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The Civic Canadian Citizen
A Return to Political Responsibility
It starts in Civics Class
A good number of people I have talked to have told me that they feel helpless to influence the political process. I have been told that the most one can hope to achieve is a vote once every four years. It’s an incredibly depressing viewpoint and one that is, in my opinion, born out of a societal wide feeling of learned helplessness. People simply do not feel like they have a say in the way their Government conducts business and most just want to be left alone, they don’t want to take to the streets in protest. Unfortunately the attitude of just wanting to be left alone helped get us to this point. As a collective we cast off the burden of political responsibility and we in many ways gave blanche control over to a largely political class with the trust that things would be handled appropriately. At first it wasn’t too bad but over time the political class has slowly rotted away, while also enrichening themselves in incredible ways.
Civics class in high school taught me that anyone could become a politician, that it was a calling that some had to lead their Country and fellow citizens. That was a lie. Even in the early 2000’s when I was in high school the political class was already firmly established. A group of rich insiders, less often coming from the ranks of the working or lower class but instead coming in more often from ivy league progressive schools with law degrees in economics and lawyer credentials. Civics class did not make me a Civic citizen and nor did it for many Canadians. People in online discourse often cannot recognize what is a Municipal, Provincial and/or Federal responsibility. It all rolls into one haze of political belief that encompasses everyone and everything in the political class.
What I did learn in Civics class that one day I will be given the ultimate responsibility, the vote. I was supposed to cherish this as my primary way to interact with political class. We were taught the basics about the main parties but that was essentially it. We were not allowed to hold political debate or discuss political issues with each other. In fact the gist that I got from both my personal and school life was that politics was a personal matter best not discussed lest someone disagree and an argument may ensue. We were never taught about writing to our MP’s, Phoning our MP’s or Senators. Instruction on Provincial Politics was even more limited. In Cadets years ago we went to our Town Council Meeting for 30 minutes but that was really the exposure that I had to Municipal politics.
Things we didn’t learn is that someone could join a political party in Canada. That if you join a political party that you could become a member of a working group in the party and influence policy and direction. It should have been encouraged for people to join and participate in a political party, many of them have youth groups within the parties themselves. People should be encouraged and even incentivized to attend their municipal Council meetings. Unless it is a truly hot button issue, if you go into most Council halls during a meeting you would be lucky to find anyone in the seats unless they are there to make a presentation. Like I said, we traded having more free time to do what we want by giving this political power over to the few people who are interested in political functions.
We also didn’t learn about periphery power or lobbyists either. We didn’t learn that if we were particularly passionate about an issue that we could pay to join a lobbyist group to represent our issues, although many of us learn that later on in life. A good civic citizen should be taught at an early age that there are groups out there with specialist knowledge and expertise that can and will represent our interests at a higher level. Finally, we didn’t learn about periphery power, that getting involved in certain non-profit groups, business associations and community organizations will give people the ability to influence policy and interact with the Political powers that be. Periphery power is also the power to influence your schools. If you’re tired of woke ideology being taught in your schools, sure you could homeschool your kids, that takes an incredible amount of patience to do and can be quite rewarding but what if you fixed the system itself? Schoolboards are elected positions of power that wield incredible amounts of power over the direction of learning. The woke understand this, that’s why they stacked the boards years ago and why we’re having the issues we have now in the schools. Periphery power works.
What is good Civic Citizenship?
In my view good Civic Citizenship is people meaningfully engaging in the political process. Not simply being bitter and disenfranchised but actually taking part and enjoying the political processes of things. Good civic citizens have a working knowledge of the policies of the party they support, they are engaging with their Chain of Command within the party itself and they are contributing to enacting the policies they vote in internally. They should have a good idea of the counter arguments to their supported stances on policy issues. They should have a clear understanding of the difference between the Municipal, Provincial and Federal jurisdictions and where these jurisdictions intertwine. They should aspire to inspire others to civic responsibility, even if they disagree with their stance on politics.
What isn’t good Civic Citizenship?
Online discourse is as far disconnected from the political process that you can get but it’s also where people yell the loudest. Leading up to Saskatoon City Council meeting on their gender inclusive washroom policies there was plenty of insults, threats and heat thrown around on twitter. Yet the day of the Council meeting everyone filed quietly into Council Chambers, sat nicely and besides a few disruptions generally followed the rules and decorum laid out before them. At the end of the discussion everyone filed out of Council Chambers in an orderly fashion. The hysteria online did not match real life. I was disappointed to see that so many people who oppose the inclusive bathroom policy skipped the Chambers discussion.
There is another issue that particularly effects Conservatives. The need for someone’s beliefs to be the dominant belief. Conservatives have fallen into a bad civic citizen feedback loop. Conservatives want “their brand" of Conservatism to be the dominant one and if it isn’t then they take a radical anarchy based approach. Now I’ll talk later on why this is an incredibly poor outlook but people have to realize they’re never going to get 100% of what they want. Everything is a compromise and for some issues winning ground needs to be measured in millimeters and not yards to the finish line. The CPC and PPC conflict is a good example of this cross inner cultural dichotomy.
I’m going to sound like a cranky SJW here but that is not my intent. You have to get educated, you gotta do the background work. There are innumerable videos online about Canada’s Political processes. You need to learn about the division between the Municipal, Provincial and Federal levels. Who is responsible for what and where power intersects. This is mandatory, ignorance is inexcusable in the information era. Video’s criticizing the flaws in our system is not the intent however, you have to learn how to navigate within the system itself. Being upset at flaws and then refusing to learn about the system you live in itself as a result, is simply excuse making and laziness.
The best part about being a Civic Citizen in Canada is that it is an incredibly low bar to entry. The system practically begs people to be involved. The best way to start getting involved is to simply go to your local Town/City Council meetings. They are posted and usually occur once a month. Just go and sit and see how business is conducted. Get a copy of the minutes and the by-laws and follow along. Get used to seeing how things are passed. Once you feel comfortable being there and if you have an issue you would like to make a presentation on then do your research and get a slot and do a presentation on an issue that is close to you. It is 100% free and over time you can and will build a rapport with the Council and you may see the ability to have an increased influence in municipal matters as there are citizen led committees and groups that often help municipalities make decisions.
You are going to have the most influence in your own back yard and people often fail to understand that some of the issues they see at the Provincial and Federal levels start at the Municipal level in some way. How cities respond to issues will effect Provincial and Federal responses as well. It’s all connected within a web even though power wise it is separated.
Skills that you’ll learn by doing the above mentioned things include:
Learning about Rules of Order
Solving problems in a Government context
There is several ways one can become more involved in the Provincial and Federal Political level. You don’t have to run to be a candidate. The best way to get involved is to join a Political Party that aligns with your values and then attend your Electoral District Association(EDA) Meetings. You get a say in the party and the direction of the party. This is the key to unlocking your civic voice outside of casting your vote. If you are a business owner, part of a professional association, in a non-profit, etc… you may have access to periphery power that can allow you to voice your concerns in non-traditional ways. You may get access that other’s don’t and you can use that to your advantage. Periphery power has become quite a topic of contention these past few years but this type of access remains legal and I doubt it can ever be fully nullified.
Talking to your Members of Parliament is also a way you can engage Provincially and Federally. I will say though, you should treat a phone call or in person meeting with an MP like a professional presentation. General comments are appreciated I am sure but more impactful will be to have a presentation ready, accompanied by documents that the MP can use. A good idea is to always bring a proposed solution to the problem you are bringing up and not simply rely on the MP to find the solution for you. Your MP’s job is to represent all of their constituents, even those who didn’t vote for them. So if your MP is a Liberal and you are not, it is even more imperative to ensure that you are well prepared, professional and informed. I would advise that every citizen should intend to speak to their MP and MPP once every two months. Consider it a Civic checkup instead of a Doctor check up. Come prepared with concerns that you have and remain professional.
Fostering a Culture of Political Accountability
The reason why we have the system that we do, where politicians of all stripes have been able to seemingly get away with what ever they want is because we have been so politically disengaged. If people were following the ideas I lay out in this article the Political Class would be forced to cooperate more with the middle and lower class. If my MP was accused of lets say taking money from China a civic citizen would arrange a meeting to question their MP on this, gather facts and request a through explanation in writing. If 1000 people did this and expressed their dismay at their local EDA boards, to the media and to the community with peripheral power the Member of Parliament in question would quickly find themselves backed into a corner. If this was followed through in mass other MP’s may find themselves in discussion and soon that MP may have to sit as an independent or may have to resign from politics altogether. This is much more influential then going on Twitter and insulting the MP which is cathartic but ultimately results in no societal change,
Anarchy isn’t the answer
As I wrap up this opinion piece I want to reflect on a growing trend I am seeing on the left and the right and that is promoting the downfall of our Government system in general. Anarchism as a baseline solution for poor Governance is a juvenile romantic fantasy that should be reserved only for the most autocratic of Governmental systems. Anyone promoting anarchy in any other situation is engaging in poor faith. They believe that if they collapse the system that their own superior system and group of people will rise in its place to instill “proper” values. Of course in a system that collapses the only way to restore order is through incredibly violent and restrictive means and to live in a situation that would make the COVID lockdowns look like Disneyland. Our system is precarious enough already, we can already see cracks in the system and when things don’t work properly we see what the results are without a total system collapse. I would be extremely weary of anyone who is advocating for anarchy as a solution to generalized poor governance.
I hope you were able to get some value from this article. I want people to be optimistic. Politics can and should be something that we look forward to engaging in and not viewed as a eye rolling necessity. Politics can be fun and advancing the interests of your community and Country should fill us with a sense of pride. There is also a lot of personal growth and skill development that can come from being a Civic Citizen which can further benefit society. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and your ideas of how you think we can create better civic citizens. Let me know in the comments or use the Notes function to keep the conversation going on this.
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