Courtenay – Comox :  Where Every Vote Counts

June 1, 2017 – The BC election finally has a winner – and it’s us, the electorate!  1,973,914 of us voted and we have elected 87 MLAs who will represent our hopes and expectations for good governance over the next four years and who will be expected to consider a wide range of issues moving forward – environmental, educational, health, electoral reform, civil discourse and collaboration– in a shifting BC.

The recent election demonstrates how our provincial political landscape is changing: a higher voter turnout, a voter preference shift to the centre (and some would argue a shift to the left), and more visible impact of provincial politics at national and international levels.

In the weeks since the election, I have found myself inspired by the initial 9 vote margin of victory in my riding and in contemplating how we got here, two thoughts came forward.  

In a democracy, every vote counts

Many of us grew up with the adage ‘every drop makes an ocean’: That when that single drop hits the ocean, not only does it count, it ripples outward, making waves – creating change.  

Just over 160,000 more people voted province wide in this election than in 2013; an increase of 5.4%.  In my riding they included new voters – I had the privilege of watching a young man and his mom at a polling station; he was voting for the first time. She was clearly proud and he was serious about the process he was participating in.  I talked to classmates who struggled with choosing between voting strategically or for the party they wanted to govern.  I had conversations with people who almost didn’t vote and in the end decided it was their responsibility even though they didn’t feel like their vote would matter. And then our riding had a vote so tight there had to be a recount!  

What made this election different? Perhaps a new phenomenon that began to evolve in our community this year.  Volunteer groups with deep commitment to community organized all candidate forums on specific issues – each of which demonstrated just how much our community members care about ensuring progress for the better:

  • our WATER is protected (the Comox Valley was under boil water advisory many days of this last winter and there are calls for us to figure out how to own our watershed),
  • our children have a good EDUCATION (the funding of education in our ridings has been a challenge to address the needs of the kids and as one grade nine student said  – the creativity has been ripped from her school)
  • and our fellow citizens have DECENT JOBS (many millennials with solid post secondary educations are working two and three part time jobs to make ends meet).  

Voters came out to each of these forums,  listened to speakers and asked thoughtful questions of candidates who responded in authentic and meaningful ways. It was democracy in action.

Our community is part of a bigger picture

Courtenay-Comox is one of 87 electoral ridings in BC,  one of 13 Canadian provinces and territories, and one of 193 United Nations member states to unanimously sign on the the Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

As a member of the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation I have been immersed in the Global Goals since before they were signed on to  in September 2015.  For the first time in history, the world agreed that ‘global goals’ should be just that – global; universal, worked on in every country leaving no one behind. My community, the community which tipped the scales in this election, is part of this bigger picture.

With the vote being so much closer than it was in 2013, I’ve been asking myself what’s changed. One of the factors is how our community has acted on its responsibility to contribute to these Goals. Our three issue specific forums focused on three of the Global Goals – Clean Water and Sanitation (Goal 6), Quality Education (Goal 4) and Decent Work and Economic Growth (Goal 8) . These forums were organized, funded and supported by community organizations committed to making a difference and thinking big.  

I had the honor to host the community forum on Decent Work and saw first hand just how integrated the Global Goals are.  Our panel members provided the candidates and the audience with four different perspectives on the issue of Decent Work for All and when the audience began to ask questions it was fascinating to see how the Global Goals offered an informative and helpful framework for candidate responses.  The discussion looked at  how jobs are impacted by education (Goal 4), how a government social procurement policy (Goal 16) might enhance local employment opportunities and support young families (Goal 11), and how applying new technologies (Goal 9) can offer a more sustainable power grid (Goal 7 and 11)  and offer 21st century work (Goal 8) to new graduates.  

The voting count in the Courtenay-Comox riding has now been finalized. Our community is clearly divided, with only 189 votes (0.6% of the voters) separating the NDP and Liberal candidates – and over 18% of the voters supporting the Green Party.  While the election results continue to evolve, what is left is that we are an electorate ready for change. There are critical issues which need new approaches and new solutions.  Perhaps the Global Goals offer an integrated frame of reference for holistic and sustainable ways forward.

Colleen Hanley sits on the Board or Directors of the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation (BCCIC) as well as the steering committee of the Comox Valley Global Awareness Network, a Chapter of the BCCIC network. She lives on the traditional territory of the K’omoks people in Courtenay, BC.


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