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Thinning the herd

A Squamish campaign retrospective

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Signs of the Times

An election without interest is like a horse without legs: lame and pitiful, surreal in a nightmarish kind of way, and, like it or not, fit for the graveyards of human memory. No service and no epitaph, just something to forget about.

But interest on its own isn’t enough. Rather, it’s all about where the attention lies: Does it roost with voters, or is it largely confined to campaigners?

Province wide, voter turnout for November’s local elections was 27.8 per cent, down from 30.73 in 2005. With 41.9 per cent, Squamish was well ahead of that average. This, after all, is a uniquely engaged town, one in the throes of intense growth, one with visions that sometimes square off like boxers under spotlights, fists tight and eyes narrow. A higher than average turnout is pretty much expected in an atmosphere so coiled and charged. In 2005, voter turnout was 44 per cent. In 2002, it was 62.2 per cent. Still, with healthy participation typically gauged at 50 per cent, apathy seems to be continuing its slow and vulgar dance, a jig cutting rugs all over the Western world. The key all-candidates’ debates, with their nearly naked attendance, are proof enough of that. And none of the district’s politicos is pleased with the turnout.

The wisdom here is pretty simple. Nothing galvanizes the electorate like a heated mayoral showdown, which, in a way, is kind of odd. While the mayor certainly embodies more power than any one councillor, he or she is still just a single vote on the chamber floor, no different than anyone else. And yet, there’s an inherent drama in the race for first place. It’s the rally for the gavel, the lunge for the sash, the guts and the glory – victory and defeat on an exaggerated scale. Riveting tales and popcorn sales.

Indeed, the 2002 turnout is widely attributed to the sparring between Paul Lalli and Ian Sutherland, with the latter victorious by under 500 votes. In 2005, Sutherland had no serious opposition, though protest candidate Terrill Patterson came within a few hundred votes of knocking him out of the fight.

This year, Mayor Greg Gardner had no such problem. While Patterson made another effort, it was mostly for show, more to kick the machine than pull its levers. Meanwhile, John Erickson’s candidacy, though fuelled by passion, was almost hallucinogenic, drifting in and out of reality as if a William Burroughs novel exploring local governance.

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