ELECTION CAMPAIGNS ARE ALL ABOUT CHOICES. We’ve known that since the early days of democracy itself. But it’s time for us to focus on the choosers, and in this case the federal government itself and the implications of its own choices both in and out of a lengthy election campaign.
I had dinner with Dr. Don Lenihan a few years ago in Ottawa and found him to be remarkably informed on issues of democracy. It was only later that I learned he had become a Senior Associate in Policy and Engagement at Canada 2020 – this country’s leading independent progressive think-tank. He’s well respected internationally as an expert on democracy and the new spirit of Open Government, and chaired an expert group on citizen engagement for the United Nations.
Yesterday, all that experience and knowledge were combined in a piece Dr. Lenihan wrote regarding what happens when a government refuses to listen to citizens. Titled, Should You Vote for a Leader Who Doesn’t Trust the Public?, the piece immediately drove to what is the central issue for the democratic spirit in this federal contest. He writes,
The use of omnibus bills, the refusal to comply with access to information, the gagging of public servants, the attack on officers of parliament, the manipulation of committees, interfering with the Senate, proroguing Parliament to avoid a confidence motion, refusing to work with the provinces or the media—the list of his democratic infractions goes on and on.
Lenihan’s conclusion in all this is pungent: Our prime minister doesn’t trust us. In an era of open transparency and accountability, this is indeed a troubling portent. You can catch Lenihan’s article here.
All this leaves us with questions: If government doesn’t trust its people, how then will they direct their future? Or can they?
When nations approach a series of crossroads, it all can be a bit unnerving. We know change is upon us and that our choices in such a setting take on extra meaning. Historically, we’ve trusted that our politic leaders would guide us through the shoals and bring us successfully to the other side. But in our modern world, citizens want a hand in that direction, believing that their opinions matter and that their discernment should be sought. Yet, again, what happens when a government isn’t interested?
It isn’t enough anymore for political parties to lay out their policies from which we are to choose one among them. Citizens are now more savvy, seeing in all parties solutions and leanings that make sense. Increasingly, they are discovering that no one party has all the solutions, or even the right questions. In such a setting, they desire parties that are open to input from citizens (voters), and are willing to build on areas of commonality with their competitors for the sake of the country.
We are now in an age of experimentation, where we can strive for enhanced levels of cooperation and discover new methods for facing the great challenges of our time. Political leaders might conveniently claim we, as citizens, are “innovating,” but in truth we are leading. In fact, that path through our present political wilderness lies in our hands. Whether we select our leaders or demonstrate leadership ourselves, the future is rightfully ours to imagine. Yes, we can entertain ideas from politicians, but in a fulsome democracy, they must also respect ours.
To live in a nation where government refuses citizen input, contributions from seasoned experts, and transparent dealings between government and people, is to refuse the progress history has given us and to turn our back on our own potential. Our best way to explore our own future is to create it ourselves, and for that we require governments that give us a seat at the table and welcome our ideas and convictions. The opposite to that is what we have at present. As Lenihan powerfully puts it: “Canadians who really want to make an informed choice in this election should not only consider how the party leaders are asking us to see them, but how they see us. And as they reflect on this, they should keep a key question in mind: If a leader doesn’t trust me, why would I trust him?”
More than any other Canadian federal election, this present campaign could be the one where citizens say “enough.” It’s one thing to have parties vie for our vote, but it’s another entirely when one seeks the keys to the kingdom while distrusting us in the process. And since that decision has already been made, it’s time for us to make our own.