Stephen Harper is counting on Canadians’ complacency as he rewrites the rules of his country’s politics to weaken legislative scrutiny
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:
- To make government more open, transparent, innovative, participatory, accountable, effective and efficient
- 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.