Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Future of Democracy in Canada: A Personal Journey. Part VII: Planning for the Future

The Future of Democracy in Canada: A Personal Journey
Part VII: Planning for the Future

I received a lovely Christmas present from my beautiful wife last year: a copy of Gwynne Dyer’s "Climate Wars". I loved the book so much that I dragged my wife out to Mr. Dyer’s presentation at Laurentian University which he gave here in Sudbury over the summer time. As a result my wife has vowed that I’ll be getting a tie and sweat socks for Christmas this year.

Of relevance to my personal journey through the future of democracy in Canada, though, is Mr. Dyer’s conclusion that governments around the world are taking the threat of climate change very seriously, even if they are not discussing it publicly. Dyer contends that military planning in the United States and Europe is way out ahead of the public on this issue. This means that our elected officials are being briefed on the very topics I’ve been discussing: the crisis in climate change, Peak Oil and the looming energy shortage, along with the anticipated shortages in food and water. Our Canadian government is aware that Canada will not escape these global challenges.

They know we’ve blown through the carrying capacity of Planet Earth. And they are preparing for the consequences.

Whew. I guess maybe we can feel warm and secure with the knowledge that our governments and military are planning for the future after all. Surely that must be a good thing.

Well, when I went to school and studied urban planning, one of the lessons that was drilled into my soul is that when you are preparing a plan, any kind of plan, you must engage in meaningful consultation with all effected stakeholders. If you don’t do this, you are putting their buy-in to the plan at risk, and will experience subsequent delays and maybe even the eventual watering down of the plan. A truly successful plan is one which has received the maximum level of buy-in by as many concerned parties as can be found. To achieve this result, though, you must consult.

Our government does not appear to be consulting with effected stakeholders in any meaningful way at all with regards to their plan for Canada’s future in a world impacted by climate change and the end of cheap energy. In fact, our government has been doing just the opposite: they’ve been promoting a complete disengagement from any discussion about these topics. In effect, they’ve been taking the public line whereby they are denying reality. And our media has been letting them get away with this. The majority of Canadians appear to be complacent with this approach.

Clearly though, we Canadians are the very "interested parties" or stakeholders who should be consulted on our government’s plan for the future. Why, then, are we being left out?
Consultation and planning are inherently democratic processes. There is often give and take which goes into good plans, to accommodate interests. Sure, sometimes this kind of planning takes a long time, and certainly a healthy public discussion about where Canada wants to be 20 or 50 years down the road would be the sort of planning exercise which isn’t going to be finished in six months. These things take time.

Often, important components of plans end up getting "watered down" in order to find a solution which can accommodate the largest number of parties. We often refer to these solutions as "win-win", but sometimes they are actually "lose lose", as each side has to give or bend from their positions. But again, that’s democracy in action: coming up with the best solution for the most people. And that’s why things seem to take so long to happen in democracies, and why the pace of change tends to be incremental.

To meet the coming threats from the climate change and Peak Oil crises, one has to ask, is our democracy nimble and flexible enough to handle the threats which may not be moving incrementally, but instead which may hit us fairly quickly?

We’ve seen the erosion of our democratic traditions occurring over time. Power in our federal democracy has largely been taken out of the hands of our MP’s through their constant whipping, and put into the hands of the Prime Minister. Even on opposition benches, we’ve come to witness this rise in the cult of the Leader. Instead of in the hands of many, power is now de fact vested in the hands of the few. In practice, our Canadian example of the Westminister-style of parliamentary democracy has turned into a system whereby we have turned over most power to a single individual elected to office by only several thousand direct votes.

Our public institutions, as well, are becoming less accountable to the public, and more secretive. Information which used to flow to the public is now hidden behind "Freedom of Information" laws. Government watchdogs are being muzzled, and even the media doesn’t seem to want to bark very often any more, unless it’s about partisan games. Question period in the House has degenerated into a crude joke as very few questions are ever actually answered. And voters have become increasingly disengaged, having lost faith in the whole process.

And instead of trying to engage Canadians in a discussion about our collective future based on the known threats which exist, our government does nothing, and our opposition politicians and media pretend that there is no need...that the future will be like the present.

Well...our future is not going to be like the present, and our governments know that. Why are they not talking to us about it?

And why are we not demanding that we be consulted?

(Continued in Part 8...)

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