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Friday, March 25, 2011

What are we speaking of, when we speak of democratic infrastructure?

OK, so I was on the Tweeter today, and I was being a bit of a smart-ass (All together now: Really, OB? We're shocked. Shocked!) about the leaders of the three main parties.

Well, whaddayagonnado? Sometimes a guy's gotta reinforce his non-partisan cred. Know what I'm sayin?

So I'm settin' up all three of 'em, OK? Just bustin' their balls. Harper, Iggy and Jack, not playin' favourites or nothin'.

But seriously, though. I get a response from Bill Milliken from Ottawa, who describes himself as a "food &wine lover, pinot noir addict, father & grandfather, communicator and one of Canada's top 100 lobbyists." Fair enough. Mr. Milliken's first tweet reads:

I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume he's talking about either Iggy or Jack. I don't want to put any words in Mr. Milliken's mouth or make any unwarranted assumptions about what he means, so I hope he'll consider this an open invitation to correct me if I'm misrepresenting or misinterpreting his arguments. (Mr. Milliken, if you're reading this, please feel free to comment in your own words whenever you like. You have my commitment to publishing it.)

Anyway, my response (yes, I know, I need to get a life):

... have to pass a partisan litmus test (sorry, I don't know why tmi.me mangled that ... )?

Mr. Milliken's response:

I'd like to think Mr. Milliken's got a little more than that. I don't know whose team he's on, but really? The other guy's worse? A compelling case, that's not.

So I sez to him:

And Mr. Milliken's rejoinder:

One can't form a comprehensive impression of someone based on a handful of tweets, of course, but Mr. Milliken strikes me as a reasonable man. I don't think he means to suggest that democracy begins and ends with Parliament, but this last message from him seems a little vague.

And that's what leads me to this post. I'm not going to set Mr. Milliken up as a straw man, but our exchange this evening raises the question, for me at least, of how broadly we want to define "democratic infrastructure." As far as I'm concerned, it goes far beyond just Parliament. While the legislature needs to be empowered and respected and allowed to function in a vigorous and unfettered way, the definition also has to include a whole range of extra-parliamentary organizations and institutions – non-governmental organizations, advisory bodies, administrative tribunals, advocacy groups, environmental organizations, professional associations, labour unions, and the like.

Given the complexity of our society and the many avenues through which we're (ideally) supposed to be able to exercise healthy civic engagement and active citizenship, I'd submit that we must allow as broad and flexible and inclusive a definition as possible. It cannot be otherwise. Democratic infrastructure and civil society are intertwined. You can't have one without the other. Undermine one, as Harper's been doing, and you damage the other. I'd like to think Mr. Milliken and I can agree on that.

That's why I wanted him to elaborate on restoration. I'd like to see if whoever he's supporting will commit to repairing the damage Stephen Harper's done. Specifically, I'd like to see:

  • Reconstitution of public or arms-length bodies that have been vilified and/or packed with Harper's supporters (Rights and Democracy);
  • Public apologies and reinstatement, wherever practicable, of public servants who have been smeared, derided, and / or driven from office for insufficiently slavish devotion to the Harper line (Linda Keen, Richard Colvin, Munir Sheikh, Pat Stogran ... )

This list is by no means exhaustive, of course. A single blog post doesn't give me the scope to detail all the Harper Government'sTM offences against democratic governance, healthy debate, or our international standing, never mind our sense of ourselves as Canadians.

One other thing: one needn't have a partisan affiliation to be disgusted by the Harper Government'sTM strategy of obfuscation, misdirection and fearmongering about the possibility of a coalition. In today's Toronto Star, Susan Delacourt has a wonderfully reasoned and, dare I say it, mature essay on the subject. The money quote:

Largely as a product of over-the-top Conservative rhetoric in late 2008, a good section of the Canadian public was convinced that a coalition government — even the mere idea of one — was illegal, unethical and probably dangerous.
In previous interviews, Russell has said he’d never forget the image of political partisans lining the streets near the Governor General’s residence, waving placards denouncing coalitions with extreme, inflammatory language. He’d like to avoid a repeat of that spin war, in which truths about parliamentary government got twisted dangerously out of shape.

Another reason to oust the Harper regime: the Foxifying of our national conversation. Once again, let's consider the state of political discourse and popular culture to the south, engineered by teabagging Republicans and enabled by gormless Democrats, and ask ourselves if we really want to go down that road. If that's a healthy democracy, then I'm King Zog of Albania.

1 comment:

  1. "Sometimes a guy's gotta reinforce his non-partisan cred."

    Good for you. But you want to be careful with this non-partisan, out-of-lockstep, mind-of-your-own stuff. There are authoritarians on all sides of the political spectrum, and in spite of ideological differences, one thing they have in common is that they don't care for this "thinking for yourself" routine.

    Tread carefully! ;)