Text by James Bow
(Originally published November 1, 2000)
For the most part, Canadians fare reasonably well in terms of participating in their democracy. Provincial and federal elections usually garner turnouts in the 70-80% range. This is good. I firmly believe that those who do not participate in our democracy get the government they deserve. We may criticize our politicians for promising one thing and doing another, but getting cynical enough to not participate in the democratic process only ensures that government remains unresponsive to the people's needs.
However, Canadians fare far worse in terms of participating in municipal elections. Our participation rates average around 20-40%, worse than the typical turnout of an American presidential election. This is not good, for it is our municipal governments which make the decisions regarding the services that have the most effect upon our lives. It is our municipalities which build most of our roads, which provide most of our community services, and which control public transit.
Public transit in Ontario is an important municipal issue, especially now that our provincial government has backed out of all funding for our public transit systems. It is our municipalities, through the use of our property tax dollars, which make the decisions regarding the operation of our transit systems and the funding of capital projects. And although the November 13th municipal election is now being overshadowed by the campaign for the federal election, it is the municipal election that we transit supporters must look to if we hope to influence public transit for the better.
The Rocket Riders is a local organization with members throughout the Greater Toronto Area supporting improved public transit. You can visit their web site at www.rocketriders.org. They have put together a comprehensive campaign for increased funding for public transportation in Toronto. I encourage all transit supporters to visit their web site, sign up for their newsletter, and volunteer your time to get the message out. Their proposal for increased funding is realistic, and necessary if we hope to get more people out of their cars and into public transit vehicles. Listen to the candidates and their responses to Rocketrider campaign questions. Vote for the candidate in your area that best supports your ideals for improved public transit.
Polls suggest that most Torontonians agree that public transit's funding should be increased. A majority said they would be willing to pay anywhere from $6-20 per year in increased taxes if that money went to support the TTC. The public know that public transit is important. The key now is to make sure the candidates running for election know, and make sure the ones that know the best are elected to office.
This doesn't just apply to Toronto. Although Rocket Riders are primarily a GTA group, their tactics are applicable anywhere in Ontario where public transit operates. Other major cities, such as Ottawa, probably have their own riders associations; ask around to see if you can lend a hand. And if there are no such organizations, why not do the footwork yourself? Ask your local candidates what they will do to support public transit. Ask them how they will lobby the provincial and federal governments to increase funding for this necessary piece of infrastructure. Ask others to join you in your campaign. The future is in your hands. It's up to you to seize it.