Wednesday, 14 September 2011

GOVERNMENT CLOSEST TO THE PEOPLE

The idea that "the government closest to the people is the one that governs best" has long been a staple of conservative Republicans in the U.S. It was a favorite notion of Barry Goldwater and more recently of Rick Perry.

Government closes to the people is presumably municipal government.

So far as the average person is concerned the exact opposite may be true. Municipal government is probably the most intrusive level of government. It is municipal government which rolls out much of the red tape that ties up the lives of ordinary people –– particularly those people who are unskilled at cutting their way through bureaucratic regulation.

In British Columbia the Liberals gave municipal government a virtual carte blanche with the Community Charter. At one time municipal government was limited in its power because it was a level of government of limited jurisdiction –– it only had the powers specifically given to it by the provincial government. Over the years the province gave municipalities more and more powers until the Community Charter when it said (almost) that you can do everything we can do. It is now very difficult to challenge by-laws on the basis that they exceed municipal powers. We can see the egregious outcome of this with a City of Mission by-law which allows by-law enforcement officers to storm troop people’s dwellings and impose huge fines (ostensibly for electrical violations) even in the absence of the intended target, grow-ups. Right up there with Mission is Lantzville where growing edible vegetables (a small quantity of which are sold at a market) instead of lawn is considered a crime worthy of expensive enforcement activity.

One of the big problems with this government closest to the people is that at election time it is ignored by two-thirds of the people. An inevitable result is that the calibre of politicians elected at the municipal level is often far below that at the provincial or federal level. Combine the low calibre of elected officials with the overpowering presence of the municipal bureaucracy and you get what you get; government which unnecessarily intrudes on individuals and which makes huge capital spending decisions which have never been vetted at election time and which is anything but responsive.

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