City Elections? Who Cares?

By Tooker Gomberg, Edmonton, Alberta.

An article about elections published in Le Monde a Bicyclette, an ecological, velorutionary publication in Montreal.

Many people dream of the day when their city will turn green. But few realize that all it would take is a gallon of ink. If every Montrealer woke up on election day on November ??? (France – insert date!!!) and marked their ballot for those City Councillors who have an ecological conscience, a sustainable Montreal could quickly move from dream to reality.

Of course it takes more than magic to get a candidate elected. It takes educated, motivated, and inspired people to develop ideas, to organize, and to work together for electoral victory.

But it can happen. Take me for example. Inspired by Bicycle Bob and the creative activism I experienced with Le Monde a Bicyclette in the late 1970’s, I spent the next twenty years working for change in Montreal and Edmonton. Over the years I came to realize that solutions to ecological problems do exist, and that with creativity and goodwill we can greatly lessen the impact we have on the Earth.

With friends and non-profit organizations, I pushed local politicians for change. Rarely did they show any interest, so we got involved in municipal elections. The 1989 election was my first bid for a council seat. In 1992 I tried again, and was successful at getting elected to Edmonton City Council.

While on council I worked hard involving people in the decision making process. My office sent out newsletters and appeals, and organized information nights, town hall meetings, and media events. We succeeded in putting forward a vision of a sustainable city, and showed that more often than not, doing right by the Earth also helped the city’s financial bottom line.

My team and I planted many seeds. We put forward some compelling ideas: that kids should feel safe in their neighbourhoods; that traffic should be calmed when going through communities; that sprawl is not just ecologically damaging, but is expensive and creates social alienation; that the city has a role in providing land for community gardens, and space for collective kitchens where people can come together and share food.

During my three years on council I accomplished much more than I had in fifteen years of activism. On the other hand, success at City Hall enraged the guardians of the status quo. The corporate media often portrayed my character in a less than flattering manner, and in 1995 I was not re-elected.

Now in 1998 we’re running in another election, this time for mayor. I am calling for a program to renovate the city to help reduce energy costs, create meaningful employment, and meet our international commitments to reduce the dangers from climate change. Our economic platform is about keeping our money circulating locally by supporting local farmers and small business as a better strategy than wooing foreign corporations.

Our transportation priorities are focused on better urban design, and improving public transit, pedestrian and bicycle facilities – enough highways! After twenty years of working to educate and mobilize for sustainable cities, I’m now convinced that the process of change is mostly a cultural one. New ideas are first ignored, then scorned, and then embraced as obvious. The first step is to get the ideas out into the public arena for consideration. If we believe our ideas are good, why not raise them at public forums, in letters to the editor, in brasserie discussions, in election cabarets?

Find a candidate who shares your values and work on her/his campaign. Or maybe put your own name forward as a candidate? Learn the process. Knock on some doors and ask people what’s on their mind. Sharpen your pencil or power on the computer and write a letter to the editor. Spend a few hours a week engaging in politics for the health of your city. If Montreal can figure out how to get onto a green path, it will inspire other cities to follow.

Elections are a time when people consider possibilities. It IS possible to protect the earth, create meaningful employment, revive our neighbourhoods, and involve citizens in the decisions that affect their lives. And especially during elections people are yearning for an attractive picture of a sustainable, equitable city of the new millenium. Let’s get out the paintbrushes!

Tooker Gomberg grew up in Montreal and moved to Edmonton in 1982. From 1992-1995 he spent a term on Edmonton City Council. In 1997 he ran for parliament in the Outremont riding. He has now returned to Edmonton where he is running for Mayor in the upcoming elections on October 19.