Recently, I came across a reference to a “designated advocate for pedestrians”, in relation to a transportation committee in Vancouver. I found this term both powerful and intriguing at the same time.
On the one hand, the concept of an advocate representing citizens on a council committee suggests an acceptance for the voice of the people in civic decisions, pretty powerful stuff. This is especially amazing since the above citizens group was not business owners, cyclists, dog walkers or any myriad of self-defined “community” interests. No, this group represents pedestrians. Why, that’s almost all of us!
The intriguing part is that municipal government is, by definition, composed of representatives of the people for the purpose of serving the people. Why then, would council appoint someone to advocate for the people? Is that not what they should be doing all along?
Of course, we know too well that once elected, our representatives evolve from “we the people” species to an “us (in power) and them (the people)” groupthink. The details of each issue, the reports and published studies, the submissions from individuals with vested interests, these all contribute to the drifting away from the simplicity of statements about public service made during election campaigns. Add to that the group dynamics on council, the feeling of wanting to get along while dealing with things that are rarely black and white, makes for interesting inner tugs and pulls.
Now this is not restricted to municipal councils. In fact, those we elect to provincial or federal governments are also the people’s representatives. Unfortunately, they become quickly assimilated into the party machine and henceforth speak for their party. Citizens are merely instruments to get elected. We’ve lost our voice.
Imagine for a moment, if we had someone at council meetings, or any other government, who is there strictly as a designated advocate for the people – not needing to belong to the group and compromise their values, not needing to be popular, to be tenacious and vigilant and to ask detailed questions about budgets and policies. Imagine if the advocate ensured that due process was followed, that legislation was respected and adhered to, that transparency was unobstructed. What a refreshing concept.
On some occasions, we see elected people emerge as an advocate for the people, not just during elections, but at every meeting. They don’t usually last long.
The time involved in pursuing such endeavours, however, also prevent the public or any media from looking closely at smaller councils, such as ours. The politics are the same, but they remain under the radar. My earlier call in December for a committee on transparency would facilitate in allowing the public to be more engaged, however I digress.
But if we can let ourselves dream for a moment, of a true designated advocate of the people. Now that would make for a different democracy!
Please mark Sunday May 26th on your calendars now. More updates can be obtained here or through the Art Council website: Link to Lions Bay Art Council website