Despite the fact that Canadians are in the deep and lazy days of summer, there has been more interest in the federal election campaign that many believed unlikely. It's not due to the parties, their leaders, or their policies. With most of the election still ahead of us, those aspects will likely become more prominent. No, it's likely that healthy attention to this election season is due to a kind of restless desire amongst Canadians for change.
This could well be the real story of Canada's 42nd federal campaign. It's not really about who is chosen but the choosers themselves. If true, then it's serious stuff and shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. Sure, silly things are going on, like the Conservative Leader saying he wants a long campaign for the good of democracy, when he has spent years undermining democratic institutions. Such things happen in every election, but if citizens are clamoring for change in the political process itself, then such shenanigans will pale in comparison with what is about to emerge.
And none too soon. When asked why he is running for the American presidency when he has little political experience, Republican candidate, Dr. Ben Carson, made a prescient point: "If you look at the collective political experience of every body in Congress today it comes out to just under nine thousand years and where has that really gotten us. And in fact there are a number of people who have been in politics for decades and yet you never see them coming up with any solutions."
The same might be observed in the Canadian political context: where are the solutions? Why do we show such meagre resolve on climate change? What is the plan to counteract encroaching poverty and the growing gap between the rich and poor? Where are the solutions if we are facing a future without jobs? And perhaps most importantly, where will Canadians go if the political order can't effectively answer questions like these?
Thomas Jefferson thought he knew, and for the sake of democracy worldwide perhaps we should listen:
"I know of no safe depository of the ultimate power of the society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion."
There it is, right in front of us. If power under our present political construct is increasingly ineffective, then the answer must be to empower citizens to fill the vacuum, to shape the political order to the pressing issues of the day. It's no longer about power controlled anymore, but democracy shared.
Are Canadians -- normally more benign in their commitments than their American cousins -- on the verge of turning our traditional form of politics on its head? It's too early to tell, but following four years of majority government, with a sluggish economy, stubborn unemployment, and a blatant attempt to undermine transparency within the governing process by the government itself. As Dr. Don Lenihan, Senior Associate in Policy and Engagement at Canada 2020, plainly put it in a column this week: "Should You Vote For a Leader Who Doesn't Trust the Public?"
If the upcoming election is ultimately about the those doing the choosing than those being chosen, then a new future for Canadians might well be opening up, one that will demand a seat at the table of power for citizens themselves. But that only works if Canadians show up, and in significant numbers. If not, then things will remain the same and effective change will be pushed down the road to another election, which might end up being too late for issues like climate change.
The concept of self-government, at its very essence, was supposed to be about citizens partnering with their selected representatives. In recent decades, political parties have attempted to buy our votes in exchange for dominance over policy choices. Those days are coming to an end, since the political order sold out good management of public resources for the sake of power itself.
The old philosopher, Jacques Rousseau, made the following connection: "There can be no patriotism without liberty; no liberty without virtue; no virtue without citizens. Create citizens and you will have everything you need." But that is assuming that citizens care enough about their collective estate to show up. If that were to occur on October 19th, election day, Canada will never be the same. If not, then needed change itself will have to await another day.
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