My comment to John Tory’s post at The Star #YourCityMyCity

Mr. Tory, thank you for taking on this important question about the state of our public discourse. I share your concerns. I believe that if we wait for our politicians to change, then we will be waiting a long time. I second your call for citizens…

Mr. Tory, thank you for taking on this important question about the state of our public discourse. I share your concerns. I believe that if we wait for our politicians to change, then we will be waiting a long time. I second your call for citizens to ENGAGE EACH OTHER, and by doing so, to shift the context within which our politicians do their work.

In our communities and neighbourhoods, we are too often separated. Politeness in Toronto has all too often meant disengagement with each other, respect made easy by social distance. Our problems and their possible solutions have become increasingly complex, intertwined and dependent upon each other, but our governments, our politics and our social norms have worked to keep us apart and unaware of each other. So how will we change the conversation we have about this city we share?

I believe that we have methods and technologies to help change this. We can democratize the process of public dialogue. We can enable citizens to host each other in meaningful conversations. We can connect those conversations and those people to one another across time and space in a vast and diverse city.

In a city as large and diverse as Toronto, we need to become leaders in the world in terms our ability as a society to engage one another meaningfully. This requires a new kind of civic leadership, where citizens take ownership and initiative to convene their neighbours in important conversations about our shared future.

Thank you for raising this issue and opportunity. The ChangeCamp community is working to take up your challenge. We are working to develop a toolkit and program for citizen-led civic engagement in the weeks leading up to the October elections and beyond, and we would welcome your active participation in the project.

I think the ChangeCamp community and project could have a strong potential ally in Mr. Tory and the Toronto City Summit Alliance. What do you think?

My hometown MPP is a moron

A Conservative MPP wants Toronto to become Canada’s 11th province. Bill Murdoch, MPP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound says rural Ontario is fighting a losing battle against what he calls “a Toronto mentality.” He wants residents who live in the Greater T…

A Conservative MPP wants Toronto to become Canada’s 11th province.

Bill Murdoch, MPP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound says rural Ontario is fighting a losing battle against what he calls “a Toronto mentality.”

He wants residents who live in the Greater Toronto Area to remain part of Ontario, while Toronto becomes its own province.

via cbc.ca

Murdoch should pay attention to his own backyard and ask himself why creative young people leave his riding for the south. I’m one of them. I grew up knowing that I’d have to leave, because I just didn’t “fit”. Smart queer boys with big dreams and gentle creative spirits don’t fit the vision of Murdoch’s Ontario of rural monoculture.

My hometown of Owen Sound sits in a pretty little corner of Grey County, cradling a beautiful part of Georgian Bay. From Toronto or south-western Ontario, Owen Sound acts as a gateway to the Bruce Peninsula and the beautiful sunsets of the Lake Huron shoreline.

The area is typified by socially conservative attitudes stuck in another century and a lack of opportunity for young people. Murdoch’s romantic idealism for rural past glories is not helping Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound thrive in the new century.

Murdoch’s perfect Ontario without Toronto would keep the 905 region surrounding Toronto. He needs to get a bit of Economic Geography 101. Toronto and the urban agglomeration around it operate as a single integrated economic unit. If we’re going to separate Toronto, we should also separate the entire Greater Toronto Area.

If Toronto were to become a province, it is rural Ontario that would suffer the most. It would lose the economic welfare benefits of taxation over the richest and most economically vibrant part of the province. The rest-of-Ontario would become a poverty-stricken rural rump saddled with an aging population, high healthcare and social welfare costs and insufficient economic activity to pay for it all.

Luckily for him, Murdoch’s dream is unlikely to come true.

Cutting access to broadband? Are you crazy?

via theglobeandmail.com While the FCC just announced a major new commitment to enable new investment in broadband infrastructure in the United States, the Canadian government is cutting an important and hugely successful program to wire libraries …

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While the FCC just announced a major new commitment to enable new investment in broadband infrastructure in the United States, the Canadian government is cutting an important and hugely successful program to wire libraries and other community centres for public access to the Internet.

I cannot even begin to understand this decision. Canada is falling behind in the digital economy and the government is failing to articulate a vision or strategy to catch up. Call your MP and the Industry Minister.

John Ralston Saul – Canada as a Metis nation

I hadn’t read John Ralston Saul’s book “A Fair Country: Telling Truths about Canada”, so I was happy that Patrick brought this talk from TVO’s Big Ideas to my attention. Ralston Saul’s thinking resonated in me. In particular the idea of hybrid ide…

I hadn’t read John Ralston Saul’s book “A Fair Country: Telling Truths about Canada”, so I was happy that Patrick brought this talk from TVO’s Big Ideas to my attention. Ralston Saul’s thinking resonated in me. In particular the idea of hybrid identity resonates with me as a German-Canadian making sense of post-modernity.

To Ralston Saul, Canada was upon arrival of Europeans an aboriginal civilization of minorities, 2 million people coexisting in this land with many cultures and languages while contemporary Canada continues to exist as a country of 30 million as a mixed set of cultures and languages. This coherent sense of a polyglot civilization of complexity that Ralston Saul describes makes Canada not a new country, but a very old country. He claims that contrary to our mythology, we are not a child of Europe in the Americas, we are in our philosophy the most American country in North America while the United States is the largest experiment of European ideas that happens to be taking place outside Europe.

He claims that what works in the Canadian civilization can’t be traced back to Europe.  It is a country of aboriginal inspiration, where complexity and mixedness is more interesting than clarity and homogeneity. Newcomers, in order to survive in this harsh environment, had to aboriginize themselves. They mixed with aboriginals and created a new people, the Metis. It is the only place Europeans colonized where they abandoned European modes of transportation and adopted local modes, in this case the canoe. Champlain said “our sons will marry your daughters and we will make one people”. Hudson’s Bay Company employees were under instructions to arrange marriages with the daughters of local chiefs to create military and trade alliances.

Today, we live with complexity, with multiple levels of government, with accepting differences among us. We’re a nonmonolithic nation-state. We adore negotiating, living comfortably with unresolved questions of clarity, we are in a constant state of negotiation and renegotiation. We are constantly thinking about how we can comingle individual and group rights in our Charter of Rights and constitution. Our approach to belonging, our approach to immigration and our capacity to adapt. We have taken the idea of the aboriginal Great Circle and worked through how to bring people into it. The oral traditions of aboriginal treaty rights are integrated into our legal foundations.

Ralston Saul argues for an urgent need for the incorporation of true Canadian philosophy and mythology into our sociology and political science. Harold Innis and Marshall Mcluhan and theories of communication came from here but we think they’re less important than Rousseau.

Check out this struggle for community engagement with local parks supervisors in Dufferin Grove #VoteTO #ChangeCampTO

For the last fifteen years, various community members have been working with city staff to build Dufferin Grove Park into a lively community commons. In the past year, this effort has come under sustained attack by Parks, Forestry and Recreation m…

For the last fifteen years, various community members have been working with city staff to build Dufferin Grove Park into a lively community commons. In the past year, this effort has come under sustained attack by Parks, Forestry and Recreation management. The front-line staff at the park have been warned that their community connections put them into a situation of conflict of interest, and last week we heard that the long-time Ward 18 recreation supervisor will be removed from this ward. We believe that his transfer to a back office at Metro Hall to work with building cleaners is a punishment for his support of our efforts, and is also meant to send a message to his colleagues.

Have a read of the full letter and response. The reports of Parks & Rec’s attitude of homogeneity and bureaucratic central control over creativity and community collaboration is symptomatic of the industrial age approach to services delivery. Standardization is seen as more efficient. Separation of professionals from stakeholders is seen as a more responsible approach to governance.

What is being lost is the public value of what parks and public spaces are for. The park is not a set of services, it is a space for community. Community is composed of the connections between people and emerges in spaces for individual and community self-expression. By instructing supervisors to be obedient to the Corporation first and seeing community connections as a conflict of interest, this organization may be damaging the very thing it is intended to promote.

If true, and it seems entirely plausible to be true, this cynical approach to the management of public resources is shameful and short-sighted.

Join the Facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=314791346519

The decline of civil society and what it means for society

ResPublica Director Phillip Blond spoke to the Cabinet Office’s Strategy Unit on “The decline of civil society and what it means for society” focusing on the New Civic Settlement: outlining a new politics of civic association. The talk outlined ho…

ResPublica Director Phillip Blond spoke to the Cabinet Office’s Strategy Unit on “The decline of civil society and what it means for society” focusing on the New Civic Settlement: outlining a new politics of civic association. The talk outlined how civic society has been eroded, and what we can do to rebuild it and how a reconstituted associative culture can help solve public policy problems which neither the state nor the market have the ability to solve.

To hear his speech please click on the following link: The Cabinet Office

Downloadable version:

Phillip Blond’s thinking interests me. A lot.

Declaring war on Canadian complacency

Stephen Harper is counting on Canadians??? complacency as he rewrites the rules of his country???s politics to weaken legislative scrutiny Reuters via economist.com This shocking piece from The Economist is much more blunt than most Canadian media has…

Stephen Harper is counting on Canadians’ complacency as he rewrites the rules of his country’s politics to weaken legislative scrutiny

Reuters

This shocking piece from The Economist is much more blunt than most Canadian media has dared to be on the threat to Canadian democracy implicit in the Harper government’s cynical prorogation ploy.

In this new and frightening re-interpretation of Canadian democracy, Parliament sits at the pleasure of the Prime Minister. In this new world, black is white and up is down. It is a horrifying affront to democracy, regardless of your ideological or partisan leanings.

In Iran, the Green Revolution swept the streets of its major cities in response to a threat to the democratic processes of their constitutional Islamic Republic in a vast ongoing struggle for the future. Where is the equivalent Canadian movement? In Canada, I’m afraid, we just take it. We are a country of learned helplessness. Canada is a polity suffering from collective Stockholm syndrome. Call it democracy’s death by a thousand cuts.

I don’t know how this will all play out, but I’m fed up. I’m angry. I’m afraid for the future of democracy in the country that I love. But I also know that I am all the more motivated to do something about it. Others will have their own analyses and prescriptions, this is mine.

This is not a rant against Harper, the Conservative Party, Ottawa or politicians as a class. This is not me advocating to elect Liberals, Greens, NDP, or to talk about electoral reform, constitutional law or parliamentary procedure.

I blame us.

It is the particular Canadian culture of complacency that has empowered a skillful and cynical tactician to remake the political landscape in a way that other parties are jealous of more than horrified at. Voting the bums out and putting in new bums won’t change this fact.

I don’t actually believe that Canadians are apathetic. Canadians care deeply about many issues. They engage in their own quiet and private ways on many issues outside of politics and elections.

Complacency is not apathy. We care, we just don’t do anything about the things we care about. Our actions don’t match our words.

Canadians are disconnected from each other, their sense of citizenship and from civic life in general. I believe this disconnection is the legacy of the 20th century and the modern industrial welfare state. It is disconnection and the absence of a public life for the majority of Canadians that is the source of complacency. We don’t know each other. We can’t see each other and as a result we can’t find common cause or mobilze to take action around the things we care about in a way that is relevant to our politics.

Into the vacuum of a disengaged electorate, we have allowed cynical tactical opportunists of all political stripes to restructure our democracy in a way that keeps Canadians as silent and disconnected clients of the State. Mainstream media, political tacticians and socio-economic realities work to maintain and reinforce this disconnected and defanged democracy.

So, before we will ever see real change in our politics, I believe that the electorate needs to reconnect to itself, one individual to another and from individuals to their communities, one community at a time. Thankfully, we have the technologies and the methods to do this. We just need the individual and collective will to take on a major project of civic re-engagement.

This is the work of our age: to restore community, rebuild our civic institutions and reinvigorate our democracy so that we can transform our communities and society to face the very serious and difficult challenges that lie ahead.

So, to my ChangeCamp colleagues and collaborators across the country, let me offer a proposal about the change that I believe we seek.

The change we seek is two-fold:

  1. To make government more open, transparent, innovative, participatory, accountable, effective and efficient
  2. To reinvigorate the public sphere, re-engaging ourselves, our neighbours, our colleagues and our loved ones with each other around our civic passions

This is what we mean by “Reimagining government and citizenship in the age of participation”.

We are doing this not because we love technology or social media, but because we need a better democracy, a restored sense of community and a society that works for us and the historical moment we find ourselves in.

The moment demands our urgent efforts to reverse the tide of a culture of complacency. Now is our time. 2010 is the year it begins. The alternative is unthinkable.