Elections and everything after

By Ben Perrin

It’s Saturday night, the music is booming, the dance floor is full and there you see what you’ve been looking for sitting beside the bar. The magnetism that you always hear about draws you closer. You don’t want to go too fast with it, but you better not look too clumsy either. Admit it: it’s your first shot at something this flashy. To think that someone would not want you to give it a chance incenses you a little. After all, you’re an adult; you can look after yourself.

But alas, it is not meant to be. Before you even get close enough, some other guy is there with more money and better clothes. You chuckle as he gets shut down, called a loser, but still he persists.

After another try, he moves over to another one sitting down the line and now it’s your chance. The lights are flashing and you are full of anticipation.

Then it hits you: Jack, Queen, 4, 5, 9. Nothing, you’ve got nothing. Shut down, not by some beautiful person, but by the cold, calculating Video Lottery Terminal like so many before you.

Thanks to Monday’s vote you’ll get another chance next week to make a go of it. October 19th found hundreds of thousands of Albertans deciding for themselves several key issues on the municipal ballot, like the decision of whether or not to scrap VLTS. In many ways, these elections remind our leaders at all levels just whom it is that they answer to. Having several key issues on the ballot is a trend that I hope will continue in the future. Adding elements of direct democracy through citizen’s initiatives is a welcome breath of fresh air into the democratic process in Canada. It is a principle whose idea is long overdue. Alberta is just the type of place where direct democracy on key issues can remain on the upswing.

Senate Election: Speechless Scrutiny

We were told that people didn’t care. We were told that our vote didn’t matter. Monday night left the usual pundit suspects speechless. As hundreds of thousands of votes rolled in for the four candidates running for two Alberta Senator positions, doubts about Alberta’s continued commitment to reform the draconian Upper House were laid to rest. Bert Brown and hometown professor Ted Morton were the two victors at the end of a campaign that has helped put Senate reform back on the national agenda. Albertans have given them the largest democratic mandate in the history of Canada. Brown and Morton will join their Reform colleagues in Ottawa this week, with more votes than Prime Minister Chrétien has received in every election that he has ever run in combined. In short, Albertans spoke and demanded that Chrétien listen. Remember that it took Brian Mulroney fully nine months to appoint the elected Stan Waters just nine years ago. Chrétien too must realize that he cannot afford to ignore a legally held election in this democratic nation.

VLT Plebiscite: Money Matters

The VLT vote was supposedly a showdown between morality and care for people versus free choice and gambling revenues. In the end, a vote to keep them in Calgary carried the day. If there had been a more middle-of-the-road question asked, I would guess that the vote would have been quite overwhelming. Most Calgarians likely believe that gambling should be restricted, but not absolutely sanctioned. The question on VLTS did not permit this distinction to made in an “all or nothing vote.” This is partly a function of the lobbying by the coalition hoping to ban the machines completely.

Ultimately, in this debate it seems clear that Calgarians subscribe to a libertarian and fiscally conservative approach. Is this any surprise?

Fluoridation Plebiscite: Absent Ads

The stage was set, the media eyes were keenly peeled, but no black helicopter flew in the fluoridation debate. Surprisingly absent from this plebiscite was the campaign to rid our water of this elusive mineral. I was rather looking forward to hearing some of the conspiracy theories on fluoride in our water supply, as well as the legitimate voices associated with it. Alas, I was forced to look for entertainment elsewhere: hence my mistake in thinking I could stop at seeing only Part 1 of the Planet of the Apes epic.

For this, I blame the Calgary Regional Health Authority. The CHRA has the big campaign guns out for the fluoride debate. Massive billboards, dozens of paid prime-time television ads and slick campaign literature were the hallmarks of the highly professional CHRA campaign. I’m quite concerned with their funding for this marathon “public information campaign.” Fighting this fiercely for fluoride leaves me starting to wonder why they really want to put more of it in our drinking water. Just like Quebec referendums, this one is likely to keep coming to the surface.

Mayor: Mediocre Men

Al Duerr won. Any surprises? Probably not. It was not Duerr’s “courage to lead” or comical references to “Peace, Order, and Good Government” that carried him to victory. Rather, it was once again the lack of a credible alternative. The Duerr dynasty will bridge this millennium despite the hopes of Ray Clark and the notorious “Dinger.”

Aldermen: Municipal Monolith

Liberal candidates beware, and conservatives, educate yourselves on vote splitting, were the lessons learned Monday by Calgary aldermen. All incumbents were re-elected, with only one new face to fill mayoral candidate Clark’s seat. One of the few closely watched races was that of defeated federal Liberal candidate Dave Bronconier. You will recall his sound defeat in June 1997. His slick campaign team hoped the electorate in his ward would forget. Some did, and were aided by Bronconier’s Reform-colored blue and green glossy brochures. Others, expressed their dissatisfaction at the Alderman’s dirty political past by voting for several more conservative candidates. Their votes split, however, giving Bronconnier the win.

School Board Trustees: Conservative Crunch

Two new faces will meet a status quo Public School Board: Danielle Smith and Peggy Anderson. Both ran on a platform of increasing accountability in the Board and bringing education back to the basics. Expect some major showdowns as they face off against some heavy spenders in the Board, many of who recently voted a whopping 50 per cent pay raise for themselves before the election. Anderson and Smith are opposed to such largese. They’re also opposed to the Board public image ad campaigns. Change is long overdue. It’s great to see new faces to champion that change.

At the end of the day, we had the opportunity to decide. You helped send the Prime Minister a solid message on Senate reform with two excellent spokesmen. You had a chance to decide on fluoride and VLTS. It makes me wonder what people opposed to such votes value.

The old boys’ clubs that used to decide these issues for us are starting to close. It’s about time we decided more issues for ourselves without government or the pundits telling us that Big Brother knows best.

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