The Saanich Civic League held a meeting tonight in downtown Victoria at the Grand Pacific in the ballroom (first time I was in that room for an event that was not a federal Conservative event). It was billed as From Paralysis to Action: Engaging our neighbours in a new kind of politics.
About 240 people arrived to hear about civic engagement at the local level. I had hoped for something new and interesting, but alas it was not to be. There are also no shortage of locations in Saanich that could have hosted the meeting, the choice of the location makes a silent plea for civic amalgamation.
The crowd was old - I am guessing an average age of 55, I was young for that crowd. The crowd was very white bread middle class. It also looked significantly left of centre. What worried me the most was that about 1/3 of the crowd were people I recognized. I was not worried that I recognized so many Victoria lefties, but there is something wrong if the people that show up at this sort of an event are the set of people I could have predicted would show up. There was a serious absence of much new blood.
On the bright side, I managed to catch up with a number of people I have not seen for awhile.
The claim was that the event was non partisan, but the big Victoria Labour Council sign at the back of the room and the word progressive on the literature certainly set the tone as one from the bland and boring pointless NDP left in BC. The aging boomers with beards were also a dead give away.
The evening started with Will Horter of the Dogwood Initiative speaking. Why him, I have no idea. Certainly his talk had no real connection to civic engagement, it was a partisan diatribe about the world ending due to global warming and that locals need to band together to do something and that the current councilors in Saanich (I assume they were the ones he meant) were all old politics and thinking in the past. He added nothing to the evening and only distracted from the reason I went.
I was interested to hear about the story of th e Guelph Civic League. Annie O'Donoghue gave a good talk about the work her group had done in Guelph. Even though they were somewhat leftish in tenor, the Guelph group did a good job of being non-partisan and engaging with the people of Guelph and figuring out what their core values were and then using those values as a way to measure the council and the candidates for office. They had a lot of success, the council in Guelph is one that mainly fits closely with their values.
Meanwhile there has been a Saanich Civic League created. It is not the same creature as the Guelph one, they are not non partisan. Their process also seems flawed. They are surveying people about a narrow set of motherhood statements as their equivalent to set of values. They did not start with a blank slate and let the public define the values.
Horse before cart comes to mind.
I read through the list of values - there is no one who is on the current Saanich council that would not pass with flying colours, but that is not the agenda here.
The SCL is not a spontaneous grassroots movement, but something nurtured through a grant from the Columbia Institute and financial support of the Victoria Labour Council. Not there is anything wrong with getting this money, but all money comes with strings.
Let me be cynical for the moment, I think the Saanich Civic League is a back door effort by some New Democrats to create a municipal slate NDP slate. It reminds me of the crypto NDP group, the Conservation Voters of BC. Their patina of being anything other than a NDP support group was and is laughable.
The Saanich Civic League is going nowhere unless it takes ten steps back and starts at the beginning. Ask the people who hate politics and do not vote what the values are that matter to them in their neighbourhood - remember that Saanich is not a community but a collection of suburban neighbourhoods. Ignore all activists, politicians and special interest people. Maybe the people of Saanich who do not vote have some real ideas about their community.
The SCL also needs to get political balance or it needs to get rid of all of the NDP connected people. Being non partisan means being welcome and open to the people you dislike and going out of your way to give them a voice. Being non partisan means soliciting your opponents to work with you.