The other night, Regina City Council voted to move forward on proposed plans for a new, roofless stadium on the grounds of Evraz Place. While this obviously caused a furor among many citizens opposed to such reckless spending of public money, it also revealed something much more concerning than just whether or not Regina builds a new stadium. Democracy as it exists currently in our city and country is quickly becoming obsolete, and without some action, it might simply disappear in a meaningful form.
It is not an overstatement to say that events in the world are happening more rapidly than ever before. With the internet, communications can be sent around the world instantaneously. We can have reports from India or Syria broadcast instantly around the world, and the 24-hour news cycle ensures that a huge section of the population can scrutinize every disaster, every political gaffe, or every scandal as soon as they happen. In the corporate world, companies demand that their workers become more efficient, finishing more work in less time or shipping jobs overseas where labour standards are not nearly as strict as in Canada.
And amidst this rush, our government ploughs ahead faster and faster each day. Our city councils refuse to take the time to put hugely expensive projects that will place a burden on citizens for decades to a vote because we need to build a stadium now. Our Federal government pushes through huge reform bills along with budgets because in an uncertain and ever-changing world, they don’t have time to listen to debate on their policies, nor do they have time to seriously consider any amendments that opposition might want to suggest. If questioned, they respond that there is no time in today’s uncertain economic and political atmosphere to waste on debate that could possibly derail the fragile economy.
“Without finding a way to increase democratic feedback between elections, people have less and less power to make change through democratic means. Eventually, democracy in Canada will become a mockery where we elect a dictator every four years. Some would argue we are already there.”
But if we are entering an uncertain future where events will happen rapidly and serious decisions with severe consequences need to be made ever more rapidly, then why is our democracy still operating on a system designed for the realities of the Nineteenth Century? Why do we embrace a system designed by rich people to ensure that they maintained power over their workers? It is no longer good enough to put our politicians to the test every four years because so much happens in four years that it’s impossible to hold the government to account for everything.
Plus, within those four years, it’s likely that several big decisions would be made that the people were never consulted on. Without finding a way to increase democratic feedback between elections, people have less and less power to make change through democratic means. Eventually, democracy in Canada will become a mockery where we elect a dictator every four years. Some would argue we are already there.
There are no easy solutions to this problem, but certain changes to the structure of our governments would certainly be a step in the right direction. At a municipal level, ending the excessive formality of council meetings, where the neither the gallery nor anyone presenting can ask questions of council, would open up the process to concerned citizens and get more people involved in important decision making. If nothing else, it would make council more accountable.
At a Federal level, lessening the power of the party whip would be a good start so that Members of Parliament could vote more often in the interests of the people they represent rather than just obediently toeing the party line would hold the government directly accountable to the representatives of the people. Elections by proportional representation would also force politicians to form coalition governments that would more accurately reflect what the majority of people really want from their country, rather than which party had the proper concentration of votes in key ridings.
Will our current system ultimately be the death of democracy? Not likely. But the system we have in place now is beginning to look like the demise of meaningful democracy in which the people actually get a say in how their money is spent beyond elections every three or four years. If the world is moving so much faster and important decisions are being made every day, then maybe it’s time that democratic institutions reflected that new reality.