Monday, May 14, 2012

Acclamations show that New Brunswickers happy with local politics

A sign for tourism information is pictured in Fredericton;New Brunswick Tuesday April 3;2012.
A sign for tourism information is pictured in Fredericton;New Brunswick Tuesday April 3;2012.
Photo Credit: Francis Vachon , The Canadian Press Images
Mike O'Brien will be acclaimed for the third time on Monday in New Brunswick's provincial capital of Fredericton, one of 95 municipal councillors who will win a seat without having to contest an election.
But compared to the last round of municipal elections in the province four years ago, there is a decreasing number of councillors and mayors acclaimed.
O'Brien explains his three acclamations by pointing to a citizen attitude survey conducted by Fredericton every two years.
"The residents are generally quite satisfied with the services they get provided for their taxes. Therefore at election time, that gets reflected," said O'Brien.
"There is no major need for a change. There's no major controversies in the community. The city is moving in a positive direction. Therefore, the residents seem to be quite happy to be bringing a lot of the incumbents in." 
Municipal acclamations of mayors and councillors have decreased since the last election to 139 from 163. In 2008, a total of 110 councillors were acclaimed alongside 53 mayors, with acclamations dropping to 95 councillors and 44 mayors this year.
Out of 536 councillors and 105 mayors, the numbers translate into 17.7 per cent of councillors and almost 42 per cent of mayors being acclaimed.
Paul Howe, a professor of political science at the University of New Brunswick, says the high acclamation rates may reflect a general reluctance of the public to make a long-term commitment to politics.
Howe, who studies public engagement with politics, said it's difficult to get people to participate when time commitments are significant and involve matters that don't concern them personally.
"People are interested in becoming engaged in issues on a more temporary basis," he said.
"Running for office is a more intensive commitment and that's where there's been quite a drop-off."
O'Brien hopes that through social media, councils can encourage more resident engagement in local politics. But he said it is ultimately a decision made by the residents themselves.
"It's choice and the residents have a choice. People can run, people can vote new people in," he said.
"If they are satisfied with the person and their commitment and their dedication, it looks like they're quite satisfied with bringing many of them back in by acclamation."
Throughout the province, 25 councillors have been acclaimed at least twice. Out of 105 councils, 50 have at least one acclaimed position.
Chief Electoral Officer Michael Quinn agrees with O'Brien's suggestion that people who are happy choose not to contest those already in office.
"The community and everybody, all the electors in it, have a choice to run," Quinn said. "And if they choose not to run, then it could be a sign that those who are (running) are quite satisfactory to everybody."
Elections New Brunswick took note of the number of acclamations in 2008. In response, elections officials have been travelling through municipalities holding information sessions since January, informing residents and would-be candidates of the importance of municipal politics and the upcoming elections.
"The response was spectacular," said Quinn.
Unlike a provincial or federal election with large parties mobilizing support and awareness, Quinn said the speaking tour received strong feedback and good local media coverage.
"Starting well back in January, we were getting out the news that the municipal elections were happening and how important the positions were, and inviting people to think about running," he said.
Geoff Martin, a professor of political science at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., said amalgamating small villages and towns is the longer term answer.
"As long as you have small villages where it's not clear how economically sustainable the municipal government is over the long term ... the issue of acclamation will always remain," he said.
The majority of councils with acclaimed positions are small municipalities with only a couple of hundred residents.
St. Martins has a population of around 400 people and was placed under the supervision of the provincial government last year when two members on their four-person council died.
The council in St. Martins is one of 19 that will be fully acclaimed.
Incoming mayor Bette Ann Chatterton said because of their size, small communities are tighter knit and people are already very familiar with their councillors.
Chatterton says current councillors should play a bigger role in encouraging others to become engaged with municipal politics and run.
"Sometimes, people think, 'Oh, I wouldn't be comfortable doing it.' But really, it may be a challenge but it's also a gift," said Chatterton.
"It's a great thing to do for your community, to step up and take some leadership, and hopefully be their voice," she said.

Read it on Global News: Mike O' Brien will be acclaimed for the third time on Monday in New Brunswick' s provincial capital of Fredericton, one of 95 municipal councillors who will win a seat without having to contest an election. 

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