Jamie Biggar: Will spring federal election bring democratic despair or regeneration?
So it’s almost official: we’re having a spring election in Canada. Will this be an election that makes Canadians despair for the state of their politics? Or, can we begin to regenerate our democracy?
It’s pretty easy to imagine the despair scenario, so let’s not dwell on it for too long. We are subjected to a relentless barrage of attack ads and vitriol. We are told to vote against our greater fear—either fear of what the Conservative government would do with more power, or fear of what a new government would do to the uneven economic recovery. We hear little serious debate about any of the major challenges facing this country.
The despair scenario is so painful because the stakes are high. Our country faces major and complex challenges. To pick two, how do we respond to massive environmental destruction and growing inequality? How do we address these issues in the context of a shifting global economy? Can a country that is divided and discouraged by its politics rise to these challenges, or the others like them?
We often talk about the importance of democracy only as an end unto itself. It’s worth thinking about the value of democracy as a means to a broader set of ends. Our democracy is how we agree to work together on issues that people care about. We need a healthy democracy to build support for shared action. We need a healthy democracy to make good choices that respect the diversity of values and interests in our society.
This election is an opportunity to start creating a new kind of politics. The kind of change we need goes farther and deeper then just substituting one leader for another, or one party for another. We need to enrich our democracy and create avenues for more meaningful participation.
Over the last few weeks, people from across the country came together in over 75 local get-togethers to talk about their hopes and goals for Canada. The get-togethers were part of a larger process organized by Leadnow to craft a Declaration for Change that will call on federal politicians to cooperate for progress on issues people care about. We will then ask Canadians to back the declaration with a commitment to vote for the politicians who rise to the challenge.
I keep coming back to the words of a high school student from Vancouver Island who realized he was old enough to vote during one these events: “I want a government that respects its citizens, and right now I don’t feel like I am being respected as a citizen.” As citizens, we are only going to get that respect if we demand it, and we are only going to see a new kind of politics in this country if we start to create it ourselves.
Over the six week duration of the election campaign, Leadnow will bring generations of Canadians together to build a new type of politics and call for democratic reform. The change we need is not going to come from those who are too invested in the status quo in Ottawa. It is only going to come from people like you working together to change that status quo. I hope you will join us.
Jamie Biggar is a cofounder of Leadnow.