Municipal Elections: The Value of Voting & Community-based Democratic Infrastructure

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By Anna Kim, Civics Project Coordinator for ACSA

As we near October 27th, 2014 when municipal elections across Ontario will take place, all eyes are on voting. Many great campaigns and conversations have taken place throughout the City of Toronto in hopes of raising awareness about the importance of casting a ballot. Before the excitement around democratic participation fades into the background after the elections, I want to take this opportunity to put the spotlight on the democratic process that occurs after elections and to remind ourselves that while voting is a fundamental step in the democratic process, it is one of many. Indeed, the value of voting lies in what happens after the elections. Let me elaborate.

The value of voting lies in the outcomes it delivers. By this, I mean the decisions made by our elected representatives such as infrastructure development, equitable planning, funding social programs, transparent consultations, responsible spending, fair policies, etc.

And it does not end there. The value of voting is also about effective implementation of those decisions to ensure goals are actually met. This requires the coordination of a multitude of stakeholders. We need input from the experts: residents, planners, engineers, business owners, public service providers, etc. This consultative process facilitates a conversation that educates, informs and sustains a conversation throughout the city so decisions made by elected representatives can see the light of day. In short, we need a democratic infrastructure, so to speak.

Community-based organizations play a key role in fostering a democratic society, particularly in the City of Toronto which is broad and diverse geographically, economically and demographically. Agencies like ACSA, through developing and delivering a wide range of programs that address current social realities specific to a wide range of vulnerable or marginalized communities, play an invaluable and instrumental role in creating the architecture of this democratic infrastructure.

  • Community agencies benefit not only individuals who access services or engage in programs but they also benefit the decision-making process by acting as a barometer for what is and what isn’t working. This is done not only by collecting statistical data but also through knowing about the stories of people’s lived realities which reveal details that statistics cannot capture. This comes from a longstanding commitment to equity and from years of experience working face-to-face with the community.
  • For decisions to become realities, communities need the know-how and experience to coordinate and jointly achieve solutions. This can only come from common understandings which are ultimately rooted in education and practices and networks that reach a broad population. Community agencies play an important role in facilitating this process because of the relationships they have built with a vast array of diverse groups and individuals.

After October 27th, 2014, when the voting results are in, I hope we can continue to have conversations about how the democratic process is about both joint decision-making and joint action.

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