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Open Kingston offers voters online resource during election

Screen shot of Open Kingston on Monday, Oct. 22, 2018.

It’s the last week leading up to the election, which means now is a crucial time for the public to make the important decisions about how they’ll cast their votes.

With 40 people running for Kingston City Council, it can certainly be difficult for citizens to navigate through the visits they’ve had at their front doors, the information that’s arrived in their mailboxes, the numerous debates that have taken place across the city, and the countless different sources of information online – it can even turn some people off so much they just give up.

It’s for those very reasons and more that Open Kingston aims to offer as much information as they can for Kingstonian voters in one place. A website, completely run by volunteer efforts, Open Kingston (openkingston.ca) presents users with a complete list of council and mayoral candidates, an interactive district map that allows users to find the candidates in their district with one click, and links to any online resources that might be available, such as candidate’s websites or social media accounts. Open Kingston also has the responses from candidates to seven questions that attempt to explore the candidates’ policies and opinions.

“We’re trying to help people engage with democracy,” said Andrew McCann, one of the team of five volunteers who created Open Kingston before the 2014 election.

“People need to use digital tools, and all the tools they have to engage with democracy, so this is something that is meant to be leveraging the digital space to create a hub where people can find as much information as possible that’s online.”

For this election, as they did for the past election, Open Kingston created a survey, which was sent to every candidate on the City of Kingston’s certified candidates list. All responses Open Kingston receives are published on the site, unedited, in two ways: each candidate has a profile page, and those candidates who respond to the survey have all of their responses published on their profile; and the candidates responses are also entered into infographics on the site, which users can quickly and easily click through to see all responding candidates ‘short answers’ (such as ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or ‘maybe’).

“Municipal elections tend to be a bit short, especially at the district level, on good policy debate,” McCann said of why Open Kingston created the survey.

“And so, we’re trying to get people on the record on some of their policy positions, as well.”

For this election, the Open Kingston Survey included the following seven questions (verbatim):

  • Will you put Affordable Housing and Homelessness at the TOP of Council’s agenda?
  • Should Innovation and Job Creation be City Council’s TOP priority?
  • Are you in favour of using Ranked Ballot Voting to elect the mayor and councillors?
  • Are you in favour of high-rises above the “human scale” of 6-9 stories in the downtown core?
  • Should the City locally fund the Green ON home retrofit program recently cut by Ford?
  • Should Kingston asked the province to adopt a Basic Income program for Ontarians?
  • Will you vote to implement the 2018 Active Transportation Plan on foot, bike and bus travel in your district?

McCann said that those with Open Kingston came up with the questions after speaking with over 60 Kingston citizens about what they feel are important issues and policies. He also said, however, that he and his team plan to make the process of coming up with the questions more public and transparent process in the future.

“We certainly had ideas for a more robust, formal process for coming up with the questions, but that takes a lot of time and energy… we are a group [of] five different volunteers, and we’re just a group of everyday people, so it’s been volunteer-based,” he said, noting that one council candidate questioned where the questions come from, and that Open Kingston has since decided they’ll need to do some fundraising in order to carry out a more intensive process for creating the survey.

“What came out of the one councillor asking us ‘where did the questions come from’ was that we actually need to have a more formal process next election, which means we probably need to get some money, because we’ve never had any money for this project.”

The survey was sent to all candidates (Ed Smith and Alexandra de Haas have since dropped out of the election, although Smith chose to respond to the survey). At this point, 10 candidates haven’t responded, including Ryan Boehme, who is acclaimed as councillor for Pittsburgh District as no one ran against him. McCann urged candidates to respond to the survey, and said that he and his team are happy to post responses as they come in, right up until election day on Monday, Oct. 22, 2018.

And, while McCann admits he and some of the other team members at Open Kingston have been involved in partisan politics in the past (and may be in the future), he underlined that Open Kingston attempts to remain as unbiased and nonpartisan as possible in creating their website.

“There’s no partisan angle of the group, for sure. The only political angle that we take is that we believe in democracy and we want to promote non-partisan open access to information,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean that individuals like me and others have not been involved in particular political parties or campaigns in the past or future.”

Open Kingston is created and run voluntarily, and don’t discriminate against new volunteers based on political ideology or affiliation. “If volunteers are part of the Conservative Party or the Liberal Party or whatever, that doesn’t faze us, as long as the project is non-partisan,” he said.

“We want to engage more voters and hopefully get more people out voting. That’s what’s important.”

The site also offers voters a list of all those running for school board trustee positions, information on how and where to vote, and links to other helpful resources. To find out more, go to openkingston.ca.

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