Thursday, May 5, 2011

Our So-called Concern for Democracy

This election was driven, as so many have been, by excessive media concentration and financial resources on the leaders of the parties, not by broad reporting on constituencies, selective or otherwise, across the country or by even significant discussions, with very few exceptions, of party policies. Most stories began with “what are the leaders up to today” leads. Both the contempt issue and the environment disappeared off the radar quickly, for example, except when Iggy brought up the former, and not even Elizabeth May, focused as she was on winning her riding, brought up the latter except incidentally. And it isn't just the media who should be blamed: the parties themselves are responsible for this distortion in our public discourse, for they have all concentrated both air and ground resources on their leaders, and those leaders have incrementally over forty years or so undermined democracy both subtlely and overtly both inside Parliament, as Peter Miliken has implied, and structurally in their Party organizations by creating power hierarchies whereby you do what the leader's brain trust says or you're out. Add to that the well-established illusion that the grassroots has real input power, for most policy conventions are like carnival day for the workers in the field: give them a day of fun and games and they'll go back to work content. And, apparently, even ordinary MPs have little input. An ordinary MP, according to Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis, can't just walk in and have a chat with his or her leader; an appointment has to be made, and of course backbenchers have really never had any significant power.

There is much transformational work that needs to happen for genuine parliamentary democracy to be reinstated and even more to shift the public discourse to broad-based constituency considerations across the county. How likely is change? Given Harper's majority, and the powerlessness all opposition parties in Parliament, not much, and the media, of necessity, will still concentrate coverage on the leaders with the odd side-road story now and them. Enjoy the next four years.

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