Students’ task: Talk to 428 politicians in N.S.

By Paula Sanderson and Natascia Lypny

Tracking down Nova Scotia’s 428 municipal councillors, wardens and mayors is hard.

From late January until mid-March, we repeatedly contacted them for a survey for the How Are We Governed? series. Over 70 either refused to talk to us or could not be reached, and only 19 of the 55 town councils had 100 per cent response rates.

This experience left us wondering: If it was so difficult for us to contact councillors, wardens and mayors, what lack of communication exists between constituents and their representatives?

Representatives of Colchester County collectively agreed at a council meeting to refuse to answer any questions. When contacted by phone, their reasons for refusing were varied.

“We didn’t quite know why you were doing it, and if you wanted to know about us, you could have just come to a council meeting,” said Coun. Karen MacKenzie.

Others saw benefits to the survey.

“Thanks for the opportunity to say a few words,” wrote Coun. Henderson Paris of New Glasgow on his online form. “Thanks to all of you for taking on this task and survey to see how municipal politicians are serving the people that elected them.”

This reaction was rare. Several towns in addition to Colchester left the survey unanswered en masse.

Seventy-five per cent of Stellarton’s council did not answer, nor did 43 per cent of Truro’s.

The argument that education, birthplace and age “aren’t anybody’s business” was a common reason for refusing participation. These privacies concerns were expected. So, too, were refusals.

“I don’t have anything to do with The Chronicle Herald or any other press,” said Gilbert Boucher, a councillor in Richmond County.

We were surprised by the initial difficulties encountered when gathering councillors’ contact information.

The Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities’ website has a membership directory that contains general emails for town halls, mayors and wardens.The union has also compiled a list of all the councillors’ emails. But it refused to disclose this wider list, saying that the addresses were collected for internal use only. The list would only be released if the survey questions were approved by the union board of directors.

Town websites were the next option. Some provided multiple phone numbers and email addresses for their representatives, while others featured a council portrait with names and little else.

We were only able to find 391 representatives’ email addresses. Some councillors responded within minutes of the first email invitation for the survey, but many messages bounced back or were never followed up on. Those who didn’t fill out the online survey were contacted by phone many times. Although for the most part, those contacted greeted us warmly and openly, others seemed to be playing the phone tag game instead of refusing to participate.

Students at University of King’s College School of Journalism conducted a survey of Nova Scotia’s municipal politicians for The Chronicle Herald’s How Are We Governed series. They requested such information as age, job and education. They attempted to contact all 428 representatives. They received responses from 353.

To read about the results click here and here.

To read the Herald’s editorial about the results click here.

To read the announcement about the survey click here.

To read other stories that came from the results click here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s