it’s slightly better, mainly because the local CBC outlet employs of of the best municipal reporters in the country.
I could give a little lecture on the importance of local government, how bad city goverments allow urban sprawl, inner city decay, and infrastructure collapse. I think most of my readers already know this stuff. I just want to draw attention to the silence that’s fallen over the municipal campaigns in many communities across Ontario. Not because no one is talking, but because no reporters are listening and no media outlets are publishing.
Please let me know in the comments if your community’s election is being covered by local media, and what issues are being discussed. I’m on the board of the Rural Ontario Institute, a Guelph-based organization dedicated to improving leadership skills in Ontario’s smaller communities. The organization is non-partison, but it’s also issues-oriented, so any feedback would be greatly appreciated.
Meanwhile, have a look at these videos on the failures of North American urban planning and transit, and consider whether candidates in your community will make things better or worse: