Here in Canada we are lucky enough to live in a modern democracy where our votes, everyones votes, choose the leaders of our country. In our representative democracy everyone has the power and freedom to vote for any candidate and party they deem fit to represent them. In fact, Canada is one of the strongest democracies in our current world scope of politics. The Economist rated Canada 7th overall in their Democracy Index 2014 Report (DIR 2014) and we should no doubt be a shining example as a result.
Even though Canada is near the forefront of political freedom, there is still something inherently wrong with the current system. People everywhere are disenfranchised from politics thinking their vote, and their voice don't make a difference. This is abundantly clear in the recent turnouts in federal elections which saw the third lowest turnout rate of 61.1% in our last election in 2011 and a dismal 58.8% the lowest in Canadian history in 2008. With Canada ranking at a very high 7.78 out of 10 on Political Participation on the DIR 2014, it is strange that the bar is set so low for what is considered ‘excellent’ political participation. Similarly, overall world voter turnout rates have declined almost 10% from 1980-2001 showing that Canadians aren't the only ones in this situation.
Clearly a major reason for this in Canada could be the horribly outdated and misrepresentative First Past the Polls System which has most recently led to a majority government with only 39.62% of the vote. This obviously needs to be changed and hopefully will after this upcoming election, but regardless I want to look at the issue from a bigger perspective.
All too often the different parties cannot work together effectively, or as in our current situation a single party gains complete control. In both cases it can lead to many decisions that the majority of the population doesn't agree with. But once a party is elected, it makes no difference. The party has the power to push through their own agenda with little regard for the general public’s opinion.
We are meant to trust that the party we elect will act in our best interests, but what happens when they don’t? When they go against their word, abuse their position, or simply advocate something we don't agree with? We are stuck with very few options to voice our opinion and make a change:
Contact our local representative and hope they will follow-up as necessary. Express our opinion to the media. Protest outside of the system. In all of these options it is almost impossible to see our voice acknowledged or create any reform from it.
We are left feeling simply like passengers, only along for the ride. We witness the choices that affect our livelihood and the decisions that define our country, but have few tools at our disposal to actively control the direction. It quickly leads to indifference in the system as a whole, further ostracizing every citizen from politics.
So how can we change this? How can we put the people back in the driver seat of our political process? By thinking outside of the context of the current system it is possible to empower the people in a different way. Give them the power to vote not only for the leaders of our country, but on the many political issues themselves. Imagine everyone with the power to have a say within their community, city, province, country, and maybe one day even across the globe.
I’ll present a few examples how the governments decisions may not represent the publics interests, and how this system could be effective:
Let’s take an example of a larger issue that could only be managed Country or Province wide. The Decriminalization/Legalization of Marijuana.
Currently each party has taken a stance on this that they will no doubt follow through with if elected into government. So lets pretend the Conservative Party once again wins a majority government and as promised does not legalize or decriminalize marijuana. They would be completely within their rights to do this but is it really the most democratic decision? Current polls are showing that 65% of Canadians support the decriminalization of Marijuana and 53% support the legalization of it. So would it not make sense that regardless of the party that is elected, the citizens of Canada deserve to have their say heard on such an important issue.
Another example is how public space is used or public funds are spent within a city. Lets consider the proposal for a ‘Victims of Communism Memorial’ that is being built in Ottawa. Currently the controversial, both politically and ideologically, memorial will be costing taxpayers over $4.2 million dollars. It will also take up some of the most prime public real-estate just west of the supreme court on Wellington Street. Although this project is being pushed forward, polls are showing that 58% of local residents are against the Memorial being built. Once again we see a perfect example where the citizens of Ottawa would be better off voting on their own behalf.
Imagine how much more involved people would become in their community if they were actually able to be part of the decisions that went on there. If everyone could vote on the decision for a new community centre. The development of land into a condo. Even whether or not to put in a stop sign. Giving the community the ability to decide how and where their own taxpayer dollars would be spent would empower and connect us.
Of course this would all still exist with political parties and representatives. They would still be the ones putting forward the issues and decisions to vote on along with the possible outcomes and would be in charge of following through with the citizen’s decisions. Their role would shift from the decision makers more towards logistics.
In the past this would have never been possible considering the incredible amount of organization it takes to tally a vote. But with the use of the internet and technology we have available today it is certainly more then feasible.
Imagine each citizen having their own personal voting unit that would verify their identity through means such as government ID, passwords, voice recognition and fingerprint verification. This tool would allow every citizen to vote electronically on a regular basis in the comfort of their own home. It would be easy to use, completely secure, and would be provided and maintained by the government as part of our citizenship.
It would inform the population of upcoming voting issues well ahead of time so everyone could prepare and educate themselves. Through the voting console they could then learn about the issue from each parties ‘biased’ perspective along with numerous neutral journalistic sources. Then everyone has the freedom to make an educated decision from there.
People would actually get to see the direct changes that their votes have led to. Imagine actually getting to vote on issues big and small and soon after seeing the change actually being implemented. I can only speak for myself but this would have me excited and involved. Eager to learn and vote on more issues.
Of course this wouldn't be a simple thing to implement but change rarely is. When democracy itself was first introduced in ancient Greece by Cleisthenes over 2000 years ago, it was thought to be very extreme. The idea that a common person could have the same say as a wise man was ludicrous, but look at where our beliefs on this stand today. Democracy is the shining ideal for what a society should work towards. Regardless, I believe even the best modern democracies can be better.
Imagine a citizenry that is educated, empowered and actively in control of the decisions that shape their country, community and lives on a day-to-day basis. This could be the future of democracy and government all across the world.
Conor D Politician
P.S. Take a look at my corresponding video pitch for this idea found here