Thursday, January 28, 2010
Part 3 - Conspiracy theories, government spooks and Cass Sunstein
By Peter Ewart
I agree: excellent article. We owe a lot to people like Peter Ewart who make a huge contribution to our ability to better understand the situation.
You ask: Where are the people?
I'd say: They are right here, all around us, and doing their best in a world gone upside-down.
It's true, they rarely demonstrate ... then I wonder: what do we expect them to do? What would you like them to do?
And the most cruel question of all: when people have no way of knowing the whole truth about their world, how can we blame them for not knowing and not showing concern?
The historical record tells us that the pursuit of "democracy" began at the end of the eighteenth century, notably with the American and then French revolutions. A broad base of citizens at that time had recently become literate and had some meaningful access to information because of the proliferation of printing presses.
It is doubtful that we would now benefit from repeating the chaos that followed. However, the Internet is immeasurably more powerful than the printing press, and it is still quite a new development (and of course it continues to evolve).
So, through this new powerful medium we can discuss and develop new governance mechanisms that will bring us closer to the democratic ideal.
The elites continue to argue against anything like the ancient concept of direct democracy. How could the system that apparently worked for some time in ancient Athens possibly work in our complex modern society? However, the current arrangement of representational democracy is not solving problems but rather creating them. All of our elected assemblies have discredited themselves. There is good reason to blame much of that on the power of political parties.
In the last provincial election there was one credible independent candidate - who prevailed rather spectacularly over the incumbent Attorney General. The press chose to narrowly construe, that is misconstue, what that outcome signified. There are many things that we, the citizens, can do. One is to withdraw our support from all the established political parties. I did that ten years ago. The message, "vote for us, and when we win, then we'll acknowledge your issues", doesn't work with me anymore.
If we are going to continue to base our elected assemblies on geographically defined constituencies, then we need something more than a loyal party member and a constituency office that 99% of the constituents never visit. The constituency offices should not be instruments of the parties. They should exist and function in a manner that says they belong to the people.
A few days ago I got an emailed invitation from my own MLA to attend an "Open House" - three hours this evening with light refreshments and even a DJ. Well thanks, but I'd rather have the opportunity to meet there with my MLA and other constituents to discuss and address my concerns about the democratic deficit.
Pitchforks might be cheap and available now, being snow shovel season and all......well some places anyway.
Then there are all those abandoned rail beds for riding tarred and feathered folks on a rail, without worrying about interrupting train traffic.
I am convinced that if it doesn't get fixed it is going to become VERY UGLY and sooner than later.
One idea i bandied about somewhere, maybe in old Tyee election blogs, was the notion that constituencies have assemblies/town halls, with a certain quorum that could order an MLA/MP to vote this or that way...or some other such mode of control over the representative so that they are not, as you note, simply the party's representative in the constituency, and bagmen for those who bought them the seat (by advertising or campaign donations or whatever other means).
And unlike a lot of other democratic reformers, I don't think representation-by-population is a fair means of representation for rural/wilderness areas; what happens is that places with distinct needs and identities get submerged into the "democratic will" of larger centres at some distance from their area. Which is why Lillooet, Lytton, Bralorne, Seton etc have no real say in their governance, which is determined by Chilliwack (Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon federally).
Representation-by-population is a logic put forward by urban dwellers, who think only in terms of numbers. But tell that to the people of the Chilcotin, whose votes are submerged into those of the Cariboo cities. Not that this has much to do with making MLAs and MPs more accountable, although in the old days candidates and members had to actually go to these places and not just parachute in by helicopter and go back to the urban areas afterwards.
In the early, early days of the province, not only was voting by show of hands (at least until 1903, I don't know when the practice was ended) but constituencies also had only a few hundred, or even a few dozen, voters. You knew everybody, they knew you, and you had to face them at church, or walking down the street or, as might be the case, riding the range.....
Power should be in the hands of local assemblies, is my main point, not vested in a gathering of party bagmen in a distant capital, in a House kept under wraps or run in such an infantile manner as to encourage people to watch anything else; parliamentary name-calling has not proven to be a competitive form of reality TV.
Of course, in Russia, the term for such a local assembly was a soviet. "All power to the soviets" would I'm sure be a highly sale-able notion to BC's continuing community of commie-phobes....
Hear, Hear (as I thump on my desk)!