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Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Anti-Democrats

I am saddened by the tenor of the current Canadian election. Since 1993 when voters slapped Kim Campbell for the temerity to suggest that elections were not forums for the discussion of anything of consequence, the course of politics has increasingly affirmed the ultimate truth of her comment. Elections in general and this one in particular, have become all about personality. The today's election campaign shows no inclination towards serious debate about policies or issues. It shows no concern about collective learning among Canadians. It shows no concern about building bridges between Canada's many communities. Granted it is early yet, but there seems to be little interest in presenting any sort of narrative of the collective possibility we can all aspire to.

Unfortunately we only have ourselves to blame for this sorry state. We continually make much of our democratic right to elect "our representatives" to steer the course of this great country, deluding ourselves with the fantasy that we tell them what to do, when in fact the opposite occurs. We presume the relationship that exists with elected officials is that they are our agents. But how can we tell them what to do if we don’t understand the issues because there has been no serious discussion of them? If the campaign continues to hinge on real or imagined slights to the leaders, then we have wasted our time and deserve all the puffer doo-doo we get. If there is no collective debate on issues, then we are as much a “mark” as those who naively take advice from a smooth talking stock broker without doing their due diligence.

Democracy is about advanced citizenship. It requires informed and engaged citizens. It should be about voters as owners. It should be about individually and collectively becoming responsible for both the issues we are confronted with and the communities that we live in. It should be about creating a dialogue which binds us all together not about ‘divide and conquer’ strategies that pit us against each other. Democracy is about learning to value our different perspectives and building on that diversity to create something that can truly transform our condition.

Instead I find we are electing people whose avowed goal is not to engage us but to tell us what to do. We seem to want to be saved from ourselves. We want to avoid the inconvenience of taking responsibility for ourselves, our families, and our communities. As we all know, once the election is over these “representatives” will cease their pretense of being our agents and assume a position of lordship, what Jeffrey Simpson once called the “friendly dictator”. They will not feel obligated to act as good stewards on our behalf because they fundamentally do not believe in citizens. They do not believe that citizens can appreciate collective interest. They do not believe that citizens can understand complex problems, or that they can cooperate amongst themselves to achieve common goals. “Just trust us,” they whisper. And while we are mesmerized by the antics of celebrity players, and trifling public gaffes they steal our rights as owners and citizens.

How else can we understand this incessant pursuit of personality? If they are a nice person, we can trust them to look after us. If they are seen to be like us, we don’t have to trouble ourselves with our rights and obligations as citizens. “Don’t worry about those messy issues”, the election messages purr, “our wise leader will take care of you”. This is not democracy but the path to totalitarianism or least the scam of a good con artist. So I am saddened that in the end we seemed trapped in an electoral process which will only allow us to choose the "Father of the Country", which might sound nice until we remember it was a favourite label of Stalin.