BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Off to the polls

Timing of 2014 referendum should be considered to save costs and get more votes

Advocates for Greater Vernon’s cultural amenities are tired of sitting on the sidelines after years of political indifference.

That’s why the Vernon Public Art Gallery and Greater Vernon Museum are pushing for a referendum on new facilities in the spring instead of November 2014 when residents will also elect new mayors and councils.

“We felt cultural services, especially the two projects working together, deserve to be highlighted in their own merit and not clouded by the municipal election and issues associated with the election,” said Dauna Kennedy Grant, VPAG executive director.

“We felt it was really important that we got cultural services out there ahead of time so it can stand on its own, so we can educate people about the projects and have a fair shot at having a successful referendum.”

Obviously, municipal elections, and particularly campaigning for mayor, could overshadow attempts to convince voters that the benefits of an expanded gallery and museum outweigh additional taxes. It could also be a platform for some candidates, particularly those who classify themselves as fiscal watchdogs.

However, that wasn’t the situation in November 1999.

Not only did Greater Vernon residents elect new mayors, councillors and electoral directors then, they also enthusiastically endorsed borrowing funds for the Performing Arts Centre and Kal Tire Place.

If anything, there was considerable interest among the electorate because new faces were being swept into office after years of perceived stagnation and action was finally being taken on a long talked about arena and theatre.

Because people are heading out to vote during a civic election any how, it’s natural to assume there will be increased participation in the referendum and the outcome will be more reflective of the community’s wishes.

Stand-alone referendums, on the other hand, have notoriously poor turnouts.

Case in point is April’s sports complex referendum which only drew 18 per cent of eligible voters. Based on that, some people continue to question the validity of the project proceeding.

By holding off until November 2014, cultural boosters can capitalize on the excitement that revolves around civic elections. Candidates for mayor and council can be lobbied for support and forums provide a venue to generate broader public awareness. They will also have more time to convince residents that a new gallery and museum are critical to the community socially and economically. That extra time could pay off at the polls.

Another factor to consider is dollars and cents.

April’s stand-alone referendum on the sports complex cost $61,400, whereas there would be little overhead if held in conjunction with already scheduled elections.

At a time of fiscal challenges, any possibility of saving money should be considered.

In the end, though, the exact month of a referendum is irrelevant.

 

What is critically important is that Greater Vernon residents finally have their say on the future of culture, and 2014 is that time.