Opinion: Encourage participation in council decisions or be humiliated

by Ed Cowley, freelancer

If I know so much about running town council, why wasn’t I elected?

I came relatively close. If I had received the votes of just 23% more of the electors than I got, I would have surpassed Simon Boersma, the man who is now Mayor of Morinville.

It was even closer for councillor. If I had received the vote of just 16% more of the electors than I got, I would have surpassed Rebecca Balanko for the sixth councillor position.

There are several possible reasons I failed to win a seat on council:

  1. I don’t pander to power.
  2. I speak up when I think something is wrong, regardless of who may be offended.
  3. I prefer to associate with working people rather than power brokers.
  4. I have no patience for bureaucratic delays, fees, or bafflegab.
  5. However, there is probably one overriding cause of my failure to gain a Morinville council seat. I did not run for council.

Triple the number of voters actually supported ‘what’s-the-point’ rather than the Mayor-elect, and it was no better for councillor candidates in the Oct. 18, 2021 general election. The voter participation figures are embarrassing for democracy and humiliating for all candidates—both those elected and the also-rans.

It has been almost a year since the general municipal election, and what has the town done to make sure that never happens again? Nothing.

In fact, council is continuing down the same path that caused polling stations to be ignored a year ago. Consider the following.

Are electors informed of major issues that will be on an upcoming council meeting agenda prior to the meeting? No.

Any experienced politician plants themselves near the entrance to a forum to welcome the public in, then takes up the post after the meeting to thank them for attending. Are electors welcomed at the door into a council meeting by the Mayor or a councillor? No.

Are council meetings held at a time conducive to the general public attending? No. A four o’clock start means school children are arriving home and meal preparation is underway, while 9 to 5 workers are not even off the clock yet. Even if a member of the public makes it to the meeting, after a couple hours council takes a half-hour meal break. The meeting timeline virtually guarantees the public gallery is empty.

Does council discuss issues in public or provide a reasonable explanation for going into closed session? No. In fact, the agenda is prepared with topics already listed for closed session, citing generic bureaucratic sections from legislation that could justify virtually any issue being taken into closed session. Starting now, all agenda items should be listed on the council meeting public session agenda. If council or administration feel they need to go into closed session for an item, it is up to the person advocating that action to justify it during open session and to the satisfaction of the majority of council. The public would know not only a real reason for going into closed session but exactly which member of council or administration is pushing to have which issue taken out of the view of the public. Public business should be done in public, so electors are aware and engaged in the governance process.

Is council working to correct policies of previous councils that hide the town’s financial activities from the public? No. Not a single member of council or administration has advocated bringing the policies regarding town reserve accounts to the table for revision. Clauses remain in force which results in funds being drained from the town’s consolidated operations into a variety of reserve accounts at year-end without requiring a council resolution or even a report detailing the transfers. The dollar goals for the reserve accounts also guarantee that even if millions of dollars were achieved in a consolidated operations surplus during any year, all those would disappear, and the audit would continue to show a tax-supported services deficit for the calendar year.

This is just a listing of some of the simple things that should have been corrected in the first year of the current council term but haven’t even been considered.

Did you know that in 2021 pro-democracy supporters were banned from the election race, some were put in jail, and others fled the country during the Hong Kong election as China clamped down by manipulating Hong Kong’s election process? This resulted in a boycott by the anti-Chinese sector, and only 30.2% of Hong Kong electors participated. In Morinville, where no one was jailed to prevent them campaigning, no one was banned from the election race, and no one had to skip town to avoid dire consequences, the town managed to have a voter participation only 4% higher than Hong Kong. Was the absence of electors at the Morinville polls an undeclared boycott intended to wake town leaders up to the need to start doing public business in public? [To engage electors in participatory democracy].

When is the last time town council invited a Social Studies class to observe local government in action [even if that means holding a council meeting during the day at the school]? How about the same offer to the Rendez Vous Club or the Lions or Legion? Simply advertising a change of venue will attract the attention of some residents, and all should be welcome to attend the public meeting, whether in the town council chambers or the Legion.

Also, get rid of the live streaming of the meetings. Most councillors don’t want to look silly, so are hesitant to ask questions that need to be asked or propose resolutions that have substance but lack having the formal wording. Others want to be great orators and get lots of face time on camera. Live streaming is a cost, an impediment to good governance and a needless distraction. Welcome people to attend the meeting. Even town employees who depend upon the governance and management for secure employment won’t watch the live streaming.

Get rid of the online survey tool—residents elect councillors, and anything that is placed between the electors and access to the council has a negative impact. If you want to know how residents feel about something, ask them. Don’t put a convoluted series of questions online.

Inertia can feel wonderful for council as they coast down the path of the previous regime and closed-door meetings are a sanctuary against pressures from electors and reality; but don’t you think as town legislators and managers you should stand up and start doing something to encourage participatory democracy. The town has a half-million dollar communications budget, so money is not in short supply to take action. Don’t wait until Jan. 1, 2025, to start encouraging voter participation, or the October 2025 election turnout will again be humiliating.


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  1. Live streaming is how some of us who work long hours follow the items of interest that come up in meetings we otherwise could not attend. I don’t watch every meeting, but I have watched meetings on more than one occasion.

    I’d prefer it if that aspect was left in place.

  2. I agree with most of the comments here. It’s like a private club rather than a public forum.

  3. Remember when the press AND public were offered an opportunity to ask questions at the end of council meetings?……….no! Really!!

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