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This post certainly articulates the issues but I don’t see how the proposed solutions address the underlying problem. The suggestions in the blog post are excellent but really only apply to citizens that are already engaged politically to some degree. The underlying problem is two-fold; (1) a dysfunctional and stagnant democratic system (2) a disengaged electorate. The two are of course intertwined.
Citizens are partially disengaged because of an unresponsive and non-transparent system that incentivizes politicians to make decisions based on short-term election-cycles rather than the long-term. Often decisions are not made in the interest of, or even contrary to, the public good (why else would legislation and policy ensure that foods are not labeled as GMO or a Toyota Camry costs thousands more in Canada than in the United States?). Endless corruption scandals, patronage, unethical behavior, and endless spin make the average voter give up on the process leaving even more electoral influence in hands of the intensely partisan and/or single-issue voters and, ultimately, the wealthiest and most powerful in our society (the often called 1%).
To get more engagement from the majority of people who do not participate in the political process, even minimally by voting in federal, provincial, or municipal elections, a long term strategy is required. Such a strategy would include (1) rigorous and ongoing political system reform (2) citizenship education as part of the public education curriculum.
The current political system needs disruption to make it more transparent, accountable, responsive, and democratic. This disruption needs to be ongoing; that is, the system must always be open to evolving and this openness must be “baked in”.
Young people need to be educated about their role and responsibilities as a citizen. The need to learn how government works, how it could work better, and most importantly, how they could make it work better. This education would emphasize how to think critically about the system and instill a confidence that young citizens could effect change. However, a regenerated political system must be in-place and waiting to accept these young citizens. The end result would be a young person who understands their role as a citizen AND truly believes that their participation in the political system could have an impact.
In short we need a better political system and an educated citizenry that has a deep confidence that they have a meaningful role to play in that political system.
That said, the current level of apathy has been cultivated. An unengaged citizenry allows the most powerful to go about their business with less resistance. The current state of affairs suits these people just fine (corporations, political elites, and the so-called 1% of course) and any move for change of this kind would be resisted subtly but vigorously. Despite this tension, a more politically engaged citizenry would be better for 100% of our society.
Rob tyrrell | June 19, 2013 | Reply
I believe that one way to make politicians more effective and accountable is to implement term levels.
Various formula may be implemented–staggered 4 year terms for continuity,maximum of 2 terms or maximum of number of years etc.Thatis not the important point.
The benefit of term limits is that the politician does not become beholden to the job, to supporters or the party.
He can do what is deemed correct,not politically expedient.
Too many politicians become slaves to the position because of their personal financial need–both salary and pension.The drive to self aggrandizement exceeds the consideration of society.
The very fact that positions will be available in a “term certain” may inspire others to aspire.
Bill | June 16, 2013 | Reply
I’m trying again to leave a comment. This is an excellent column. My only criticism is that is that the last point needs a bit of expansion. We need to understand that substance does not always mean specifics. One of big causes of people’s very negative feelings about politicians is the making of specific promises, mostly in good faith, that their makers find, once elected, that they cannot or should not keep. There need’s to be more emphasis on direction to be followed, of genuine vision (though that’s a greatly overused word.), thinks that they’d look at, review, test and seek the people’s involvement in the decision making. There also has to be dramatic cutback in “gotcha” politics.
Rob Smith | June 14, 2013 | Reply
This is a very good column–I think the last point needs to be moderated or expanded a bit, Politicians and their advisors must realize that substance and specifics are not necessarily the same thing. One of the causes of the problem you are dealing with is that in nearly every election nowadays, politicians make specific commitments, mostly in good fait, which once elected, they find out they cannot keep or that they should not keep–this has been a major for recent N.S. govts, especially the present one. It’s the root cause of the current awfulness in Ottawa. We need our politicians talk about ideas, direction, hope–they type of N.S they hope to build etc. They need to look at new possibilities, but not commit.. And finally “gotcha” has to stop, or at least be dramatically reduced.
It stands to reason, that you can’t expect our representative form of democracy to be satisfactory when something approaching a majority are – irresponsible. It is simply glossing over the truth to think we might just be undecided or disengaged! Be careful what you ask for… .
gordon a.... | June 14, 2013 | Reply
Well believing that our political representatives actually make a difference is indeed a fantasy. Bureaucrats and the public service unions are killing the economy of Nova Scotia. This is why I refuse to even entertain engaging a politician anymore. They are either a puppet of our secret government or they are at worst pinnichio constantly lying.
paul | June 14, 2013 | Reply
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