We ask...

How do we step up our democracy game?

We follow up our ‘what’, from last week's blog, with our ‘how’.

To recap last week’s blog, we as Canadians take pride in and value our strong democracy. But too often our version of democracy feels like we are given the license to complain but don’t DO anything about it. On the other hand, Brexit had people saying “Why on earth did they let everyone vote on that? Isn’t that carrying democracy too far?”  When can you trust citizens to make a “good” or “right” decision?

We promised to follow up our ‘what’ with our ‘how’: how do we collectively step up our democracy game?

WHAT CAN CITIZENS DO?

Canadians need opportunities to learn and to practice democracy at home, around the dinner table, at work, and in the community. There are a lot of different ways to exercise your democratic voice that don’t include a ballot box, (however if Brexit’s 48/52 split taught us anything, it’s that every vote surely counts!) Check out your community association, your online community, your arts and culture mag, your kid’s school. We believe anywhere community comes together is where democratic practice can happen.

WHAT CAN GOVERNMENTS DO?

Along with our regular election cycles, we’ve experienced two Quebec referendums (1980 and 1995); and, on electoral reform, Citizens Assemblies in British Columbia (2005) and Ontario (2007). What do we know now about involving citizens that we didn’t know before?

  • make the proposal as clear as possible,  

  • give people time and resources to talk about it, and

  • create multiple and varied venues to discuss the topic, leading to an informed choice.

WHAT CAN SCHOOLS DO?

The making of citizens begins formally in high schools, but one could argue our relationships to community start even earlier. While efforts are in place, more can always be done.

  • Reinvigorate civics classes. Youth Ottawa is actively delivering civic education in dozens of Ottawa high schools, using volunteer animators.

  • Engage students in mock parliaments, have them visit city council in session. Try writing legislation, or experiment with some of the emerging gamification platforms that allow players to take on the role of decision maker.

  • Build civic engagement into the curriculum: for example, allow fundraising for a community initiative to be considered an assignment for a commerce course, or cleaning up a shoreline to be part of outdoor education.

Is there too much democracy? No, but there is too little education, too little experimentation, and there are too few safe spaces to practice genuine dialogue. Don’t get us wrong, we understand that governments must balance risk with public benefit: as public servants, governments are fiscally responsible. Traditionally, governments interpreted this responsibility to mean risk aversion, but we are beginning to see greater experimentation. Very exciting!