Last week we kicked off this series by addressing the symbiotic relationship between local government and individual citizens. Comprised of neighbours, friends, and fellow citizens, local government represents our greater community and responds to local needs. It’s not made up of professional politicians, and there are no party lines to follow. I’m bringing you my thoughts about local government leadership and governance. As a recovering politician, I am passionate about excellence in leadership and governance.
Today, I’d like to establish a collective understanding about why local government exists. As we approach municipal elections, it’s essential that electoral candidates, as well as voters, understand the realities and limitations of their civic system.
Local government is a service provider. It exists to provide specified services that make communities livable. Water and sewer systems, paved roads and sidewalks, parks and trails, buildings such as fire halls, recreational facilities, and multi-purpose gathering spaces are all examples of community services and infrastructure built with shared resources. We could never develop and maintain these amenities individually. Hence, local government exists to provide safe, sustainable, secure services in a predictable, cost-effective manner. Take a moment and reflect on what your community would be like without the services we touched on above. Would clean, clear, drinkable water come out of your taps when you need it? Could you flush the toilet, confident that what goes down does not come back up? Would roads be safe to travel on, clear of ice and snow, and the fire department well-equipped in the face of an emergency? As individuals, we could not manage these types of services and amenities on our own. But as a community, we combine our resources to enjoy a broad range of services and functions that improve the well-being of citizens – co-op style.
Although local government is the service provider of community amenities, it is critical to understand that it is not its own level of government. It exists at the will of the province and has been granted the tools to collect revenue (in the form of local property taxes and user fees) to pay for the services we have come to expect. The local government is perceived to have significant influence over local decisions; however, the provincial government not only limits their revenue-generating options but prescribes the majority of their activities. We’ll delve further into this later in the series.
For now, we need to simply acknowledge the role that municipal government has on enriching the lives of citizens. With this mutual understanding, electoral candidates and voters alike can approach the upcoming elections with realistic expectations surrounding leadership and stewardship.
Next week, we dive further into why municipal governments exist, looking at primary, secondary and tertiary roles and responsibilities of your local leadership.