EDITORIAL: Choice without information does not equal democracy
Democracy: government for and by the people. It’s a novel concept, that the people directly affected by the actions of a government can or should have a say in the decision making process. In parts of the world right now people are willing to sacrifice their lives to gain democracy. Indeed, the notion of people having even a small measure of control over the direction of their country seems like something worth fighting for. Why, then, are we so lackadaisical about exercising our democracy through elections here in Canada?
We’ve heard this discussion and question asked many times, every four years or less (and lately a lot less). Voter fatigue, lack of faith and trust in government to follow through on promises, and at times indistinguishable differences between parties have been looked at as possible reasons why people don’t get more engaged here in Canada.
Are people in Canada disenchanted with democracy in general? Perhaps, but I doubt it. I would wager rather that Canadians long for choice and debate but haven’t truly seen a healthy, functioning democracy in our country for some time.
I put that thought to my brother several weekends ago as conversational fodder for the drive from Kelowna up to Big White. The notion that Canada doesn’t really have a functioning democratic election process and that’s why we are run by a party that is supported by less than a third of the population and seemingly doesn’t represent the values of the majority of the country. His first response, of course, was, “What could be more democratic than an election?” and on the surface it seems like a perfectly legitimate and common sense question. Perhaps where Canada started to lose affection for the democratic process was when this question both started and ended discussions on how to improve the people’s influence on our government. That question got me thinking. To truly resolve issues we must dial them as close back to the root as possible. For me it all starts with the notion that people, when provided with the full and accurate information, tend not to make bad decisions. That’s the fundamental value that makes democracy work or not work. If you control the information, you control the people and thus have all but killed your democracy regardless of whether you have elections 4 times in 7 years or one time in 100 years. Asking people to make decisions without giving the full and accurate information is akin to slapping Lady Democracy across the face. But if we want to increase the amount of available information, where do we start? In our world of ever-shrinking attention spans and sound bytes, fully fledged ideas, discussions and debates just can’t happen. Without debate a functioning democracy just can’t happen and we’re relegated to making nationally significant decisions based on whose name we’ve seen on a lawn sign the most. Now without a revolution–as seems to be the popular choice these days for democratic reform in certain areas of the globe–we’re not going to resolve the issue of making decisions based on full and complete information, so what do we do in the short term? One question we should all keep in the forefront of our minds when deciding which party or MP to support is, ‘Who is giving me the information I need and who is withholding information?’ The game of rights and responsibility is a circuitous one, however, and as much as we deserve to have the real story told to us prior to making decisions, we also have to shoulder the responsibility to take action. We need to seek out answers and at the very least pose the questions that either provide answers or at least reveal those who are not forthcoming with answers. In an election triggered by a non-confidence vote around a charge of contempt of parliament, it would seem truth should play an even greater role than normal. The whole democracy angle is near and dear to us at Lone Sheep Publishing. It above all other reasons is the founding principle on why we launched first the Rossland Telegraph and later the Castlegar Source, Boundary Sentinel and Nelson Daily. We wanted to become one forum for a two way exchange of information between the news-makers and the news-readers. It is for that reason that Lone Sheep is organizing a series of All Candidates Forums throughout the West Kootenay. We want to help put the candidates in front of the people. Then the people can get the information and answers they need to make an informed decision on May 2. We’re providing the forum, but we need you to step up to the plate and supply the content. What are the important issues to you, both locally and federally, in the upcoming election? What question do you need the answer to in order to cast your ballot with confidence? Lone Sheep Publishing is now accepting questions to be asked of the candidates at the series of All Candidates Forums from you the people. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Submit your questions as a comment to this story, call us up at 250-231-9878 to relay your question or catch up with us as we shoot video questions from you, the people on the street to pitch to the candidates. This is your opportunity to exercise our tired and creaky old democracy. Let’s make sure that when we make our choice, we’re doing so with as much information as possible. In this day and age we don’t get many opportunities to have a voice in the running of our nation. This is one. Don’t let it slip by.