“For a lot of people, they don’t understand where their services come from,” says Labrador City Mayor Karen Oldford. “Municipal Awareness Day is a great time to learn about it, to give back, to be involved, to understand and to help move your community forward to the future.” 

Municipal Awareness Day (May 10th, 2017) is a cross-provincial event hosted by Municipalities NL where local leaders and municipal administrators connect with residents, providing them with information about the work local governments do, and encouraging people to become actively engaged in municipal issues.

“Every community schedules their own events,” says Oldford. “What’s done in St John’s may be completely different from what’s done in Lab City or other communities.”

“People trying to get an understanding of the importance of having good democracy, and getting involved to improve their province … that’s what I’d like to see happen,” says Oldford.

“Some people see the negative side of things and they think, ‘Why would I put myself there?’” says Oldford. Oldford herself made the leap from private citizen and professional nurse in 2009 when she was elected Deputy Mayor of Labrador City, taking on the role of Mayor in 2011. Since then, she was elected President of Municipalities NL in November 2015.

Municipalities NL also uses Municipal Awareness Day as a platform to attract the next generation of municipal leaders in the community.Looking at the demographics of who’s involved in provincial politics, Oldford says that the trend isn’t surprising. “Predominantly, it’s still men, and men that have been involved for many, many years.”

A more troubling trend isn’t that the candidates are skewing older and less gender balanced — it’s that there are fewer candidates and fewer choices overall.

“A lot of our communities have not been even needing to have elections,” says Oldford, noting that 45% of elections four years ago were won by acclamation. “That’s almost half. Just enough people to cover their seats. That’s why we want to promote: to help residents make their mark.”

“We’d like to see a broader cross-section: women, youth, those with experience and non-experienced people,” says Oldford.

To help, Municipalities NL has partnered with the Harris Centre, Memorial University’s hub for public policy and regional development issues, to better ground their initiatives in best practices and sustainability.

The partnership includes initiatives like the Population Project, where the Harris Centre has explored the implications of the demographic changes projected for the next 20 years, information that Municipalities NL is hoping will allow them to plan. They’ve also partnered with EqualVoice, the national, multi-partisan organization dedicated to electing more women to all levels of political office in Canada.

“Knowledge is power, that’s one of the biggest things for us.”

To learn more about Municipal Awareness Day in your community, visit municipalnl.ca/engagement/municipal-awareness-day