Here are the speaking notes from my presentation to a gathering of West Vancouver electors this morning about West Vancouver Citizens For Good Government (WVCGG) and the list of Council candidates which they’ve endorsed. These comments are not an exact transcript – they represent the structure, spirit, and intent of my remarks. I’ve made minor edits to the text prior to posting.
- Introduce self.
- What, in your view, is the biggest concern with local municipal elections?
- prompt for low civic engagement and low voter participation
- In 2011, only 23.7% of eligible voters in West Vancouver cast a ballot for councillors.
- With such low turnouts, it is helpful to have individuals and groups who support civic engagement and who try their best to increase voter participation.
- People like this morning’s host. There is one group in West Van in particular which plays a central role in local elections. Do you know which group that is?
- prompt for WVCGG
- When I say West Vancouver Citizens for Good Government, what’s your impression of how many people are involved with the group?
- According to the last census of 2011, West Vancouver has a population of about 43,000 people. According to information about the last election, also 2011, there were 30,754 eligible electors in West Vancouver.
- How many members do you think there are in WVCGG?
- At the October 22 meeting to endorse candidates, the Board of Directors — 16 people — put forward their recommendation and 140 members voted. That’s less than .5% of eligible electors.
- What are the challenges you see with this situation?
- So what is WVCGG?
- founded 1972
- their info says they are a “non-profit, non-partisan, and non-issue community group”.
- interest in ensuring that qualified individuals run for office and to increase voter engagement
- they interview candidates – but don’t post the questions they ask and deliberations are secret
- they hold a public all candidates meeting open to all West Van voters which is great
- and they endorse candidates – but they don’t say why
- once they’ve endorsed candidates, they accept funds from each and with that money conduct extensive advertising which includes a direct mail drop to each residence, something out of the reach of individual candidates — unless they decide to spend some serious money
- You can start to see why this might be a bit of a problem. Here’s the bigger issue.
- At the WVCGG endorsement meeting, the Board of Directors presents its recommendations prior to members voting. In essence what this does is create a situation where the members are voting on the Board of Directors recommended slate and not voting on the individual candidates.
- As former school Trustee Barry Lindahl says — Barry was voted for by the members despite not being put forward as a selection of the Board but that’s rare and proves the exception not the rule — as Barry says, the WVCGG process essentially becomes not about who is best, but who is blessed.
- When I ran in 2011, I was endorsed by WVCGG and I also remember writing a letter in support of them to the North Shore News. But I cannot support the list of endorsed candidates this year although I may support some of the individual candidates on the list because the list of endorsed candidates is very troubling to me.
- Here’s why?
- out of 6 endorsements for council only one is female this is despite the fact that there are more women living in West Van than men. 53% of residents are female and 47% are male according to the 2011 StatsCan figures.
- That’s not representative.
- But let’s say you don’t see that as an issue. Let’s put gender aside. What about incumbency? That’s usually an edge in municipal elections but there were two incumbents who weren’t endorsed.
- Incumbency ought not to be a guarantee, but here’s the thing. The only two incumbents who were not endorsed were the two incumbent female councillors, Mary Ann Booth and Nora Gambioli.
- WVCGG chose to endorse three first-time candidates — with relatively little experience of council — over the two incumbent female candidates.
- That doesn’t sit right with me. Elections ought to be about the best, not the blessed, especially not those blessed by a small group with undue influence no matter how well intentioned.
- I urge you to assess each candidate on your own terms and not someone else’s, when you vote this November.
- Thank You. Questions?
For more information on West Vancouver City Government, click here.
As mentioned earlier, I’m very pleased that my candidacy has been endorsed by the West Vancouver Citizens for Good Government. The speech I gave the night of the endorsement meeting, and which is reprinted below, focused on my experience as a parent-volunteer within the public education system. These remarks are also featured in the television spot filmed by Shaw Cable Television, a service offered to all Lower Mainland candidates, and which will air on November 6 at 7:15 p.m. and November 13 at 11:15 p.m.
I would love to hear from you, so please don’t hesitate to forward your thoughts, comments, questions and suggestions to me.
Remarks presented at the West Vancouver Citizens for Good Government Endorsement Meeting – October 27, 2011
Good evening. I’m Luc’s Mom, Reema Faris, and I’m running as a candidate for the position of Trustee with the West Vancouver Board of Education.
I see it as the next leg of a journey that began when Luc started Kindergarten in 2006.
I walked into the Parents Advisory Council meeting as a new parent and walked out as the school’s representative to West Van DPAC. That transition, in the space of an hour — maybe an hour and a half — reflects my belief in working for my community.
Since then, I’ve served continuously as a member of the PAC executive including two years as Chair and one year as Co-Chair.
One of my favourite projects has been the noon-hour Creative Writing Club which I started last year.
I’ve worked with the community of educators at the school and within the district as well as district staff and parents to expand the playground at Ecole Cedardale, purchase laptop computers, enhance the library’s collection, and much more.
I believe now’s the time to translate my experience from that of a parent-volunteer to making new contributions as a member of the Board of Education.
In that capacity, I’d like to make sure the programs we offer equip students with the critical thinking skills they need to cope with our ever-changing world.
I want to make sure students develop a strong sense of ownership for their own learning. Let’s make sure students learn to ask questions because they recognize the intrinsic value of learning for the pure pleasure of learning.
What about technology? How do we integrate technology use sensibly and equitably in our classrooms while taking into account parental concerns?
I’d like to talk about the arts in education and revitalizing board meetings, but two minutes pass by quickly, almost as quickly as my five years as an active parent-volunteer.
I’m ready to take the next step. Because I believe the foundation of our society depends on the education we provide our children. We need a universally accessible public education system if what we want to build is a socially just society.
My name is Reema Faris and I hope I can count on your support at the ballot box on November 19th.
I’m a big fan of questions. I’m sure that I could find a question to pose about almost any topic or situation, often to the annoyance of family members.
This ability to ask questions is what underpins our ability to be critical thinkers and critical thinking is being pinpointed, more and more, as an essential skill for students.
In political campaigns, questions are fundamental in the research we do to get to know our candidates in order to formulate our voting decision. Asking questions is key, I think, to a healthy democratic process. That’s why there’s such an outcry when we sense our ability to ask questions is being curtailed or when answers seem to be so scripted that they don’t sound sincere.
In my community, the West Vancouver Citizens for Good Government (WVCGG) is a group of citizen-voters which makes recommendations to the public on which candidates they feel would best-serve and represent the community in the role of municipal councillor or school trustee.
Their process is extensive: those candidates who opt to seek endorsement are interviewed by WVCGG executive members and the group also hosts a public All Candidates Meeting (ACM). A general meeting is held a week after the ACM where, after speeches from candidates, the WVCGG executive presents their endorsement recommendations. The members then cast their votes on which candidates they feel the organization should endorse.
At the October 27 endorsement meeting, I was very gratified when the WVCGG’s members voted to endorse my candidacy.
In my interview with the WVCGG executive, there were 12 questioners representing a broad cross-section of West Vancouver residents. Each question was posed by a different panelist, and the questions were spot on — they addressed some of the general issues in education as well as those which pertained only to West Vancouver.
It was a job interview with appropriately targeted questions. In contrast to the WVCGG’s job interview, The Vancouver Sun (the Sun), as part of their municipal candidates’ survey, asked a number of questions which I found disconcerting.
The Sun’s online survey featured a series of drop-down menus. While this may be the most efficient way of collecting data, I found the questions posed regarding ethnic background, religion, and birth country unacceptable.
Candidates should be judged on the basis of the stance they take on issues — not on whether or not they were born in Canada, for example. I feel that if the Sun wanted to identify areas where the political representatives do not reflect in one way or another the residents of their communities (as an editor at the paper indicated to me), then they should assign their reporters to investigate the matter and to file their stories accordingly.
The other rebuttal I received when I raised my concerns was that the questions asked were similar to those asked on the census. To me, that’s entirely different: census information is private, presented in the aggregate, and collecting the information is an officially sanctioned government initiative.
The Sun, by profiling candidates in their database based on elements such as ethnicity, religion, and place of birth, creates the impression in voters’ minds that these are factors upon which candidates should be judged. I don’t believe that’s true. If a voter, for example, were concerned about the religious bias of a candidate and how that might influence their action on an issue, the best way to ascertain that is by asking the candidate a question. We cannot assume that having candidates merely identify themselves as a member of a particular religion will tell us what their position or view is on a topic.
A candidate’s merit rests on their opinions, their experience, and their vision, not on the designation with which they may be labelled.
I urge all voters to take advantage of opportunities to meet their local candidates and to use the electronic tools at our disposal to make contact with them. Ask questions, but make sure they are the type of questions which will be of the most value to you in making your decision on election day.