On Government Budgets and Being Informed

On Government Budgets and Being Informed

The City of Edmonton just released its proposed budget, which resulted in a flurry of news articles, people organizing, and online commentary from engaged citizens from all walks of life. Marijuana just became legal which has budgetary and tax implications from the government’s perspective. And phase two of the Public Transit Bus Network Re-design is about to collect public feedback.

There are many numbers that are being thrown around, from percentages, to how much rates are multiplied, millions and billions of dollars, which funds are restricted and flexible, which ones have other considerations.

Sometimes I have a knee-jerk reaction to convert these amounts to Philippine Pesos, while forgetting that fixing roads in Canada thanks to our weather is probably a different process compared to fixing roads in the Philippines.
Getting politically active is still such a foreign concept to me. There is still a part of me that feels disconnected given that I lived my first sixteen years in the Philippines. It’s important to remind myself – repeatedly – that none of these Councillors, trustees, mayors, MLAs and MPs are getting into severe harm or death by having debates in their office chambers and sharing unpopular opinions. As a millennial, there are enough stereotypes thrown in against me already. Then there’s some local long-time sentiment that I hear which is, “no one give a darn about municipal politics”.

I feel grateful of all the opportunities to learn more, from websites, politicians sharing their views, journalists writing comprehensive articles, to dedicated community members sharing their voices and frustrations. I feel compelled to take it all in and share my two cents. In doing so, I keep meeting people that seem to be keen on sharing what little free time they have, to express how a policy or budget decision can impact them and people they care about.

While it doesn’t feel that way, compared to other places I have lived, it is easier and accessible to do here. From interactive web pages, videos, infographics and more, posters on the buses and online ads, there are multitude of opportunities to share feedback. A number of elected officials are quite responsive on social media, perhaps because a comment or a question left ignored is not a good view for such a public space.

With the help of a few other people in the city, many of which I never met before, I spoke in front of City Council during a public hearing about how city services impact me and the people around me. My plea is for them to remember the importance of these services as they make decisions and have debates on how the four-year municipal budget is supposed to look like.

The volume of information is quite overwhelming sometimes. You don’t know what you don’t know. History and context such as decisions that previous elected representatives have made, any inter-regional partnerships or lack of, and how the municipal, provincial and federal governments work together, need to be considered. During dinners with my in-laws or friend who grew up here, their stories of how certain programs worked, or the behaviour of certain memorable politicians are quite interesting. It is worth remembering that their stories are sometimes viewed with rose-coloured glasses, but that in itself is valuable context. I try not to shy away from reading social media comments on news articles, because it feels like the equivalent of ‘putting your head in the sand’ and that’s not a good way to help our community.

While I will be enjoying the Christmas season in the Philippines when the finalized budget decisions are made, the impact will cascade for many months and years. And with this in mind, I shall try my best to continue getting informed, vocal, engaged and connected regarding political matters.

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