Democracy begins with debate, not a ballot



Like others in the media I’m worried about the state of democracy in Canada, but not for the same reasons. The issue isn’t voting or vouching; the issue is debate and deliberation.


For instance, many columnists have criticized the federal government’s Fair Elections Act. That’s exactly the point. They committed democracy by criticizing the government’s very real and concrete proposal. Thank goodness.


But in order for that to happen you need two things — free speech and a real idea to criticize.


Yes, it’s a good thing the media are there to warn us when power hungry governments and political demagogues threaten to hurt democracy, give democracy an arm burn or ruffle democracy’s lovely thick hair. We applaud their vigilance.


The point, however, is that democracy isn’t just about voting. In a literal sense voting is the last thing democracy is about. The casting of a ballot should be the last act after a long process of discussion, debate and deliberation. Casting a ballot is the mechanical act of registering that point of view. Forgive me, but on the list of threats to democracy in Canada the ability to vote ranks very low.


As it stands today in Canada you don’t even need to prove you are who you say you are, that you are old enough to vote or that you are a Canadian citizen, all of which strikes me as pretty lame. Try heading out to a Liberal Party or NDP nomination meeting and see if they let you vote without proof that you’re eligible.


Besides, voting is something you only have the chance to do every four years whereas, we hope, deliberating about the mighty issues that face the country happens a bit more frequently. The real threat to democracy isn’t a lack of ID — it’s a lack of ideas.


Speaking of which, how about Justin’s campaign to protect Canada’s middle class? This was supposed to be the big Liberal issue, and all of a sudden a new study comes out lauding Canada as a leader in advancing middle-class interests. That’s what happens when you pick the slogan first and do the research second, or in this case not at all.


Anyway, the PM beat Justin over the head with the study in question period and that was that.


This all occurs when folks in the Ottawa bubble are going on about the outcome of an Elections Canada investigation that found there was no “scandal” in the Robocalls scandal. It seems the concerns about “voter suppression” were unfounded. There was no smoking gun, which is good because, as we all know, guns are frightening, even as a metaphor.


But even if there isn’t voter suppression, fewer voters come out to vote today than in the past. Could it be that one of the big reasons for that is the level of discussion is insultingly shallow?


Justin never did bring forward an idea on the middle class, just vague assertions, so there was never anything to debate. Give Pierre Poilievre credit for bringing forward a concrete proposal in the Fair Elections Act. That alone is a victory for democracy.

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