I suppose this post is intended as much for the general public as it is for those involved in local government, though it certainly shows the value of what local government provides.
I was challenged to imagine a world without local government. Of course, this impact varies depending on the country, but since the vast majority of our readers are from Canada, I’ll stick to what local government offers in this country.
The peculiarity of the Canadian Constitution not recognizing that local government is a ‘thing’ beyond telling the provinces to “have at ‘er” means that the patchwork of what local government does across the country, and the forms it takes, differ quite considerably.
Ignoring the unique structures of local government from coast to coast to coast for the sake of this thought experiment, what would happen if there were no towns, no regional districts, no counties, no cities? What would stop? What would be missed?
There is a common adage of local government that notes that it’s the closest order of government to the people. So that would lead me to believe that the services that are closest to the people would be the ones most affected fastest if the local order of government was just to disappear tomorrow.
There would be nobody providing safe drinking water, nobody providing pools and arenas, nobody fixing potholes or even building streets in the first place. All of this would be missed, and it would not take long to realize that something significant had disappeared.
While the postal service and foreign policy are important, the gears that support those aspects of our lives grind much more slowly than the gears that keep our communities humming. There would be nobody to respond to the neighbourhood noisy dog or overgrown yard, nobody to put on programs for farmers who’ve been suffering the scourge of a virulent pest or disease, and nobody to cite noise violations. All of these are the here-and-now problems of everyday life that depend on the involvement of local governments.
Even the head of the municipal beast, the local council and its chief elected official would be absent. We could joke about that for a bit, but who else will stand up for the best interests of the local people? Elected officials in other orders of government are often beholden to a party line and a platform before they are accountable to the people who elected them. Not so with local government. The coffee-shop senate and online rant and rave groups would have to focus elsewhere if there was no local government to accuse of missing out on ‘common sense.’
There is a whole book here, a real thought experiment about the true operational and strategic value that local government provides and the benefits it brings to local people living local lives in communities all across this country.
What am I missing? What would be the program, service, facility or amenity that you would miss the most if local government ceased to exist tomorrow?
If you have any thoughts or questions on the information I’ve outlined here, please feel free to reach out by email at Ian@strategicsteps.ca.