New Year's resolutions, sigh. So many to make, so many to break, so little time — only an entire year.
As part of the journalistic gig here at Pique, my colleagues and I cover the various political meetings that take place throughout the corridor. Council meetings, regional district gatherings, open houses, presentations, it is part of the privilege of our role in the democratic process to cover these things as best as we can.
Yes, I really believe that. And on a selfish level, I like to understand why situations and conditions are the way they are, and normally the best way to do that is by being present. Plus, since it is part of my job, I get paid to do it. I can't and won't complain about that.
My own particular beat for the last year has been Pemberton Council and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District. I had never covered either before; in fact, I went to the SLRD all-candidates' debate for the southern part of the regional district (Area D) during the election 14 months ago and I was lost. And that's after being a resident in the region since 2006. I learned quickly what the main issues were, and (especially) what the heck the SLRD was.
Mea maxima culpa. My work forced me to finally sit up and take more notice, and I am grateful for it; that, for me, currently means at least three meetings a month.
At a Pemberton Council meeting in early December, the public seating area was maxed out. Basically, that means 30 people were in the council chambers and feelings were rather hot. The reason? Objections to various independent power projects.
Wherever you stand on the issue, it was grassroots community democracy in action. A public presentation was made outlining the objections and a petition was handed over. When question time rolled around towards the end of the meeting, it ended up taking quite a while as people posed queries to their elected representatives. As someone who often sits in an almost empty public area, I liked it very much.
Most of those people present were part of a one-issue, united contingent, but something else happened, too.
There were other issues of significance at that meeting. In particular, the long-burning and complex debate over the future water-supply relationship between the Village of Pemberton and Pemberton North in SLRD Area C. In a nutshell, because of a billing disagreement since 2007, the Village is currently considering a bylaw, which may pass later in January, which would allow them to give notice and terminate water services to Pemberton North.
I wouldn't quite call it a Festivus Miracle, but a couple of the people who were there to talk about independent power projects started asking questions about the water debate as well. It was interesting, to see how new voices engaged in the debate.
So it got me thinking. What would it be like if 10 per cent, 25 per cent, 50 per cent of the communities — Whistler, Squamish, Pemberton and other regions — decided to attend one or two council meetings a year? Or the open houses or other events?
Why not? I mean people in some places agitate and even die for the opportunity to have the relative openness and freedoms of our political system, whatever the problems with it can be. What would it take for you to become a little more engaged?
How do you do that? It's easy.
Municipal and the SLRD websites tell you when the meetings are. Check out the agendas on those same websites a few days in advance; I'm not saying go to the next one — you can even wait until you find a topic that interests you. Believe me, there are many topics under discussion over the course of a year.
You name it, municipal spending, sports, events, celebrations, business, tourism, economic revitalization, environmental concerns... there's something for everyone. These things are not being discussed and voted on because the councillors and staff have nothing better to do — their jobs are to serve you and these are things that make a difference in the lives of those of us who live here and those who visit.
And if you live in Whistler or Squamish, these meetings are broadcast live online. So you can even drink your own coffee or a beer as you engage.
What's more, when you feel like grousing at the dinner table or the pub about something happening in your community that you don't like — or even smiling about something happening here that you found wonderful — you will have inside information about why it happened, what the mayor said, and how it all came to pass.
I have read that it can take 21 days to establish a new habit. In that time there will be at least two local meetings of importance in your community. Go to one. Then next month, or in six months, go to another.
By the way, encouraging civic engagement isn't one of my New Year's resolutions. It just happens to be something I'd like to see — and it might give me more to write about.