As you know, the municipal general election on November 19, 2011 is closing in and it's time for me to also close this blog site, given that I am not running again in North Saanich. I have already sent a farewell message to the community via the District Newsletter, which should be available to households shortly. But for my faithful blog readers and visitors, I wanted to post something here.

Thank you for your support during the past 6 years and to those of you who have followed this blog for the past 4 years. It has been a privilege to serve North Saanich as a Councilor and a wonderful opportunity for me to stay connected with you and the community through this website.

North Saanich is a uniquely beautiful place, one that will always have special meaning for me and my family. Please continue to protect it because, as a North Saanich resident once said to me years ago, "North Saanich is always just one election away from disaster."

I wish you and yours all the very best for the future and thank you again for your support and encouragement.



North Saanich won another UBCM Community Excellence Award for its Whole Agricultural Strategy, awarded at this week's Convention in Vancouver. This marks the second award in two years recognizing the municipality's leadership on new and innovative initiatives. Mayor Alice Finall, Councilor Cairine Green and CAO Rob Buchan were on hand to proudly accept this year's award, one that recognizes communities from across the Province. North Saanich won its last Community Excellence Award for its Jump Bike Park, presented at the 2009 UBCM Convention.

Reaching the Right People at the Right Time

I joined other Council members and senior staff in a communications workshop arranged by our Chief Administrative Officer Rob Buchan and Mayor Alice Finall. The impetus for this workshop was the need to coordinate communication to the public from Mayor and Council and the municipality on all major projects and events in which the District is involved. Improving communication with residents and the community has been a priority for this Council and municipal administration, particularly in the past three years.

We learned that key to good communication is the ability to "reach the right people at the right time" and that good communication should be:
  • strategic
  • consistent
  • timely
  • build on strengths and successes
  • proactive
  • reflect best practices
  • prioritized
Good communication should also be open and timely with the goal of reaching the broader community but also focusing on groups who are most affected by an issue, event or decision. Good communication practices help an organization such as local government to anticipate questions and issues from the public with facts.

It is also important to get enough information, the right information at the right time. Issues/questions raised by Council members included:
  • communicating more effectively with youth
  • knowing how and when to use the media
  • focusing on key messages
  • staff's role in information-sharing
  • managing the truth (fact vs. fiction)
The workshop concluded with a survey that asked us general questions about the importance of communication at various levels of the organization and will be used to inform the development of a District-wide communications strategy.

I found the workshop to be valuable and informative and I thank staff for their part in arranging this learning experience. I hope that what we learned will translate to how effectively the District, staff and Council members communicate in the future with North Saanich residents.


Victoria Airport Authority Unveils Master Plan

In a presentation to Council, VAA's Marketing Manager Terry Stewart outlined their Master Development Plan, including a new business park proposed for Willingdon Rd. involving conversion to light industrial of 43 acres of Federal farmland. In response to Council's concern about the potential loss of productive land, the VAA explained that there is no Agricultural Land Reserve to protect federal lands but despite this, the VAA continues to farm large tracts of their land around the airport.

But in what I think is a groundbreaking move, the Airport Authority has offered to donate to North Saanich all the topsoil from the Willingdon Rd. construction site for local farmland remediation as well as nearly four acres of parkland on Mills Rd., adjacent to the Anglican Church overlooking Pat Bay. Uses for this land could include locating the North Saanich Farm Market there during the summer season. Terry Stewart acknowledged the cooperation and significant input of Municipal staff in these discussions, noting specifically the positive efforts of our CAO Rob Buchan.

Other North Saanich community amenities under consideration as part of the VAA's Plan include new cycle and walking paths, enhanced public transit, completion of local heritage projects, rainwater management, solar/geo-thermal heating and LEED standard buildings. A unique feature of the proposed Willingdon Rd. business park site is the design, which will be built in a circular shape described as a "campus" that will also expand the airport's existing approach to responsible environmental stewardship.

The VAA concluded with a request for municipal validation of the Plan, part of the required approval process, despite the fact North Saanich has no jurisdiction over federal land. But I was happy to make a motion last night recommending validation in principle, subject to addressing some questions from Council and audience members, through a brief North Saanich staff report, that will be presented to us on September 19.

In closing, I believe that North Saanich enjoys a positive relationship with the VAA through a partnership that provides a variety of community amenities, such as cycle paths, Hospital Hill heritage restoration, rainwater management in and around the airport, intersection improvements at MacDonald Park and Mills Roads, water and drainage improvements to North Saanich infrastructure and, of course, increased tax revenues and new jobs that accompany new business and economic development.

I commend the Victoria Airport Authority for its excellent corporate citizenship and its proven track record in working with local government to find innovative solutions to shared concerns. Yes, an airport in the heart of the community creates issues and is challenging for residents and the municipality but this working partnership between the VAA and the District of North Saanich reflects the very best of a shared commitment to community-building and well-being.

For more information about the VAA, please visit their website at:

Sandown Property Out of the Gate

The first legal steps to moving the Sandown proposal forward were made following deliberation of two comprehensive staff reports (on required legalities/traffic and environmental reports) and lengthy Council debate at both the Committee of the Whole and Council meetings. Some amendments were made to accommodate what I believe were last minute objections by Councilor Browne (shared by Councilor Mearns), despite their being part of the discussions and privy to all staff reports occurring since May 2011.

The proposal now goes to the ALC but it only meets once more this calendar year (October) and then not again until April 2012 so timing was critical. And the Commission is the first step to changing the designation of Sandown to facilitate the current proposal. If the ALC says no, the proposal stops there. To delay the decision to begin the legal approvals could jeopardize the entire proposal so I am gratified with Council's decision to move forward with first steps.

Another public Town Hall meeting will be held on September 20, 2011 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM at the District Hall, 1620 Mills Road.

Municipal Auditor-General Causes Interesting Debate

Not everyone on Council is convinced by the suggestion from the Provincial Government to establish an Office of the Municipal Auditor-General to oversee municipal budgeting and financial management.

I believe that this idea is unnecessary and potentially costly to municipal taxpayers, an opinion shared by some other Council members and by many colleagues across BC. We are also reminded that current provincial legislation provides for both an Inspector of Municipalities and provisions that prevent municipalities from running deficits so why the need for more oversight? And in view of the Province's concerns about potential financial hardship because of the recently-defeated HST, how can it rationalize all the costs in setting up another bureaucracy?

I am sure that this will be a hot topic of debate at the upcoming Union of British Columbia Municipalities' Annual Convention, when municipalities from all over the province gather together to contemplate their future.


At a September 7 Special Council Meeting to host a public hearing for two newly revised by-laws, one was approved but the new zoning by-law was referred back to staff for further research and clarification following good questions and points raised by a local resident during the Public Hearing, points that were also acknowledged and shared by Council. The zoning by-law review has been a work in progress since Spring 2008 when the former Mayor and Council started the process. What precipitated the review to amend the zoning by-law was because it was inconsistent with provisions of the 2007 Official Community Plan, thereby leaving the Municipality potentially exposed, both legally and in relation to zoning bylaw interpretation.

I am hopeful that the amended zoning by-law will be adopted before the end of this Council's term, given that it has taken 3 and a half years to complete the review. This was a necessary and significant body of work and Mayor Alice Finall and staff should be commended for moving the process forward.


NOTE: There will be just two September regular Council meetings, September 12 and 19, so please check the District website for agenda details. There is no meeting on Labour Day September 5th and no meeting on September 26th because of the annual UBCM Convention in Vancouver that starts on that date and runs for the rest of that week.

There will be additional meetings as follows:

  • September 6, 2011, 7:00 p.m. - Lands End/Curteis Pt. Neighbourhood Meeting, District Hall
  • September 7, 2011 - Special Council Meeting (Public Hearing) - Bylaws 1254 and 1255 - 7:00 p.m. District Hall
  • September 20, 2011 - Town Hall meeting on Sandown - 6:00 - 9:00 p.m. District Hall
Please check the District website for agenda details for the September 7 Special Council meeting.


With only two Council meetings during the summer, agendas get crowded and the August 22nd combined Committee of the Whole/Council meeting was no exception. We adjourned at about 11:30 p.m. but still had to defer agenda items to subsequent meetings. We also had strong public attendance for mainly two topics, a presentation on BC Hydro's Smart Meters and the Sidney/North Saanich Yacht Club application asking to amend their liquor licence.

HIGHLIGHTS of Committee of the Whole:

  • Smart Meters are controversial it seems, reflected in two presentations, one by BC Hydro and one by private citizens representing a citizen's coalition advocating for a moratorium on installation. As you know, BC Hydro began mandatory Smart Meter installation in early July, despite public concerns about implications for human health, privacy and increased utility costs. In my view, Hydro's position on this is not well defined and when asked why this initiative is being forced on the public, Hydro says it is because the provincial government has mandated these meters. In response, six private citizens provided detailed information about the potential for health impacts, privacy concerns and increased costs to customers for electricity. Two citizens gave compelling personal stories about what radiation and electromagnetic emissions can do to human health. Councilor Ruby Commandeur also stated that her disabled daughter suffers seizures, some triggered by electromagnetic activity. I later brought a motion for a Council resolution (which passed unanimously) to join 11 other jurisdictions and send a letter to the Minister of Health, requesting a moratorium on installation until the public has input, heath and privacy concerns are further researched and other alternatives are explored, which I believe should include an "opting out" clause for those who do not want these meters installed in their homes.
  • An independent report by Opus Consulting to review the 2005 Deep Cove/Pat Bay/McDonald Park sewer project was presented to Council for information. The report made eleven significant recommendations to guide future projects of this magnitude. The report was originally commissioned based on expressed public concern about how the project was executed and why at the time it went three times over budget. Yes, hindsight is 20/20 but lessons learned from such a review are invaluable, especially to our taxpayers. The report will be available on the District website.
  • A development permit application for a seawall on Lochside Dr. created a lengthy debate based on concern about the foreshore and about the length of time it took staff to process the application. I agree that 5 months to process an application of this type seems unduly long. When I asked how the delay happened, staff admitted an oversight and took full responsibility. We all agreed that the municipality needs to streamline, review and look for improvements to the process to avoid unnecessary delays. The application was approved.
  • An item on the Provincial government's proposal to establish a municipal auditor general's office was deferred for discussion to the next meeting.

HIGHLIGHTS of the Council Meeting:

  • Most of the items on the agenda were deferred to the next meeting, with the exception of the Sandown proposal and the Sidney North Saanich Yacht Club's application to amend their liquor licence to include dancing, which would enable an entertainment licence that would mean operating hours of 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. daily.
  • Sandown Raceway: At my request for a deferral to the next Committee of the Whole meeting and following good points about the need for further communication with the public made by a North Saanich resident and other Council members, Council voted to defer the staff report and item to the next Committee of the Whole meeting. I agree with the staff recommendations in the July 13 report and realize that, to begin the process of wide consultation with other authorities and the CRD, we need to move forward. I have also just learned that the Agricultural Land Commission holds only one more meeting this year so timing is critical to move this ahead. But the deferral enables the public to have more time for input at the next Committee of the Whole meeting and reflects Council's concern that in the summer, many residents are away on holiday and not available to attend a meeting. I am completely supportive of this proposal and believe more timely communication with the public will serve the proposal well.
  • Sidney/North Saanich Yacht Club: The Commodore attended to explain and support the Yacht Club's request of the Provincial Liquor Control and Licencing Branch to amend its liquor licence to allow dancing at the Clubhouse. Local government is asked for its comments on such applications. I understand that the request involves a change in the category to Patron Participation Entertainment which would also extend operating hours to 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. A group of concerned residents, many of whom reside on Marina Way, attended and spoke to noise and traffic concerns, indicating that they had not been fully consulted by the Club about this application. I am aware of a history of traffic concerns in this area and that residents have appealed before to the municipality to implement traffic control measures. As residents pointed out, Marina Way is a dead end street so what comes in must also go out the same way. As a former Sidney/North Saanich Yacht Club member, I know that the members are responsible and that the Club to my knowledge is well run. But the concerns of adjacent residents must be considered in any application of this type. I moved and Council agreed, to refer this item back to staff for more information and to give the Yacht Club an opportunity to canvas adjacent neighbours about their concerns.


Whether you agreed or not with his politics, you must admit that Jack Layton was a class act to the end of his life. He leaves a legacy of unbelievable energy, dedication and courage as a person and as a politician. He restored integrity and honesty to politics and had that "common touch" when it came to reaching out to Canadians from all walks of life. He was a scholar too who brought to the national stage issues of poverty and homelessness.

Thanks Jack Layton for making Canada just a little bit kinder.


I spent an hour and a half yesterday with two spokespersons, one of whom is North Saanich resident Donna Robinson. She and her colleagues are advocating against BC Hydro's new Smart Meters. They will be making a presentation to our August 22 Council meeting and I urge you to attend to hear them.

They raise a variety of issues of which we should be aware about the installation and use of these meters and, more importantly, about the lack of public input and debate on the merits of this BC Hydro initiative and the meters' potential for invasion of privacy. I have to admit that before my meeting with them, I did not know a lot about these meters, other than I understand that they are purported by Hydro to be, among other things, a cost-savings to the Corporation and to streamline power consumption and billing processes. But are they a cost savings for customers?

The Tyee online newspaper is also carrying a story on the skinny behind Smart Meters which is informative but also controversial. I urge you to visit their website for another take on this issue (you will find their website on the right hand side of this blog).

As you may know, pursuant to provisions of the Community Charter, local governments are responsible for safeguarding community health. Mrs. Robinson and her colleagues are presenting to all municipal governments in the CRD, urging that they send letters to the Province requesting a moratorium on installation until more is known about Smart Meters and their impacts on human health and privacy.


It's clear that since Ted Daly's comment in the August 2, 2011 edition of the Times Colonist (TC) criticizing in part the Capital Regional District Board (CRD) and Regional Growth Strategy (RGS), other writers have responded in the TC as I did, arguing their support for the Board's role in providing oversight to regional land use planning through the RGS.

Protecting rural, agricultural and green spaces from urban sprawl is fundamental to the Strategy, to regional planning and, in my view, reflects the majority opinion of elected municipal politicians who currently sit at the CRD Board table. And, now, sustainability, both locally and regionally, is on the lips of citizens, planning experts, environmental groups and many of us elected to public office who believe in a regional planning model.

The sustainability conversation for me begs some of the following questions: In the face of growth and demographics, how do we conserve and expand the resources we have such as water, energy and local food? How do we protect and enhance green spaces to address issues of climate change and accessible recreation? How do we undertake transportation planning to move workers to jobs and people to services? How do we address the tax burden and shrinking municipal revenues against needs to fund upgrades to infrastructure?

Instead of questioning the role of the CRD Board and Regional Growth Strategy, how about supporting a regional model that continues to bring everyone together to find answers to some of these questions, for the benefit of the region and the people who live here?


Committee of the Whole Meeting:
  • The meeting opened with CRD Corporate Services General Manager D. Lokken who gave a brief presentation to Council on 2011 requisitions and invoices for North Saanich and provided a detailed spreadsheet for all CRD municipalities that I found helpful. It is noteworthy that of all three Saanich Peninsula municipalities, North Saanich pays the least amount to CREST (a good thing) which may have something to do with the voluntary nature of our emergency services, however, I will follow this up with Chief Gary Wilton.
  • A bylaw for cost recovery for illegal grow-ops was approved, making it possible for the municipality to recover its administrative costs when required to respond to local authorities and deal with health and safety issues where an illegal operation is reported.
  • A detailed proposed work plan to support and implement the Whole Agricultural Strategy was approved and referred to the Agricultural Advisory Commission for comments.
  • Staff and Agricultural Advisory Commission amendments to the existing signage bylaw were approved to make it easier for local growers and farmers to advertise and market using signage. It was noted that the existing bylaw was restrictive and limited what local farms and growers could do about signage to attract custom to their location or farm.
Council Meeting:
  • Council approved a future presentation of the CRD's Pedestrian and Cycling Master Plan (PCMP) which provides an opportunity to explain the Plan in some detail.
  • In response to two provincial organizations that sent letters to municipalities throughout the province calling for an end to MSP premiums for seniors, Council agreed to reply to the letters by sharing with the writers similar AVICC resolutions approved at the annual convention this past April. It is worth noting that BC appears to be one of the only provinces in Canada that requires MSP premiums.
  • A project that demonstrates the importance of our relationship with the Victoria Airport Authority (VAA) was highlighted when the Heritage Advisory Commission submitted a request to Council to approve a $16,000 budget to complete the Hospital Hill heritage site restoration. The best part is that the VAA will pick up the entire tab for this project as part of its ongoing commitment to supporting local improvements. Congratulations to the Heritage Advisory Commission and to North Saanich planning staff for such a great collaboration and a huge THANK YOU to the VAA.
  • Councilor Browne gave a report on CREST, during which he underscored his concerns about what he believes are high costs to North Saanich for being part of this service. I couldn't agree more, given that many of us for years have been concerned about the cost of CREST and its service delivery challenges.
  • Council approved the appointment of North Saanich Manager of Corporate Services Curt Kingsley as Chief Election Officer and CAO Rob Buchan and Admin. Secretary Jackie Gretchen as Deputy Chief Election Officers, positions to be served during the November municipal general election.
  • A lengthy debate followed a staff report that recommended approval of a development permit application for a waterfront property on Madrona Drive. I supported the staff recommendation, as did most of Council, however, Councilor Chandler had difficulty and concerns with what he believed were zoning issues involving a proposed set of stairs leading from the foreshore. The Mayor eventually suggested separating the motion into two parts, leaving the issue of the stairway to be addressed on its own. This would enable the applicants to proceed with most of the work on re-developing the property. As well, it was noted that the stairway will require approval from the Province of BC, adding oversight to any possible impacts on the foreshore. I also believe that the applicants demonstrated due diligence and completed a lot of preliminary professional work on the property before bringing the application forward. The entire application was finally approved in two motions and staff agreed to confirm zoning details.

NOTE: The next meeting(s) is Monday, August 22, 2011 at 7:00 P.M. Enjoy the summer, if I can call it that.

Regional Growth Strategy


I read with great interest the Times-Colonist article by reporter Kim Westad about the CRD Board's recent decision to support Saanich Councilor Vic Derman's motion to re-examine a variety of development projects in Central Saanich, suggesting that recent Council land use decisions may contravene the provisions of the Regional Growth Strategy. As you know, I have always supported the Strategy, believing that it is one of the few tools we have to contain urban sprawl from creeping into rural and agricultural lands. In my opinion, the Strategy has helped, among other things, to protect rural communities such as North Saanich from ad hoc, shortsighted land use that demonstrates little regard for long term negative impacts on such factors as costs to taxpayers of providing more services, more resources and more infrastructure to support urban-style development.

I have heard the arguments time and again from those who want more development and less land use oversight -- "...development will increase our tax base, provide "affordable" housing and improve local economies..." "'s not our business to meddle in the affairs of other municipalities or communities..." "the Strategy threatens property rights..." and so on. In response, I can only say that in my experience, wherever there has been large scale development that is either unplanned or poorly planned, individual residential property taxes have not necessarily decreased, adequate "affordable" housing has, more often than not, failed to materialize and improvement to local economies has been difficult to quantify. If all the arguments to support unchecked large scale development lined up, then I must ask why residential property taxes on average are higher in communities where development has been a primary driver?

Regional sustainability should concern all of us, whether we happen to live in Metchosin, North Saanich or Victoria. I believe that without a framework such as the Strategy, protection of our natural resources and green/blue spaces, transportation, climate change, local agriculture, food security and other quality of life issues and needs become much more difficult to manage and address. Whether you agree or disagree with Councilor Derman's motion and the decision of the CRD Board, it is evident to me that ad hoc land use planning on a regional basis poses challenges for all of us living here; nor do land use decisions and their implications necessarily respect municipal boundaries -- our communities simply do not exist in isolation of one another. Just ask North Saanich residents living on the municipal border next door to the proposed Vantreight development.

Whatever the outcome for Central Saanich, let's hope that the Regional Growth Strategy and its values can prevail -- after all, our future depends on it.

Sandown Property - Public Engagement Meeting

If the North Saanich community chooses to embrace the idea of the current Sandown application and proposal, we stand to make a significant contribution to the Region with the acquisition of the Sandown property. Our first public Town Hall meeting saw about 100 people attend to hear about the latest application and proposal for the property. Moderated by Chief Administrative Officer Rob Buchan and Mayor Alice Finall, the meeting included Council members who listened with the public to a presentation that laid out the general proposal. That proposal would see about 83 acres preserved for agricultural use and gifted to the North Saanich community by the current owners, a Vancouver-based family. This is the first proposal of its kind in North Saanich history and if it succeeds, could be a model to boost regional food security and enhance local farming.

Of course there were the usual nay-sayers at the meeting but, in general, what I heard was an audience majority who seemed to support the concept (some even congratulated us on our innovation), provided a clear and detailed business plan is developed that addresses issues of cost to taxpayers of environmentally remediating the property, servicing the commercial aspects of the proposal (12 acres on McDonald Park Rd.), dealing with drainage and water and assessing long term benefits of additional tax revenue to the Municipality. My notes from audience questions include the following:

• Should the current owner be given commercial zoning?
• What will be the cost of fire and other services to the property?
• How will you define "farming use?"
• What are the staff costs to the District of working on this proposal?
• Should the municipality be engaged in "land development?"
• What are the costs of cleaning up the property and demolishing existing buildings?
• What happens if the cost of maintaining the property exceeds commercial tax revenue?
• Who would own the land? (12 acres would be owned by current owner and District of North Saanich would own 83 acres of ALR)
• What is the business plan for this proposal?
• What about affordable housing on the site? (Agricultural Land Commission regulations prohibit housing developments on ALR)
• Will there be a tax increase for North Saanich residents?
• Will there be further public consultation? (Absolutely)
• What are the revenue, terms and length of two existing leases on Sandown property? (Great Canadian Gaming Corporation and a cell tower)
• Should this go to referendum in the next Municipal general election?

In the end, I believe North Saanich and the current owner of the property could be on the brink of seizing a precedent-setting opportunity to establish a public legacy that could make a positive and ever-lasting difference to agricultural land use locally, across the Saanich Peninsula and in the Region. Once the Municipality has completed its due diligence, I just hope that the majority of North Saanich residents agrees.

My thanks to everyone who took the time to attend and participate in the meeting.

Webcasting Comes to NS Council


Thanks to Times Colonist reporter Kim Westad for the terrific front page coverage in Sunday's edition, headlining our new web casting project. As you know, this is a ground breaker for North Saanich as the only local government doing this in the CRD. My only regret is that we could not find a local service provider for the technology, forcing us to go outside the local business community. I am hopeful therefore that a local Island-based tech company will recognize a niche market for this service and pick up the challenge to provide the technology at a competitive price to local governments in the region.

We have been talking about this initiative for a long time, first entertaining the idea early last year. We recognized that we needed to better connect residents to local government and reach those who do not attend meetings due to time pressures and other factors. The Mayor also remembered the valuable public service Shaw Cable provided during the 1990s when meetings were carried live on the local cable channel. But once Shaw Cable abandoned this market, there were few options available to small communities like ours, until now. Although initially cost prohibitive, our IT Director John Carnell continued to explore the market until he found the provider that had a track record with other small communities and could best serve our needs at a reasonable and competitive cost.

As they say, the rest is history. We launch the service on May 2 and on May 3, you will be able to download video, audio or both, as well as clicking to specific agenda items in the event you don't want everything -- the site is conveniently indexed to make it easier for residents to listen to or watch a discussion on a particular topic of interest. So, we hope it is a big hit with residents over the next year during the trial period. My thanks goes to IT Director John Carnell and his staff as well as to Lisa Coburn for helping to make all of this possible. Lights, camera, action!

March 24, 2011 Editorial - Take Big Money Out of Politics

The following is my letter to the T/C Editor regarding campaign spending in politics and municipal elections:

RE: March 24, 2011 Editorial - Take Big Money Out of Politics
Your editorial on campaign spending in politics and municipal elections is timely and I couldn't agree more. I made one of the 131 submissions last year to the provincial Elections Reform Committee, calling for municipal campaign spending/donation limits and greater public oversight by Elections BC. Good people to whom I refer as "grass roots candidates" who simply want to serve their community in local government, may be discouraged to get involved if running an expensive campaign is the key measure of success at the polls. Access to our political system should be open to everyone.

The level of campaign funding should not determine the level of election support. But some municipal election campaigns in recent years have been more about expensive marketing strategies than about the candidate's real skills, ability and genuine desire to serve. And the higher the political stakes, the greater the amount of money available to candidates it seems, given that the primary role of local governments is making decisions about land use. And with land values on the South Island some of the highest in the country, there is often keen interest in the outcome of local elections by those who may have the most to gain.

But one of the greatest weapons against the influence of big money in politics is a well informed voter. It is vitally important for voters to prepare for the next election by attending local Council meetings, talking or meeting with local candidates one-on-one or in group settings, joining or starting up a community association; whatever it takes to critically assess candidates and their campaigns beyond big signs and glossy brochures. Voters need to know details about a candidate's background, experience and commitment to public service and to the community. Local media also have an important role to play in providing the public with responsible, objective and well researched story material on local issues and local candidates.

Apart from tightening up campaign funding rules and bringing greater public scrutiny to the election process through legislation, the next best thing to safeguarding our democratic system is an aware and informed voting public because it's true, information is power.