The Basic Rot at the Bottom of the Barrel

Quick Links – 95% of Canadians Distrust Politics, Canadians Abandoning Parties, The Fundamental Idea, Canadians Care, How Democracy Can Work, The Perfect Storm

95% of Canadians Distrust Politics

Let me go way out on a limb here – I’m willing to bet that if Canadians had to write out a cheque every two weeks to the Government of Canada instead of having it automatically deducted from their paycheques, the Government of Canada would go broke next week. Let me refer you to the results of an Ipsos-Reid poll.

The survey was done for Postmedia News and found that 95 per cent of those asked feel politicians have little or nothing in common with them. Those same people also don’t believe the political elite in Ottawa understand the values and aspirations of average people.

The poll also reveals we generally don’t trust our elected officials, especially at the provincial and federal levels and that we feel we pay too much in taxes and don’t get good value in return. Surprise surprise.

Politicians took last place for trustworthiness among 22 professionals in a 2006 poll taken by Leger Marketing of Montreal. Only 14% of those surveyed said they trusted politicians, five percent below the figure for car salespeople. (Firefighters were at the top with 96%, followed by nurses at 95%, farmers at 92%, teachers at 88%, police officers at 81%, judges at 78%, and church representatives at 64%.)

Is this strictly a Canadian problem? It would appear not, according to Transparency International. In their 2013 Anti-Corruption report in the key findings section they said:

“The democratic pillars of societies are viewed as the most corrupt. Around the world, political parties, the driving force of democracies, are perceived to be the most corrupt institution.

Powerful groups rather than the public good are judged to be driving government actions. More than one in two people (54 per cent) think their government is largely or entirely run by groups acting in their own interests rather than for the benefit of their citizens.”

Further:

“Citizens of Argentina, Greece, Colombia, the United States, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Israel, Vanuatu, Uruguay, and Jamaica share one belief: They think political parties are their country’s most corrupt institutions. In total, 51 countries around the world expressed contempt for political parties in the survey.

More than half of respondents think that their countries are run by big interests looking out for themselves “entirely” or to a “large extent.” It’s no surprise, then, that protesters in countries like Turkey, Egypt, Chile, Spain, and Brazil have used political corruption as a rallying cry.

In the U.S., 76 percent of respondents said that political parties were affected by corruption. In Greece, the number is currently at 90 percent.”

Wow, those are some heavy stats, all seeming to relate to politics. Here’s what I found out in Canada – political parties don’t represent you and me unless you’re one of the 2% that actually join one. Parties can make all the arguments they want about being ‘given a mandate’ or that you ‘represent the people’, but if less than 2% of all the people you claim to represent actually sign up, it’s just a really good line of bullshit. Besides being incredibly lucrative.

Canadians Abandoning Parties

And one of the major problems for political parties is that they can’t attract members anymore. Canadians are abandoning them. According to StatsCan, in fact membership is declining. A fact the parties don’t want you to know. To the point where they won’t even tell you how many members they currently have as I found out.

I certainly couldn’t find something as basic as membership numbers on the three main political parties’ websites when I had a look. So I used the “contact us” forms on all their websites to ask a simple question – how many current members do you have? The only reply I got was from the Liberal Party (ticket #15142) so I’ll pick on them here. I’m an equal opportunity political basher:

Hi Allan,
Thank you for contacting the Liberal Party of Canada. Although we thank you for the interest, We unfortunately do not give that information out. Should you have any further questions or concerns please do not hesitate to contact us.

Kind Regards,

Carly Bigelow
Liberal Party of Canada

Further questions and concerns? I could write a book, for Chrissakes, but that isn’t what I was asking about. So then I sent her an email back asking how, in a democratically run country, I could make a choice if I couldn’t even get basic information on a party like membership numbers?

That prompted another reply from someone else. So my question was kicked upstairs.

Good afternoon Allan,

While it is the policy of the Liberal Party of Canada to not disclose our membership information, whether it be specific numbers or names of individuals, I can confirm for you that during the 2013 Leadership campaign the Liberal Party of Canada had roughly 300,000 registered members and supporters take part in selecting our next Leader.

I hope this information has helped and if you ever require further assistance, please feel free to contact us again in the future.

Kind regards,

Graeme Kembel
Liberal Party of Canada

So let’s see – I asked for their current membership numbers and I get a reply back about members and supporters during a two year old leadership campaign. When the parties make their big push for members so that the leadership hopefuls can get the most votes from their supporters. And, not an exact number but a rough number.

So here we have an attempt at information management that is somehow designed to persuade me that they have more support than what they actually have – why else would you give me numbers from the past when I’m asking about your present numbers? And, the thing that just pisses me off is that this dink thinks he’s done something. What, that’s he’s somehow taken me into his confidence?

“Well, we don’t really give out those numbers but for you Allan, I’m going to tell you anyway – just between you and me old buddy. But I’m not going to actually tell you anything, just make up some bullshit about members and supporters”. Did I ask about your supporters? No. I asked about your membership numbers. Which you won’t tell me – so why even give me the song and dance? Just to make sure I’m truly pissed off or because you think I’m an idiot?

And, if you’re willing to throw down a line of bullshit about something as basic as your membership numbers– what other lines of bullshit are you throwing down? And, as you may have guessed, still nothing from the Conservatives or NDP. Which is an eloquent answer in itself.

So, other than some convoluted answer from the Liberals about their membership and supporters from two years ago, the major political parties in Canada wouldn’t tell me how many people they currently represent. So if I’m following Mr. Washington’s logic correctly – the problem with our system of government is party politics. So how do we get around that?

I believe that all we have to do is use the implied promise of democracy. The inherent contract of democracy – that you and I have a right and, more importantly, a responsibility to participate. Because, somehow, we have never gotten around to setting up a system where you and I could have meaningful input into our system of governance – psychic backbenchers and kicking out politicians after they spend your money notwithstanding.

So what are our options if we don’t happen to agree that democracy is only for Cabinet Ministers? First thing is we don’t have to get rid of democracy. There’s nothing wrong with it as a concept. In fact people all over the world want democracy.

The Fundamental Idea

And what is this fundamental idea? I think it has to do with people being in charge of their own destiny. Having control of their lives – not someone using force to substitute their own inclinations for those of the human race. How far has pursuing this idea gone in the Arab world? Violent demonstrations and civil wars have forced rulers from power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Civil uprisings have occurred or are occurring in Bahrain and Syria and major protests have broken out in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Sudan, Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Western Sahara and now Turkey.

Which is mind-blowing to me that there are people today, right now, putting their lives on the line. For democracy. They are being killed, right now, in a struggle for our system of government. Meanwhile, Canadians seem to be abandoning democracy in droves.

But why do we even need to do anything in Canada about democracy? I can go to Timmy’s or to Costco anytime I want. No one can tell me what to do. So let’s talk about our responsibilities to democracy and, as far as that goes, to Canada – that sovereignty resides at the lowest levels of authority.

You and I are supposed to be in control in a democratic system. And no one should be allowed to hijack that system for their own ends. And even ignoring that basic tenet of democracy, you and I are supposed to be in control because it’s our resources that are being used – your money in the form of taxes, the resources of our country. It is your personal responsibility to ensure these resources are being used properly. That it is being used for the good of Canadians, not to their detriment or for nefarious purposes or mischiefs as George put it.

I’m sure you would not give a known crackhead $1,000 cash so that he can go to rehab without making sure that he was checking in, right? Or would you just believe him when he told you he was going to catch a cab to rehab by himself? Right now we’re just giving the crackheads our money and hoping they make it to rehab.

So will Canadians somehow rise up and physically overthrow the government like the Arab Spring? I’m pretty sure we won’t. We’ve got busy lives. Things to do. Soccer, Costco, yard work, all beckon. Just imagine you’re having coffee at Timmy’s with your pals and someone says: “Hey, I’m tired of the political bullshit of Canada, let’s go down to the Parliament buildings and stage a protest right now. And if they line up the tanks, I’ll take a bullet for freedom baby! Who’s with me?”

And not only that, but he tweets it off to the rest of Canada. What would happen? You’re right – absolutely nothing and his friends would head down to the mall or Canadian Tire or take their kids to soccer or wherever they’re going that day and wonder how their buddy lost his mind. But, and I believe this in my heart of hearts, Canadians are in a unique position to fundamentally deliver on the promise of democracy in a completely non-violent and typically Canadian way. Because Canadians don’t just believe in democracy, they practice it – to the extreme as it turns out. And for the reasoning behind that statement, we need look no further than Quebec.

While most of the world’s immigrants would jump at the chance to get into Canada, a certain portion of French Canadians have, for quite some time, been very actively trying to get out. To the point that in 1970 alleged separatists kidnapped and murdered Quebec’s minister of labor and immigration, Pierre Laporte. In response, Trudeau sent in the troops and temporarily suspended civil liberties. In the minds of whoever committed this heinous act, I guess the idea was that when this happened, the rest of Quebec would rise up and throw off the yoke of Canada and the country of Quebec would be formed. Obviously nothing of the sort took place.

And, although I don’t pretend to understand the reasoning behind the separatist movement, I think it has to do with Quebecers wanting to be in control of their own destiny. So even in the politically charged atmosphere of the 70’s, in a province that was pretty much equally split on whether to stay in Canada or not, the idea of any violence, let alone murder, was abhorrent to the average Canadian.

So the Quebecers then thought long and hard about leaving Canada, and tried again in 1980 with a referendum. The idea was to let the people decide if Quebec should leave Canada. Not only that, but this would be decided in a very democratic and orderly fashion. A vote to break away from Canada. A vote. The democratic will of the people.

Quite literally the only true example that I’ve been able to find in Canadian politics of sovereignty at the lowest levels of authority – the voters. And in this case the vote really was about sovereignty. This is unheard of around the world.

In Canada though, if there’s a simple majority of people living in Quebec who want it, the politicians are willing to declare the Province of Quebec the Country of Quebec and off they’ll go. And, the idea was, and still is presumably, that all it would take is a simple majority. This is truly amazing and as far as I know unprecedented in the world. Ask anyone in Egypt or Bahrain whether this would work there.

If this were to happen in the U.S., I imagine the first response would have been to send in the troops. The separatist movement in Canada is being fought through persuasion. To the point where if you can persuade enough people that it’s in their best interests to not be a part of Canada, you can give your politicians a mandate and they will go negotiate the deal on your behalf. Amazing.

Canadians, in Quebec or out, are not en masse going to participate in any type of violence. We’ll settle this democratically. Period. We will honor the promise of democracy. To the point of breaking up our own country if that is the democratic will of the people. That, as they say, takes an awful lot of balls. To break up a country on a vote.

Anyway, the referendum fails and in 1987 the Meech Lake constitutional accord recognizes Quebec as a “distinct society” transferring extensive new powers to all the provinces. In other words decentralization. Quebec promised that it would accept the 1982 constitution if the accord was approved by all the rest of the provinces. The House of Commons ratified the Meech Lake accord on June 22, 1988, but the accord died on June 23, 1990, after Newfoundland and Manitoba withheld their support. A new set of constitutional proposals hammered out by a parliamentary committee was agreed upon in 1992. They called for decentralization of federal powers, an elected Senate, and special recognition of Quebec as a distinct society.

In a referendum held in October 1992, Canadians decisively turned down the constitutional changes. And in a 1995 referendum Quebec voters again narrowly rejected secession from Canada. Wow. Canada is where the action is. The non-violent, democratic action. So that’s the truly unique way Canadians would break up their country – and they say we have no national identity. I would argue it’s an incredible belief in democracy. And here’s the other unique character of this country that leads me to believe that we can bring about a participatory democracy.

And that is: Canadians care enough to fix the democratic system. Because if nothing else Canadians will give their time and resources for something they believe in. Quite freely as it turns out. How do I know this? Let me start with an example – my buddy Howard. He owns a small acreage just outside of Regina and is one of the most decent people I know. An electrician by trade, he can tell you why Canada has adopted certain electrical building codes.

He will tell you the reasoning behind the code, how it is different in the U.S., how much it costs you compared to the U.S. standards and then he will come over and fix your electrical problems. When I was renovating a bedroom at my house he came over and did all the wiring, put in a new panel and didn’t ask for anything for his time.

And that’s not all. When he heard an organization that rescues street kids in Honduras was having electrical problems at their compound that resulted in a fire, he volunteered to go, on his own dime, and help them out. So he flew down there and not only did he help out, but while he was there he taught one of the workers how to properly wire and re-wire their compound based on Canadian electrical standards so that they could avoid any problems in the future.

Not only is Howard a great guy but he is as honest as the day is long. His taxes are filed on time and to the penny. In other words, I consider Howard a true Canadian and a salt of the earth guy. You would want to have him as a neighbor.

And, as it turns out, my buddy Howard is a typical Canadian. Canadians are thoughtful, caring people who will readily volunteer their time for a good cause. Despite the chaotic conditions around the world as chronicled by our mainstream media, Canadians as a whole have not become cynical, distrustful or fearful people. We’re quite the opposite. We truly care about Canada and the welfare and well-being of our family, friends and neighbours. And not only that, but our young people, often written off as self-absorbed Gen-Xers are leading the way.

Canadians Care, No Doubt About It

How do I know this? We have to look no further than the statistics on volunteering. Here’s some interesting information from Stats Can:

“In 2010, about one-half of Canadians contributed their time, energy and skills to groups and organizations such as charities and non-profits. (This is the formal volunteering part – informal volunteering is much higher). They provided leadership on boards and committees; canvassed for funds; provided advice, counseling or mentoring; visited seniors; prepared and delivered food; served as volunteer drivers; advocated for social causes; coached children and youth. In short, they shaped their communities and enabled non-profit organizations to deliver programs and services to millions of their fellow Canadians.

This volunteer work is important not only to individual volunteers but to Canadian society as a whole. For example, according to the 2011 United Nations State of the World’s Volunteerism Report, “…volunteerism benefits both society at large and the individual volunteer by strengthening trust, solidarity and reciprocity among citizens, and by purposefully creating opportunities for participation.”

In Stat Can’s survey of giving, volunteering and participating:

“The vast majority of Canadians provided either time or money to charitable and non-profit organizations in 2010. Between 2007 and 2010, the total of money they donated and the total number of hours they volunteered remained stable.

In 2010, nearly 24 million people, or 84% of the population aged 15 and over, made a financial donation to a charitable or non-profit organization, for a total of $10.6 billion. Both the percentage of the population donating and the total amount of donations were relatively unchanged from 2007.

At the same time, more than 13.3 million people, or 47% of the population, volunteered their time through a group or organization.

Canadians volunteered nearly 2.1 billion hours in 2010, the equivalent of nearly 1.1 million full-time jobs (assuming 40 hours per week for 48 weeks). The hours volunteered for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics represent approximately 0.7% of this total. Overall, the total number of hours remained relatively unchanged from 2007.”

Demographics

Age: The youngest age group (ages 15-24) represents the highest percentage of volunteers (at 58%). It is interesting to see that folks between 35 and 44 are a close second at 54%. Similar to what we see in financial giving, those who occupy the 65 + category donate the largest number of hours.

Why we volunteer

Canadians state that the primary reason they volunteer is to contribute to their communities. The next two major reasons are to use skills and experience and because they have been personally affected by the cause. The breakdown is as follows:

to make a contribution to community (93%);

to use skills and experience (78%);

personally affected by the organization’s cause (59%);

to explore one’s own strengths (48%);

because their friends volunteer (48%);

to network with others (46%);

to improve job opportunities (22%); and

to fulfill religious obligations or beliefs (21%).

 “Number of volunteers growing faster than Canada’s population

The number of volunteers in 2010 was significantly greater than in earlier years. The 13.3 million people who volunteered marked an increase of 6.4 % over 2007 and of 12.5% over 2004. In comparison, the rate of growth recorded for the general population aged 15 and over was 8.4% between 2004 and 2010.”

Keep in mind these statistics represent formal volunteering programs. Informal volunteering rates are much higher:

“More than 8 in 10 Canadians help others directly (informal volunteering):

Organizations are not the only recipients of Canadians’ charitable time and energy. In fact, compared with the proportion engaged in formal volunteering, almost twice as many Canadians aged 15 and over provide informal direct help to people living outside the household, such as relatives, friends and neighbours. In 2010, 83% of Canadians assisted someone who needed help at least once that year, the same proportion as in 2007.

Most of the help given directly (informal volunteering) was assistance with everyday kinds of activities:

61% provided housework, yard work, and household maintenance;

53% gave health-related or personal care, such as emotional support, advice and counseling, and unpaid babysitting;

47% helped someone to run errands, get to appointments or go shopping;

29% provided assistance with paperwork, such as filing taxes, banking and completing forms;

17% offered unpaid teaching, coaching, tutoring or reading;

24% provided direct help with other types of activities of daily living.

These figures are virtually the same as those recorded in 2007.”

Let me give you an example from my community – a local mother developed a rare form of cancer and required some expensive treatment that was not covered by Medicare. Friends, families and the community got together and had a fundraiser and raised just over $32,000. I’m positive you know of similar instances. These types of things are daily occurrences in Canada.

Let me give you another example – at the time of writing this, there were devastating floods happening in the neighbouring province of Alberta. Estimates by the Bank of Montreal put the damages between three to five billion dollars with about 24% of damages not covered by insurance. People were devastated. I was listening to reports from CBC radio about the carnage. They were interviewing the owner of a Saskatchewan company that specializes in pumping out flooded basements.

This guy drove his huge pump truck into Calgary and started pumping out people’s basements. Great way to make money, right? Except he was doing it for free. His rationale – people in that situation who were unsure if there was even insurance on their homes couldn’t afford what amounted to an average $2,000 bill. He got very emotional on the radio and talked about it being a life-altering experience for him and his son. They were getting hugs from complete strangers who were so grateful to them.

So, as it turns out, my buddy Howard is not alone. We are a nation of givers. A nation that cares about community. Canadians gave 2.1 billion hours of volunteering. And our young people volunteer at the highest rate, no less. Compare this to young people’s participation in our democratic system. 75% of young Canadians didn’t vote in the last election. That is one out of four young persons who saw fit not to vote. What is the future for our democracy when the next generation doesn’t even participate in democracy? Yet almost 60% volunteer. The highest among all the age groups.

I was talking to a young person the other day and we were discussing this issue. Here’s how he explained it – the reason he didn’t vote was to send a message. To you, to the politicians, to me, to the rest of Canada. Who knows? The message? There is nothing to vote for, as he explained. The question is – is anybody listening to this message?

So how could Canada harness the incredible power of the average Canadian and let them have some input into what is an increasingly closed, centralized system that, so it seems, is losing support on a daily basis among the decent hard-working, incredibly caring and giving people of Canada? And for the answer to that question, we only have to look at how people built things in the past. Before big government stepped in.

How Democracy CAN Work

And for that model let me tell you about the University of Bangor, Wales, which my daughter attended and which I had the chance to visit. An incredible place. The school looks something like Hogwarts Castle, right out of the Harry Potter movies. Let me tell you how their University was built.

In the late 1800’s, Bangor Wales was a mining and agricultural town. The miners and farmers realized that if their children were to have opportunities outside of mining or farming, they would need an education. Since the region lacked a University, the miners got together and pledged a part of their weekly wages to build the University.  In other words, they voluntarily taxed themselves. They contributed. From the Bangor University website:

“The University was founded as a direct result of a campaign in the late nineteenth century for higher education provision in Wales. Funds were raised by public subscription to establish a college of university rank in Bangor. An important feature of its foundation was the voluntary contributions made by local people, including farmers and quarrymen, from their weekly wages over a period of time.

Opening its doors in 1884…

The University was founded as the University College of North Wales. It opened its doors on 18 October 1884 in an old coaching inn with 58 students and 10 members of staff. The students received degrees from the University of London until 1893 when the University of Wales, Bangor became one of the three original constituent colleges of the University of Wales .

The location…

The University was originally based in an old coaching inn called the Penrhyn Arms. In 1903, the city of Bangor donated a 10-acre site overlooking the city at Penrallt for a new building, and substantial sums of money were raised by local people to help meet the cost. The foundation stone for this was laid in 1907, and four years later in 1911 the main building was opened, together with some arts and social science buildings and part of the Library.

Today, we have over 12,000 students and 2,000 members of staff. Bangor University is committed to providing teaching of the highest quality, conducting research of the highest quality, taking good care of its students and playing a full role in the wider community of Wales .”

So, for the same reasons that Canadians volunteer, we find that the people of Bangor built their University because they cared about their community.

Consider today that Bangor, a city with a population of 13,725 people swells by some 10,000 students when the University is in session. Can you imagine the pride of the miners and quarrymen when that little school first opened in an old coaching inn? These hard-working hardscrabble miners and farmers who came together for the good of their community? Can you imagine the smiles on their faces? When they realized the dream of higher education for their children? They wanted something better for their kids and they just went out and built it.

A lasting legacy for generations to come. So here’s an example of how good works get done in society. They didn’t need some big government bureaucracy to help them out. They didn’t need any experts to tell them what had to be done. Someone realized that there was a problem that needed attention. They communicated that to the larger community to see if there was a response and then they built a University from the ground floor up. If this isn’t a good model of democracy in action, I don’t know what is.

I would imagine that once the project got underway, the miners and their families would have been kept abreast of how their money was spent, how the contracts were awarded, who was hired or fired, how the project was progressing and what issues were facing the fledgling University. I also imagine that waste and excess from the people they hired would not be tolerated.

The community pride in this accomplishment would have run very, very deep. Scrutiny would have been intense. People were held responsible. Could you imagine someone coming to the miners and telling them that their original estimates were out and that the University would now cost double what they originally told them? No one would have dared. Compare this to our present day boondoggles like the gun registry program.

So could the caring, volunteering, peace-loving people of Canada build a democratic community that would become a legacy for the generations? Where good governance rather than politics is the basis of the system? I don’t think that’s an unreasonable assumption, given that 93% of volunteers do so to make a contribution to their community.

So what could we build? How about building a democracy with the ability for participation at the lowest levels of authority? Where there would be no use for political ideologies and we could simply govern on the needs or values of people as opposed to the catechisms of “right wing” vs. “left wing” or “center” or whatever other silly direction some politicians want to take us? When what we really want is solutions?

And since 83% of Canadians are already online and the number is growing, the first thing would be to set up a website. This would be the ‘Website of Canada’ where you and I go to exercise our sovereignty.  So who would build this website? Could we lobby the government to do it and hope they would? Not if the National Gun Registry or the other failed IT programs are any indication.

So even if the Government of Canada saw the need for such a website, we wouldn’t want them to build the system because, as we’ve seen, they’re incompetent or corrupt or both. They already had their chance. Time to make an end run around the politicians.

So just like the miners in Wales we would simply recognize the need for it and go ahead and build it. Presumably using the same open source software that Alberta used to put their data online. And, it would either stand on its merits or fail. And just like the miners in Wales who first proposed the idea of a University to the larger community, they would have had no idea whether it would be supported or not.

But, and here’s the crux of the matter – if it were built and a significant amount of Canadian voters registered on the system, what could the politicians do? Ignore it? Pretend it doesn’t exist? Hope that it will go away? You can’t argue with numbers, especially if the numbers are connected to voters – that’s how a democracy is supposed to work.

Would this be a legitimate alternative to some political organizations that represent less than 2% of Canadians? Because then a comparison of the numbers would have to take place – here’s a community with 50% or more of registered voters online and your political parties represent less than 2% of voters. Who has more legitimacy in a democracy?

Here’s how I like to think of it – suppose you got together with 100 other like-minded people in a meeting hall. A couple of guys get up on the stage and tell everyone else that they will give you a choice between one of them as the leader of the group. Once you choose one he can direct how the group’s funds are spent and then, if you don’t like how things go, you can kick him out in a few years with a vote. And they tell you that you can now vote for one or the other.

Or, someone gets up on stage and says that they’re taking suggestions from the floor. If a majority of the people in the hall support it, we’ll go ahead with the suggestion after we thoroughly debate things and put it to a vote. By the way any suggestion that requires spending the group’s money must be carried by a majority.

I would suggest that the Alberta government has given us a taste of this – a starting point as it were – the first thing would be to simply get information out to the group. After all, you paid for it. And then let people sift through it. Data will be compiled and analyzed by the group and some people will probably take a more active role but issues will become apparent. And actions will be based on valid community input.

And after we’re able to access data, we’ll have to get a system up and running to provide input. Canadians will champion causes, not political ideologies. Decisions will be made and acted upon. Canada’s system of government will fundamentally change for the better. Or it won’t – who knows what the future holds? But, I’m betting that democracy will come into its own. All by itself, with valid community input. A system of government will evolve that will circumvent politics. Because it won’t be built by politicians. Who, from my experience, have to bullshit you about everything and wouldn’t say shit if they were in it up to their eyeballs.

Will everyone participate? Based on our volunteering rate we can probably assume not, but the system would be available to every Canadian who wants to participate. And then actions about issues ranging from the local to the national would be proposed. And the people would democratically decide. And all this would happen from the comfort of your own office, living room or bathroom or wherever you happen to have an internet connection.

So, using the idea of the miners building a University the first task of the website would be as a clearinghouse for ideas. And once an idea has gained traction, there would be a system of evaluating support. And here’s the cool thing – you may only need the support of a few like-minded people to bring about an idea in your own particular village, town, city or region.

You may not need the support of your country or province. Maybe you just need some help locally. Or maybe your idea would catch on nationally. But the website would take all these levels into account.

It would have to be able to capture and assess the values of Canadians and then provide meaningful data for action. Ideas would have to be proposed and evaluated and arguments would have to be made for and against. Values would be determined. Issues would be clarified. Support for or against certain actions would be gauged. Our civil service would participate and interact directly with their bosses – you and me, the people paying the bills.

And just like the miners in Wales, we would be able to track our money being spent and see whether it’s accomplishing what we want it to accomplish. No more “Freedom of Information” bullshit. The Website of Canada would also be where people interact directly with their government employees. Without the filter of the politicians or the media. Where the people of Canada can find out how projects are proceeding, how well or how badly government departments are being run instead of waiting for a report after the money is spent.

Where accountants can follow audit trails, where engineers can follow projects where the average citizen can have a say in what they want to see done with their money.  Where you would have access to the same briefing notes as everyone else. And no more hiding behind secret ‘ministerial’ orders. It would all be out in the open.

The Perfect Storm

And so here’s where my journey in writing this has led me – wondering if there’s a Perfect Storm brewing in Canada right now? Where 95% mistrust in our elected officials and bullshit like the wholesale warrantless spying on the people of Canada will results in the people of Canada wanting a little more input into their system of government?

Where we would have a choice in participating in dropping 177 million tons of ordnance on people and then have to pay for protection against terrorists or perhaps volunteering to help out with rebuilding infrastructures in those terrorist countries and maybe make some friends in the process? A mechanism where the people of Canada could take control of their own destiny instead of handing it over to political parties that enjoy the support of less than 2% of the populace?  And where young Canadians would be able to vote for something?

Obviously, the system would have to be robust enough to take into account that some government information has to remain confidential for a period of time. But valid arguments would have to be aired for this and once the period of time is up, arguments could be compared to the justification and the system could be modified accordingly or left in place, or strengthened one way or another if required.

In other words, the Website of Canada would be a living breathing entity that would accurately and truly reflect the values of Canadians and then have the ability to put those values into concrete actions at a local, provincial or national level as required. Without all the corrupt political bullshit.

It would take into account whether information needs to be disseminated, services provided or bricks and mortar structures need to be built. It would allow Canadians to decide for themselves how they want to be governed and then allow them to see if they are getting value for their money. The system would be self-policing and self-correcting. It would give us what every politician of the day has promised but never delivered – open and transparent government.

And who would build this website? Volunteers of course. Think it can’t be done? Look no further than something as high profile as Wikipedia, (although the system would have to be much more than an online encyclopedia) which is now being referenced as a matter of course by mainstream media outlets, or the thousands of other decentralized communities that depend on their volunteers to build, maintain and police their online systems. These were all built by volunteers.

So, who would build this system of government – who would rise to that little challenge? I imagine it would be our  computer science types. People that know how to build and use computer systems. So that you and I and every other Canadian could participate. Just look at the incredible number of functioning online communities available for just about any subject you can think of.

There are online communities for everything from CaringBridge, a not for profit providing free websites that connect family and friends during a serious health event to communities for religion, medical and emotional support groups, photo blogging, art, culture, travel, knitting, crocheting, drug addiction, communities without borders, kids, adults, volunteering, business networking, music, books, auteur cinema, dog training, auto repair – you name it and there’s an online community for it. Where people will help you. For free. Where you can give back to the community or tap into other peoples’ advice and experience. Where someone will tell you their experiences with something as mundane as blenders. Wow.

Let’s think about this – right now if you need a government program in Inuvik, NWT and you make a proposal to your MP (if you’re lucky enough that he’s one of the members of the right Political Party) and it happens to make its way up the chain of command to the Minister in Charge of that Department and then it happens to make its way up to the Prime Minister’s Office where the real money is dealt out, you may be able to get some resources. I would suggest that there is a chance that this could happen but I think the chance is a little overweight.

Far better, if you’re trying to go that route, to have bought some political connections via some donations before you asked for the program. Or, barring that, hire a lobbyist in Ottawa and see if they can get some action for you.

Or, you go online and find some like-minded Canadians who get together and decide that 1. – it’s a local problem that may have national implications but we already have some of the resources to solve it here, which immediately brings some relief. 2. – some government department already exists that could help you solve it and it’s willing to help. 3 – your idea gathers support and we find part of the solution in a wider community. 4. – someone channels resources from another government program to your problem on a temporary basis with the agreement of the people involved. 5. – your local program gets adopted throughout Canada because it works. 6.– all of the above. Could we build a system like that? Systems that could do this already exist – we just have to adapt them to something as basic as good governance.

And why shouldn’t we make something like this easy to use? Where you can go online and have all this at your fingertips? Why do I have to join some organization or political party to have my views known in a democracy? The only thing I get to do now is kick someone out four years after they’ve pissed me off. Why can’t I find out what they’re doing right now so that I don’t have to be pissed off four years later? Wouldn’t that be a little more efficient? A little more convenient in this age of instant communications?

So why not the Community of Canada – which is the Government of Canada? Canada is a community. Where do you get the chance to tell your government which is really you when you think about it, how you want your money spent? Right now, you have simply entrusted your money to some third party politicians. Hoping, really, that they will do the right thing. But if they don’t, your only recourse is to kick them out after they’ve already spent it. And after they’ve already put you further in debt. And not only that, but where else in the world would the people have a chance to be the government?

Where you get to make the choices? Do you want to build a University or do you want to buy some Narus STA-6400’s and spy on everybody? Can I vote on that? Can you go some place and register? Do you want to have a choice? You can if we build it. Will it happen through our present command and control top-down political system?

Surely not. So why do these thousands of online communities survive and thrive? Because online communities operate on shared values, which are an incredibly strong unifying force. Much stronger than some arbitrary authority, ideology, political system or command structure. Because people want to do good. Because they care. And, just like the volunteers – the top reason is that they want to contribute to their community. That’s why.

Suppose I was proposing a system of government to you today: We take three bitterly divided, antagonistic groups of people who each espouse their own ideology and will never admit to making a mistake. We send them off someplace to become our leaders. They take our money and spend it however they want.

Then, four years later, we get to kick them out if we think they’re not doing a good job. They can put us in debt and commit us to war or even to the wholesale spying on every Canadian. They can issue secret directives that nobody is supposed to find out about. By the way, they’re supposed to represent everybody but they only really represent less than 2% of Canadians.

They can easily ignore their own commissions and the public service. There is little consequence for them in the court or justice system and in fact, they get to appoint the judges! Without a doubt they are corrupt as evidenced by numerous scandals dating from the very first parliament of Canada. They lie with impunity to get into office and there is no mechanism for holding them to their promises once they’re there.

Reform committees struck by Parliament itself have been ineffective and have been for decades. And, just for their trouble, we’ll give them a gold-plated pension plan that’s not available to you and me. Would you go for it? Or do you think we could come up with something just a little bit better? Well, right now, with the advances in technology and systems, there may be a way to come up with something a lot better.

And what we’re really talking about is getting a bitterly-divided, attack ad producing, antagonistic, secretive and corrupt political system out of the way of good governance. And replace it with an environment where good things could happen for the People of Canada. And the correct environment, as we have seen from the GM workers in Fremont, can mean the difference between being in a factory on the verge of closing down or being part of a motivated, functioning and very productive workplace.

I would submit that the young people of Canada have already shut down the ‘factory of Canada’ in their minds. What would it take to get them back? The application of some systems and some technology that have already been proven? That have already been adopted worldwide in all kinds of industries, organizations and communities? That is in daily use by millions, if not billions of people? Would that get them back? It would certainly get me back.

Keep in mind that that GM factory had been running for years under the old-style management and Toyota came in and completely transformed it within three years with just a few simple tweaks. The people were the same, the equipment was the same and the factory was physically the same. But the climate was different. Could we make a few tweaks and get a climate change in Canadian governance?

And, just looking into the future, if we build this system, Canada, and really just individual Canadians, could get politics out of government and reinvent democracy. Although it’s not so much reinventing it but simply participating in it. Which isn’t really such a big stretch when the Canadian government is supposed to be open and accountable in the first place. After all, our politicians have been promising us open and accountable government for decades. They’ve just never gotten around to the open and accountable part for some reason or other. Maybe they just need a little help.

Which brings us back to the other part of the title of this book – how Canadians can reinvent democracy for the world. And that’s the other reason you and I need to do something – so that all those people that are now fighting and dying for democracy can have a system and some software to apply. And Canadians are in the unique position to do it. Because in Canada no one will have to fight a war or take a bullet. It’ll be easy. You can log in at home. We’ll simply put it to a vote. And all this can happen as soon as we get a system up and running. More on this later.