The councils of Fernie, Nakusp, Castlegar, and Kaslo, along with the representative for rural areas D (north Kootenay Lake), and areas E and F (rural Nelson) have taken up Nelson mayor Deb Kozak’s challenge to see who can achieve the greatest percentage increase in voter turnout over 2011 in the upcoming federal election.
“We are really excited,” said Mike Chapman, one of the voter challenge’s organizers. “We just got our first East Kootenay community [Fernie]. We are hopeful this is catching fire.”
The non-partisan group is collaborating with the Nelson library for a public voter registration night next Wednesday. Elections Canada people will be there to help people register, and there will be refreshments.
Head librarian June Stockdale thinks the library is the perfect place for the event.
“It’s friendly,” she says. “It is community — 450 to 600 people a day come through our doors, so to have something in a place people are already coming does not force them to go outside their usual sphere. Our goal is to work with community groups and use our resources to help the community, not to be just a traditional library.”
The voter challenge organizers will also be there to help people with questions of why register and why vote.
Chapman says the political process is out of the comfort zone of many people, “so I think creating a public event with coffee, chatting, having information about it all, may break down some of those barriers.
“I think it adds to the conversation about voting and its importance,” he continues.
“There is a connection that is often forgotten, between issues and voting. All of us have things that are important to us. It might be tuition fees, it might be daycare, the environment, minimum wage, and the people who decide these things are politicians. We all have an issue, and if we want to have attention paid to those, we need to vote.”
As for the voter challenge, Chapman says more communities might still come on board. He says the group hasn’t yet come up with a prize for the winner, although the group has approached CBC TV personality Rick Mercer, hoping he will come and record a rant in the winning town.
Nakusp mayor Karen Hamling likes that idea and says she fully expects her village to win.
“Our council was very pleased to participate,” she says. “I put it on my Facebook page, we are putting it on our website, and we are just going to talk to people as we see them.
“Kudos to the people that put this together,” she added. “It’s time. Too many people are disconnected.”
The library event on Wednesday, Sept. 16 runs from 5 to 8 p.m.