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Are Municipal Elections Sexy Enough to Get Your Attention? Ignoring them could be a critical mistake.

Municipal government is the level of government that most impacts you, your children and your church on a daily basis. If current trends continue, that impact is increasing in measure.

Relationally, one might consider municipal government more like marriage than dating. If dating is a time of excitement, new introductions when one publicizes and promotes the relationship with its high highs and low lows – as can be the case with media coverage of provincial and federal politics – then municipal politics is more like marriage. Marriage is the quieter, consistent relationship that, although generally less publicly promoted, has the most direct day to day impact on the more personal aspects of one’s life.

Municipal government impacts your life day by day by day. Making plans for your dream home or its renovation? Municipal government. Street patterns, traffic lights, pothole repairs? Municipal government. Garbage collection, recycling, household hazardous waste? Municipal government. Which school should my children attend and how will they be instructed in the classroom? Municipal government (local school board).

Municipal elections – scheduled for Monday, October 25 in Ontario – take place regularly across the country; but voter turnout tends to be lower than in provincial and federal elections, quite possibly because people are simply not aware of some of the following important information about how municipal government (including school boards) affects life, family and practice of religion.

Few realize that municipal government also controls the location of schools, places of worship and what your church can look like.

The recent report, Zoned Out: Religious Freedom in the Municipality, points out that municipalities are increasingly making by-laws and regulations that impact:

  • The ability of churches to freely engage in ministering to the poor
  • The ability of new congregations to find space to worship
  • The ability of churches with buildings to renovate their space or build new church buildings
  • The municipal taxation status of places of worship.

And several municipalities are ignoring their responsibilities under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms while doing so.

Other municipal issues confronting church congregations include:

  • Restrictions on street preaching (that generally don't apply to other street messengers who share their message unrestricted)
  • Restrictions on getting permits to use public parks for church picnics and similar events.

While provincial governments draw much attention for the development of education policies, few realize that implementation of those policies is actually fleshed out at the level of the local school board. Curriculum and standards are developed provincially, but implementation takes place locally under the direction of the school board.

Classroom instruction, while conducted by a teacher, is under the supervision of the school board.

Implementation of accommodation policies (referred to as equity policies in some jurisdictions) is produced in guideline format by the province but implemented locally by the school board. These policies are largely determinative of whether or not parents’ religious views will be respected by principals and teachers and accommodated in the classroom.

Federal and provincial politics may get the public attention of the new girl or guy one might be dating. Municipal politicians – mayors, councilors and school board trustees – are the decision makers on day to day impacts. Unless you’re planning to move cities regularly you best get to know them, engage in the election process … and choose wisely.

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