Getting Local and Getting Involved using Blogs and Social Media

One of the people at the debate last Tuesday was local Toronto Sun reporter and freelancer Rachel Sa, who is a neighbourhood resident. She found out about the debate and came along to cover it and wrote an excellent piece asking where the voters were in the elections in Toronto. She makes a good point and notes that most of the people that came to the debate knew more about the issues than many of the candidates on the stage. It was a decent sized crowd, but most were well educated on the issues, and probably the people who should have come are the people who need to know more.

One of the reasons people don’t get involved in local politics is they don’t know what’s going on. Karen Sun pointed out in our meeting and discussion, and on stage at the debate, that many of the people that she talked to in the neighbourhood knew that there was something going on with the moratorium on Ossington, but didn’t exactly know what. And, I’d have to admit that I’m still not sure I fully understand how the laws work, because it was my understanding – which was obviously wrong – that the moratorium ended but the new laws they passed back in the spring are now in effect. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case, as Salt Wine Bar fights to find a way to open their already complete and fully ready restaurant.

In the Toronto Sun, Rachel writes for the broader audience, not specifically about the particular issues in the riding, because in the end, most Sun readers don’t care what goes on in Ward 19 – and rightly so on both her and the paper’s part.  She writes about the lack of turnout, which is prevalent no matter which ward you live in in Toronto. Most areas in the city have incumbent councilors which make it even harder to get voters out, because it’s very difficult in City of Toronto voting rules to unseat an incumbent, so most residents just don’t bother to try.

In January of this year I got an email from a local business owner who had received an email from Joe Pantalone telling him about his great work “that will greatly enhance the neighbourhood.  At the Toronto East York Community Council on January 12, 2010, a recommendation was presented to remove the pedestrian crossing at Ossington Ave & Argyle St in order to install traffic control signals at this intersection and I fully expect it to be passed at City Council on January 26, 2010.” This was clearly Joe targeting his marketing for his own purposes. In this case it didn’t work because in fact this business owner didn’t agree with Joe on this, and sent him a strong note back pointing this out. We didn’t get a copy of this note, and Joe’s office definitely knows we write about the neighbourhood. He didn’t want local commentary.

But where was the local involvement? Where was the consultation? And where was the news that this was going on? All these get no press because there is no press to cover it, or at least that’s what we’re led to believe. How do locals find out what’s going on in their community? There are a few scattered old-media print publications we do receive now and then at our doorstep, including the Gleaner, although most things that come on newsprint on our doorstep are full of ads and they end up where the Yellow Pages goes – in the blue bin.

That’s where we come in, and people like us – and there are other folks like us. Maybe not many, and maybe some don’t do quite the job we do, but they are out there. And with very little work and almost no money (this blog costs us ~$50 a year in hosting costs, and we enjoy walking the area and writing) democracy can take hold. We leave our comments open and let people put in their 2¢, as long as it’s inclusive and respectful. We also have a Facebook page where people can place their comments, and let us and other people in the neighbourhood know what’s going on.

The new candidate for Ward 19 should make it a priority to set up and importantly to promote an online place, whether it be a Facebook page, or some other platform where people can find out what’s going on in their area – whether as local as the street, or the Ward. We can’t leave it up to the Toronto Star or the Sun (and face it, local flyers don’t work any more), because those papers aren’t going to cover the issues in this area the same way a local blogger or platform can get people involved.

If people in the neighbourhood know what’s going on, whether it’s a new stoplight, a new zoning restriction, speedbumps, or even are aware that there are complaints about local businesses, maybe they will get involved and take more action locally. Perhaps the local businesses will react quicker to meet the demands of their neighbours (and potential customers) rather than receiving a citation from city hall. But most importantly, citizens will get involved and vote.

So get involved locally. Know your candidates and the issues – we’ve posted all the links of the sites on the sidebar of the blog until elections day. Vote on election day! and if there’s something going on in the Ossington area that you like or don’t like, comment on the blog, write to us and let us know, or start your own blog and start making changes in the area. This is what democracy is, and it’s enabled by technology.

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