Democracy at risk: what you can do to help: Hepburn
Canada at a tipping point with democratic reform is becoming major campaign issue.
Bob Hepburn, thestar.com, Jan 14 2015
How can Stephen Harper and other political leaders be prevented from running roughshod over our democracy?
That’s the question many Canadians who see our democracy as being at risk are asking as political parties gear up for the federal election in October.
To some, the task may seem impossible given the apparent apathy and disengagement of so many citizens in the wake of attacks on Canadian democratic traditions and institutions in recent decades.
These assaults have escalated under Harper, who has displayed unprecedented disrespect for democracy since becoming prime minister in 2006.
Over that time, Harper and the Conservatives have suppressed public information, shut down Parliament twice for purely partisan political reasons, broke election spending rules and introduced a “fair elections act” that was anything but fair. The list goes on.
But Harper may have gone too far.
That’s because his efforts to degrade our democracy are sparking a backlash among a growing number of Canadians.
Indeed, Canada may be at a tipping point, with calls for democratic reform having a major impact on a federal election for the first time in decades.
Is the issue of democratic reform a “game changer”?
Definitely, says Duff Conacher, the founder behind Democracy Watch, a well-established advocacy organization that focuses on democratic reform. “There will be huge competition on this issue among the political parties like we haven’t seen in more than 10 years,” he says.
Over the years, though, Canadians have grown increasingly disillusioned about the state of our democracy and are turning off politics. Signs of this disengagement are most obvious in falling voter turnout in recent decades. Turnout in the 2011 election was the third-lowest in history.
As well, a poll conducted last year for Samara, a non-profit think-tank devoted to promoting democracy, showed 65 per cent of Canadians are dissatisfied with the way our democracy is working — an all-time low.
Despite the gloomy findings, Alison Loat, executive director of Samara, isn’t discouraged. She firmly believes Canadians are more knowledgeable and concerned about the state of our democracy than ever, and many want to help in efforts to protect it.
So what can Canadians do?
First, you can write, email and telephone Harper, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, as well as your MP. In the past, many people have written to Ottawa, but have received unsatisfying responses or no replies at all. Don’t give up, though. Politicians will change direction if enough people write to them, Conacher says.
Second, join a non-profit community group engaged in a public issue and can provide a chance to share your views with elected officials or public servants.
Third, spend $10 and join a political party. As a member, you can try to influence candidates and the political agenda at the local or national level.
Fourth, talk about political issues with your family and friends. Loat says one of the biggest challenges for anyone interested in restoring democracy is getting others engage. Barely 40 per cent of Canadians report they have talked with their friends or families or work colleagues about a political or societal issue in person or on the phone in the last year.
Fifth, sign up with pro-democracy efforts and petitions that are being launched across Canada. For example, the Ottawa-based Council of Canadians is urging its members to take a vote pledge, with a promise to challenge two more eligible voters to join them in taking the pledge. As well, Dave Meslin, a Toronto organizer who co-founded Spacing magazine, is seeking ideas for a book he is writing, titled One Hundred Remedies for a Broken Democracy.
In addition, Conacher is the driving force behind Democracy Education, a coalition of national groups that operates the VotePromise.ca website that strives to get voters to encourage non-voters to turn out for the coming election.
“Showing up is important because as far as politicians are concerned you don’t count if you don’t vote,” he says in explaining the reasoning behind the VotePromise.ca initiative.
Admittedly, it will be hard work to get politicians to change their attitudes toward what’s happening to our democracy.
And it will be difficult to encourage others to join the fight to restore democracy. As Meslin says on his website, the need for change is critical. “Let’s face it: our democracy is terribly sick,” he says. “The viral symptoms are cynicism, disengagement, concentration of power and apathy.”
But if too many citizens stay disengaged and do nothing, then our democracy could be at even greater risk after this coming election.