Democracy is more than voting

Millions of Canadians have cast their ballots in the federal election. The new government will lead us until the next election rolls around, and we can sit back, satisfied at having carried out our responsibility as citizens in a democracy.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what many Canadians think democracy is: a vote every four years. But to be effective, it has to be much, much more.

If we don’t all play an active role in what happens in this country between now and the next election, we are wasting our so-called democracy.

Building a real democracy

Dave Meslin’s new book “TEARDOWN: Rebuilding Democracy from the Ground Up,” should be required reading for every person of or close to voting age.

In the Introduction, Meslin writes about the growing disengagement from electoral politics in Canada, noting that the increased voter turnout in the 2015 federal election – 69% — still meant that one third of eligible voters stayed at home. He goes on to write:

“The numbers are even worse when it comes to measuring political engagement beyond voting. Between elections, how many people get involved with the decision-making processes that affect their lives, their families and their communities? The answer is almost none. It’s hard to blame them. Politics has become a demoralizing farce. Most decisions are made behind closed doors by political adversarialism.”

Despite this gloomy start, the book is anything but bleak. Rather, it is a call for activism and engagement at the community level, peppered with examples of success. As Meslin writes:

“This is a call for revolution . . . against our own cynicism and against a spiritually carcinogenic system that has crushed our voice. . . . We can choose to be a part of the decision-making process or we can watch passively, withholding our collective knowledge and creativity. . . . Our greatest mistake was assuming that democracy is just about ballots. . . .We need to look at the whole political ecosystem in its entirety. . . . This is no time for tinkering. This is a teardown. Because the most important voice missing from our democracy, is yours.”

The morning after

What better time to start the teardown than the day after a federal election? Whether or not you voted and whether or not the new government is the one you wanted, we all need to engage fully in building a real democracy in Canada.

It doesn’t matter what the parties promised during the election campaign. It doesn’t matter that health care was the number one issue for 35% and climate change for 29% of us. It doesn’t matter how many people voted.

Unless we all become involved, individually and collectively, in insisting on what kind of society we want to live in, the government of the day will go about its business, keeping their cronies happy and ignoring the rest of us. After all, it is never too soon to start planning for the next election.

It’s a good thing, I think, that the Liberals have been reduced to a minority government; that the Conservatives, while gaining seats, did not gain enough to form the government; that the NDP will hold the balance of power; that the Greens increased their presence in the House of Commons; that the hateful Maxime Bernier lost his own seat and won none, and that expelled Liberal Cabinet Minister Jody Wilson Raybould won as an Independent. But that should just be the beginning of how we exercise our franchise as citizens in a democratic country.

No more first past the post

Above all else, we need to become activist about electoral reform. Almost 90 countries around the world use some form of proportional representation, including Australia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Greece, Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Rwanda, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. In fact, Canada is a bit of a hold out in its refusal to move in this direction.

Without electoral reform, we are condemned to repeating the same history of citizen disengagement that has dogged us for the better part of two centuries, since Europeans arrived on Turtle Island, bringing their form of democracy with them. Even though almost everything around us has changed in those 200 years, we continue to use this antiquated system we call democracy.

If we want electoral reform, we can make it happen. As Dave Meslin says in the conclusion to his book:

“Don’t wait for permission or a personalized invitation. You have to invite yourself. This is your chance to find your political voice and declare war on cynicism. By tearing down the structures, assumptions and traditions that stand in our way, we can unleash our collective wisdom, love and imagination. And that would truly be a revolution.”

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