12 June 2010

The Calgary civic election and the corruption of democracy

With a civic election coming up in October, local developers and home builders in Calgary are preparing to campaign heavily for their agenda, which essentially means campaigning for growth and sprawl. The campaign, including a website to be launched this month, is supported by the Canadian Home Builders Association, Calgary region, and the Urban Development Institute Calgary. "With the mayor's seat and a number of wards up for grabs, it's time to engage and mobilize our industry," says Jay Westman, CEO of Jayman MasterBuilt.
Calgarians who believe in a sensibly-sized, compact city are highly disadvantaged in the debate, lacking the deep pockets of the development industry. City planners, who understand the financial and environmental costs of sprawling cities, are, because of their status as civil servants, banned from partisan participation in the political process. Developers, traditionally the biggest donors to municipal election campaigns, have their way open to elect aldermen amenable to their interests.
What particularly annoys democrats about this is that the money to fund the propaganda comes out of citizens' pockets. We all need a home, to rent or buy, so we all put our dollars into the hands of developers who then use it for whatever purposes they choose, including lobbying, public relations and electing amenable politicians. We are propagandized with our own money.

And paying for the propaganda isn't the end of it. Sprawling cities may be the developers' ideal, but they are costly cities. More sprawl means more roads, sewers, water lines, etc. to maintain. Citizens pay for this either with higher taxes or poorer services. The cost to the environment is also greater with more green space paved over and more pollution.

Democracy, to say nothing of sensible urban development, requires rules that confine the electoral process to citizens, and to citizens equally. That, after all, is what democracy is: political equality. When the plutocrats are allowed to intrude and undermine that equality with their money, democracy is corrupted to serve their interests. Voters do not get a balanced picture of the issues and the alternatives. But that, I'm afraid, is going to be the story of the 2010 Calgary civic election.

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