Pique N' Your Interest 

People, you have the power

When I was 11, I wrote a letter to several politicians in the Australian government asking them to change the "dole" program.

The dole was first implemented in the 1970s by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam who subsequently became the only Australian PM to be "fired" by the Governor General.

Essentially, the dole is employment insurance, and it’s a good idea, but when Whitlam created it there were very few checks or balances and therefore the whole thing became a huge issue.

When I sent my letters I waited for about two months and had no reply.

Obviously several politicians, and their staff, had written me off as some geeky little punk who had become a mouthpiece for his parents.

On the contrary, I had watched my parents’ struggle with their electrical business and was particularly annoyed at the fact that they could not find any useful – young – tradesmen or labourers to work for them.

They couldn’t find these types of young people because many of them were out surfing, being "dole bludgers".

Finally, one letter arrived from the government and I was informed to keep motivated and assured that people were working on it.

Years later I was pleasantly surprised to find that the only politician who bothered to get back to me was indeed "working on it." This person was only a lowly opposition backbencher at the time but now he is Prime Minister John Howard who was just re-elected, by a record margin, to a third term as PM.

Throughout Howard’s first and second terms the dole program was reformed so people who wanted to be on it long-term had to work for it.

And what do you know! A lot of people came off the dole and others starting calling radio stations saying things like "it feels good to work again."

When you’re 11 it’s just cool when people acknowledge you exist. I had no idea at the time that I was also exercising my "civic duty" as a citizen and teaching myself an important lesson.

This notion of "civic duty" could not be more relevant now in the Sea to Sky corridor. Thankfully, hundreds of other people in this area seem to understand this concept, because they’ve been coming out in droves.

It’s been happening in Squamish over gondolas and amenities and in Pemberton about… just about everything.

The key now is to keep it going because you are all making a huge difference.

And don’t be fooled, despite the hullabaloo, politician’s love it when the locals come out and tell them what they really want. It gives them a chance to look smart in front of the people who matter.

Why else would anyone be a politician in this area?

The pay’s terrible, there’s too much to do, there are reporters crawling all over the place, people move out before they can make a difference and it’s too expensive. So it has to be about the audiences and the photo opportunities.

Pemberton Councillor Mark Blundell said it best at the last council meeting after one of his longer replies. He said, "We seem to know the press better than we do our own constituents so please keep coming – we love to hear from you."

Since the public came out in a rather rowdy Pemberton council meeting a month ago the results have been quite remarkable.

In the space of two weeks, the Pemberton council set dates for all kinds of meetings and brought forward a heap of initiatives and even found time to blast the Whistler council for not talking to them about their airport.

In other words, they have acted decisively because the community told them how and when they wanted things to change.

Keep in mind how difficult it must be to have a clear impression of what the public wants when you’re a local politician who spends most of your time talking politics with other local politicians.

That’s why it’s so important for politicians, at every level, to maintain a strong connection with "Joe public" (and they do that, locally, through the letters sections of Pique Newsmagazine). But when Joe public is always "too busy" to worry about writing letters or showing up to meetings, the politicians’ jobs become much harder.

So the next time you want something changed or fixed or if you have something helpful to say, get the point clear in your head and make a point to tell the polly’s about it.

And if they don’t listen, feel free to tell me about it.

(Look up the Pemberton council’s details at www.pemberton.ca . Whistler council is at www.whistler.ca . The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District is at www.slrd.bc.ca while the Squamish council can be contacted via www.squamish.ca.)


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