Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On Encouraging Political Participation

The other day I wrote a post on John Cruickshank's TED Talk about the low level of political participation among young citizens. His thesis was that as a society, we are losing our news-reading and news-watching habits thanks to the myriad options offered by our current technologies. Asserting that news reading is a skill, the devolution of that skill has affected our ability to think critically and be civically engaged.

A well-considered letter to The Star, however, argues that without structural changes in our political system, measures to encourage participation will be ineffectual:
Re: What's the big threat to democracy? Distraction, Insight Oct. 11

I read the dissertation by John Cruickshank on the threats to our democracy. Unfortunately, the analysis and subsequent conclusions are flawed.

The real threats to our democracy come not only from a disengaged younger electorate (understandable given the hardships they face relative to older generations in income, housing and equality of opportunity), but rather from a perversion of the existing democratic institutions by our current plutocracy.

Political parties have “gamed” the system to their advantage. Our current body politic is often about demagogues using power seized through campaigns of fear or misinformation to obtain power; with little recourse for voters if perverse and discriminatory policies ensue.

The newly elected representative quickly finds out that they are merely trained seals, told what to say and when, with little chance to have their views fairly considered on important matters.

To just encourage people to vote no matter what is not the answer. I would proffer that an uninformed voter is more dangerous to our electoral system than one who is informed but chooses not to participate. It could be argued that the uninformed who choose to exercise their right to vote are willing participants to the demagoguery that is pervasive.
Merely asking relatively uninformed citizens to go out and vote once every four years in the current antiquated system is not the answer. The answers will begin once we seriously consider measures to not only encourage civic engagement, but with an accompanying corollary of institutional reform.

This will include some type of proportional representation to better reflect the views of all voters, greater use of plebiscites, allowing recall votes, and having party leaders chosen by their caucus to make them more accountable to the members, rather the reverse. The guise of greater voter turnout will not lead us there.

However, if a major political party were to propose such visionary reforms, then we might experience a sea change in civic involvement.

David Dos Santos, Mississauga

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