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When the camera is on

Anyone else think that a reality TV show about municipal politics is way out there?

For one thing — as any self-respecting journalist will tell you — municipal politics is often a bit like watching bitumen form — long and slow. In deference to anyone who sits on a municipal council, no offence.

So much in municipal politics is pedestrian — things like sewer lines, potholes, weed control, snow removal, parking infractions, barking dogs, cats on the loose and how well your mayor does Gangnam style dance.

OK, maybe not the last one.

The point is, municipal government is not usually a place for a carefully edited hotbed of “unscripted” sin, sex, scandal and confrontation. Unless of course you live in Toronto.

The idea that Lacombe or Penhold might become the live set for a reality TV show about municipal government has some local politicians a little bent. Perhaps rightly so.

Anybody who owns a television today knows that when the camera is on, normal people who have never set foot on a stage in their lives and who could never say or do certain things in their real, real lives, are suddenly hamming it up and backstabbing under the lights.

It’s entertaining at best. At worst, it brings out the not-so-nice side of people, in part because usually at the end there’s some financial prize that they are driven to capture.

Reality TV has become the norm in television programming ever since Survivor and Big Brother took to the airwaves. Thank goodness for HBO and Hockey Night In Canada. Oh wait, scratch the latter.

Tonight at Penhold’s Regional Multiplex, the Vancouver production company Force Four Entertainment will gauge interest in a reality TV show about residents getting the opportunity to manage municipal services for themselves.

Town or city council is forever foolishly wasting taxpayers’ money on things like roads and traffic lights and transit and firefighters and cops. So here, you’re so smart, you run things. You get the idea.

Then again on Wednesday evening, a similar public meeting will be held Lacombe’s Memorial Centre. Both meetings are at 7 p.m.

“We’re looking for adventurous communities and 20 to 25 adventurous families who are up to this challenge,” Four Force told the Advocate last month.

Among other shows, Force Four has produced The Bachelor Canada, Village on a Diet, Family Cook Off and Million Dollar Neighborhood.

The taxpayer TV series has yet to be named. There are other contenders besides Penhold and Lacombe.

The producers want participants to walk away feeling better for participating, don’t intend to make people look bad, and say the show is about taxes in general.

Unfortunately, those most interested in participating would be starting at a point where they are already upset with their local council. One wonders if in these smaller communities, whether hard feelings might linger longer when you are more likely to run into your critics.

Penhold and Lacombe made the audition list because both communities have seen some residents complain about their taxes, creating pockets of controversy.

Such is the joy of a democracy, where people do get to bitch and complain about how their municipal councillors spend money.

The fact is, it’s the municipal level of taxes and politics that actually offers people the best chance to influence local decisions and get involved.

Too bad more people didn’t get more involved and get themselves to the polling stations. But that’s not nearly as much “fun” as reality TV.

Mary-Ann Barr is the Advocate’s assistant city editor. She can be reached by phone at 403-314-4332 or by email at



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