In the Oct. 21 edition of the Oak Bay News, both the editorial and an opinion piece by Oak Bay resident Bruce Kilpatrick caught my attention because they point to the need for more effective, open and balanced community engagement and conversation between Oak Bay’s local government and its residents.
These two opinion pieces reinforced what I learned while attending an inspiring public session a week earlier, titled “Community Belonging, Connection and Well-Being.”
Hosted by the City of Victoria and the Victoria Foundation and its sponsors, guest speakers and national thought leaders, Mayor Naheed Nenshi of Calgary and Khalil Shariff, CEO of Canada’s Aga Khan Foundation, shared their insights on how important civic engagement is to community well-being.
They suggest that governance and community consultation, at their best, should advance goals of inclusion and belonging, thereby instilling a greater sense of responsibility in citizens, leaders and institutions.
That governance is essentially “a conversation with citizens” that should focus on responsibility for the public good was a consistent theme throughout the presentation.
Mayor Nenshi asked the audience such searching questions about community as “Who are we and how do we live together? What do we want to be?”
He talked about the serious issue of community well-being and about his responsibility as mayor to address issues that affect citizen health and connection.
Both speakers agree that community belonging, wellness and connection are keys to creating “institutional strength and community assets.”
They also suggest that poor civic engagement and leadership are root causes of citizen mistrust and isolation, and must be replaced by a need to embark on the “entrepreneurial pursuit of a civil society” through “leadership of a certain competence and character,” one anchored in what Mr. Shariff refers to as a “basic ethical posture.”
Which brings us to how local government in Oak Bay can create and build more effective community engagement with its residents.
What are the roles of our community leaders and citizens in this endeavour and how do they each make a difference together?
Mayor Nenshi revealed a simple truth about civic engagement from a citizen’s point of view — “was I asked?”
In other words, do Oak Bay citizens feel that their input and involvement are valued and that they are included in significant community decisions and initiatives?
Effective civic engagement leads to what Mayor Nenshi and Mr. Shariff call “civil’ engagement” – these are connected but they are not the same.
In other words, to be a truly inclusive community, we must bring those who “feel that they are on the outside…to the inside,” harnessing more positive public involvement that “appeals to the best” in people.
The greatest defense to citizen apathy is creating meaningful opportunities for citizens to come together in an atmosphere of “creative leadership,” one that focuses on community service or, as Mr. Shariff describes it, “the service ethic.”
As Mayor Nenshi pointed out, the fundamental role of community leadership and governance is to help people understand that community doesn’t “happen to you; you are part of building it.”