I found the article on “Community associations facing uncertain future” (Feb. 9 by Wolfgang Depner) informative but troubling. While Saanich, like most districts across Canada, has a rich legacy in community participation, if the Statistics Canada finding that volunteer hours have plateaued and now only 10 per cent of these worthy people are providing more than half the actual volunteer time, surely one must ask why.
While altruistic motivations for volunteering are traditionally recognized, other motivations may also be relevant. Depner notes at least two of these in his comment that “community associations represent democratic laboratories and training grounds, as well as stepping stones towards larger, elected political offices”. This said, scholarly literature on voluntarism recognizes some motivations as self-oriented; for examples, projecting influence, sustaining a career, advancing particular agendas (overt or covert).
While such motivations may be justifiable, equally they may not necessarily reflect community interests. In some instances, simply remaining a “board member” may in itself be a powerful motivation, and a barrier to renewal. Such motivation may eventually become out of balance with community interests. This may also discourage newcomers from participating. Perhaps therefore, if we truly value democratic values, there may be a need for associations to make a stronger effort to promote wider involvement.
After all, new ideas eventually become old ideas, and leadership renewal may be needed if tenure becomes as long as it apparently has with the Blenkinsop Valley Community Association: “current board members have served on average between six and eight years and one board member for 13 years”.
But to be fair, there is a need to find out how typical this profile may be across all 18 associations. And perhaps there is a role for larger entities such as municipal and provincial governments to help rejuvenate our associations, to invest more in promoting genuine community participation and building related skills. This would be an invaluable step to restore commitment to democracy from the ground up, especially at a time when it seems under threat at virtually all levels.