Kingston failing as municipal democracy, data says

A new study ranking the Democratic Health of Ontario's largest 32 municipalities asserts that Kingston, and in fact all 32 cities listed, come up short. 

The study was a collaboration between the Armstrong Strategy Group and Unlock Democracy Canada.

Kingston was placed 20th among the cities listed on the inaugural 2021 Municipal Democracy Index, sandwiched in between Mississauga and Milton.

The ranking is based on four data sets: voter turnout, gender balance on council, racial diversity and an original measure of User Design Experience. 

Only one municipality, Thunder Bay, experienced a voter turnout rate of over 50%, and only three communities were found to have more women on the local council than men, compared to eight made up of more than 80% male councillors.

When shooting for a ratio of 1:1 as far as BIPOC representatives to population, almost every community-including Kingston- fell short

The fourth original criteria looks at ten different measures that the study says can impact the overall accessibility of residents actively participating in democracy. 

Dave Meslin, Senior Associate of Democratic Innovation at the Armstrong Strategy Group, says many municipalities tend to practice what he calls "intentional exclusion" by not making an effort to make local politics and decision making easy to understand and engage with. 

"It makes it an insider's game because then just the lobbyists and the insiders and the politicians know what's going on and no one else- even if they try to get involved they won't understand it," Meslin said. 

"If you're not trying to make the system comfortable then you're actually intentionally excluding people." 

The study plainly breaks down how the fourth category was scored for each city, and the first three are publicly available data. 

Though the study pointed towards a number of municipalities who have integrated positive practices and specifically commended Peterborough as the top democratic municipality, Meslin said to make no mistake that every single city involved failed. 

He says he hopes this data highlights to cities where they can make the most improvements. 

"Part of this is playful, everyone likes contests, everyone likes ranking things but really you can't address a problem and fix it until you've got some data to work with," Meslin said. 

"The first step if we want to talk about making democracy work better is having those metrics, having those numbers. But really that's just a starting point, we're hoping municipalities will now take a look at ways that they can improve their scores." 

Story by Owen Fullerton, YGK News, for the Local Journalism Initiative

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  • Dinah Jansen
    published this page in News 2021-10-13 18:15:26 -0400