Canadians are a deferential people, less so than Europeans and more so than Americans, but we have had respect for the authority and the legitimacy of elected representatives in the past. This is because of our history, the waves of immigration that have shaped our country, and we have been socialized to be almost reverent of these people.
In the last decade or so, we have seen a waning of these values, fostered through social media and negative campaigning, and the efficacy in our political institutions is now being eroded. It would be easy to castigate one political group or another, but, in truth, all sides are doing this, and it raises the simple and interesting question: why?
The answer itself may not be quite so straightforward, for there are probably as many reasons as there are Canadians, but we can focus on two categories. The first is the simple fact that certain people want control to shape our country or our communities to how they want them to be. It is a certain arrogance that they know better than we do what is good for us. They will talk about grassroots movements and popular support, but they rarely consult with citizens as a whole, if ever, but, instead, stay within their own coterie of supporters, creating a sense of ‘group think’.
The second reason is the complaint that those with money and interest groups now heavily influence our political decision-makers. These groups are very self-interested, yet benefit on the backs of Canadians. As we see ourselves struggle, falling further behind, our anxieties and resentments are causing us to question the validity of our decision-makers’ actions, which are creating impositions upon us.
Because of the diminishing trust in our elected officials, we are starting to hear calls for more control over decisions that affect us as taxpayers. We do not have a strong history of using such mechanisms as referenda or plebiscites, partially because of the complexity and costs of executing them at a national level, but they have been used in the past for questions around Temperance, Conscription, and the Charlottetown Accord.
They are probably more apt to be used at the municipal level, however, as the coordination needed is less complex, though this still would impose costs that would need to be considered. Currently, our community has used them conservatively at election time to negate this fact, but maybe it is time to increase their frequency. This is not to suggest that our city council has not tried to seek feedback on issues, but have these efforts been effective, gaining a true sense of what we want for our community, or have specific interests heavily swayed them? In either case, a move towards a greater sense of sovereignty of the individual may actually be the evolution of a better form of democracy to further enfranchise us as Canadians.
John Kennair is an international consultant and doctor of laws who lives in St. Albert.