If you’re off the web, you’re off the map

Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”

Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”

In less than a month, we have the privilege of electing thoughtful, committed citizens to Red Deer’s city council, school boards and mayor’s chair.

Are you up to the challenge? Do you feel overwhelmed and under-informed by the plethora of election signs dotting the local landscape? If so, you’re not alone.

In a recent letter to the editor, Eric McCabe echoed the sentiments I’ve heard a lot recently: “… for most individuals, doing the research necessary to be an informed citizen is an undertaking that even those with the time and interest would find challenging.”

While nothing can replace insight gained by personal study and contact with the candidates, for those of you who feel as Eric does, I offer an alternative to not voting.

Over the next few weeks, I will be researching and reporting on the various platforms, websites and blogspots of the 18 candidates vying for what may just become a hotly-contested race for eight council seats and the mayor’s chair.

I’ll attend the forums, read brochures, submit a detailed questionnaire for each candidate’s reply, and will generally attempt to highlight strengths, dole out kudos, and raise concerns as objectively and fairly as I can.

What you do on election day with my impressions is entirely up to you.

Some of you may have expected to see my name on the list of council candidates for this election. I was fairly certain myself that I would run again this time, with my youngest now in Grade 1.

In the end, I felt a stronger tug to home and the five children Doug and I are raising, with all their sports, activities, and the ever-shrinking window we have to enjoy them under foot.

There will always be another election.

So for now, we begin with huge kudos to Hilary Penko for her initiative and courage in taking on incumbent Mayor Morris Flewwelling, whose record of public service in this community is long and distinguished. As an unknown, she has her work cut out, but her very presence now gives voters at least an option.

Time will tell if she can mount a substantive campaign, but she’ll certainly open up the debate — always good for democracy.

The best place to find hoards of information on everything related to candidates and the election is on the Red Deer Public Library’s website: www.electionforum.ca.

It’s super easy, user-friendly and an absolute well-spring of insight into candidates’ backgrounds, platforms and visions for the future of our community. It also provides links to other election discussions and forums, in Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, for example.

Of the 16 council and two mayoral candidates running, all but four have placed content under the “Candidates” heading on the library’s site. Matt Chapin, incumbent Lynne Mulder, Clarence Torgersen, and newly-announced Hilary Penko have yet to add material for our review.

Under the “Forums” heading of the site, there are currently 15 separate election questions for the candidates to respond to, ranging from rising taxes and debt to citizen engagement, from snow removal to environmental sustainability, from active transportation to downtown redevelopment. Anyone can add their own issues or questions for the candidates to reply to.

At time of writing, a paltry six of the 18 candidates have posted comments on this important community forum: Jeffrey Dawson, Paul Harris, incumbent Cindy Jefferies, Chris Stephan, Dianne Wyntjes and Calvin Yzerman. Dawson replied to 13 of the 15 issues, Stephan and Yzerman to nine, Jefferies to four and Harris and Wyntjes to three.

These numbers to me are significant. The only contact many voters have with the candidates throughout the entire campaign — apart from brochures that typically come to our mailboxes and, of course, substance-bereft signage — is the Internet.

One would think that any serious candidate would deem it a virtual responsibility to participate in a site as important and influential as the library’s Election Forum 2010. Dawson, Stephan and Yzerman are serious about their campaigns.

Speaking of the Internet, eight of the 18 candidates have yet to create a personal election website. That’s just a no-brainer. If you’re a candidate and you haven’t got one, perhaps you should consider getting on that. Even among the sites up and running, some are better than others.

Beware of smooth sound bites and vague platitudes that please the ear more than the intellect. There’s enough of that being served up. Look for specific, thoughtful answers to real issues.

There’s still plenty of election trail remaining for candidates to show us their best; in fact, the race is just now warming up.

Thus far, however, the most substantive, informative and worthwhile websites are, in my opinion: Jason Chilibeck, Dawson, Harris, Jefferies and Stephan.

Chilibeck and Stephan in particular are definitely worth a look. Both are bright, accomplished, family-oriented up-and-comers who bring significant education, experience and practical skills to the table.

Vesna Higham is a former Red Deer city councillor who holds a law degree.

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