Technology has improved vastly since I was first elected 11 years ago yet it still feels archaic in the way our residents are expected to engage with their local government. We have not seen as a community improvements to engagement, we have seen instead a regression.
I imagined a future where, in addition to our current open houses, public hearings and live video streaming, there was a digital democracy where one can log in securely to give their voice on decisions of council. It would be a secure, accurate and a reliable tool for Township councils to have at their fingertips, giving an honest portrayal of the opinions of its citizens.
I believe there is a disconnect between citizens and governments. I believe the public feels disconnected from the process and from local government itself and many have even less faith than ever in democracy. We can and must change this and better connect and engage the public with our local government. During my time on council I began the work of enhancing citizen engagement but there is still much work left to do. In fact sadly, in my opinion we have seen changes over the last four years that have actually taken engagement backwards. I worked to see the creation of an online budget simulator allowing residents to not only understand the budget process better but it allowed a way of interacting with the budgeting decisions which council is tasked with and to see the impacts of their funding decisions. I was also a strong advocate for enhancements to the way council documents were available to the public and enhancements to how we live web streamed meetings and how past meetings were accessible for the general public and I was happy to see the beginning of some improvements. This is in my opinion one area that has greatly diminished over the last four years. Agendas and council documents have once again gone back to being incredibly cumbersome to access and view. Past meeting videos are no longer set up in a way which allows you to easily skip to the intended item you wish to view on the agenda and you can no longer view the agenda and council package alongside the meeting video. Council documents are now downloaded as one large PDF and often crash as you try to view items. These are just some examples of obstacles which are inplace that discourage engagement. Technology has improved vastly since I was first elected 11 years ago yet it still feels archaic in the way our residents are expected to engage with their local government. We have not seen as a community improvements to engagement, we have seen instead a regression. During my first election, I spoke to a future that would allow us to effectively and efficiently engage each and every citizen, allowing them to share their voice and opinion in an online format. I imagined a future where, in addition to our current open houses, public hearings and live video streaming, there was a digital democracy where one can log in securely to give their voice on decisions of council. It would be a secure, accurate and reliable tool for Township council to have at their fingertips, giving an honest portrayal of the opinions of its citizens. Other examples of this online engagement is an interactive live question period at the end of each council meeting, where viewers who are watching the live video stream, could pose questions to a moderator, to have answered by council members. This would give the public an opportunity to be engaged in the process. The technology and ability to do all of the ideas listed above was available within the new system we adopted during my second term on council. The company Granicus is one of the world’s leading online community engagement platforms, with over 900+ organizations across the globe. The ToL unfortunately only utilized some of the engagement options. The settings were literally turned off on the options that were available for instant online feedback from the public on agenda items, public hearing items and more. We also instead of utilizing the full engagement platform created a type of hybrid system with our old ToL built system resulting in a frustrating mix of old and new and leaving many to feel that the Granicus system was in fact underwhelming. The result we see now is in my opinion an even bigger step backwards and not only encourages less engagement but leaves you feeling like true civic engagement with our local government is something that is actually being discouraged. The Crossing Boundaries Municipal Caucus was formed as a forum for Canadian Municipal leaders to explore the opportunities E Government brings for Municipalities. The results from that forum were prepared into a paper- E Government: The Municipal Experience. In this paper the three levels of E Government were discussed, from level One- Posting static information on a website, Two- transactional services, like applying for permits or homeowners grants, to the Third and highest level called Online Communities. This involves the interactive relationship between citizen and government, ultimately a dialogue. This is the way of the future. The forum points out the importance of having a political champion, one who had taken up the cause, while also having the political support of their councillors. It is my goal as your Langley Township Mayor to be that champion and to work to see E democracy and the future of this online interaction truly and authentically beginning in the Langley Township. It is no longer enough for governments to have a one way dialogue with their residents, it must be a conversation and the technology that’s available today allows us more than ever to fully engage with our residents right from the comfort of their home. Fulsome authentic engagement with our residents is and always will be an issue I am passionate about and I hope to be given the opportunity to bring that passion to the mayor's seat.