In terms of problem spaces I don't think there's much that's more important than political influence by non-human citizen actors. I think these broadly fall under corporate and foreign government.

It seems like we can keep fighting for a seat at the table and more time at that table with the people who make decisions, but if those with money can just buy their seat and access to the MP's ear whenever they please, there will always be an imbalance.

On the corporate side, I'm currently reading Seeking Social Democracy and there's some great nuggets on Industrial Democracy. It seems so crazy to me that we allow shareholder / managerial dictatorships with mega economic & political power to exist and participate within that democracy entirely autonomously. Often times these corporations are so large they can hold governments ransom. It's nonsensical frankly, and only makes common sense that stakeholders (ie workers & communities affected by these businesses) should have a say in how those businesses operate. That also seems like an important way of tackling issues like pollution and resource extraction & remediation that aren't effectively "priced in" to a business and inevitably become a public cost.

On the foreign side, it's crazy to me that we're up in arms about potential foreign election interference from China, but we seem happy to let foreign lobby groups from "friendly" countries buy a seat at the table. More than 70 active MPs have taken together over $800k in trips to Israel funded by the CJIA as timely example.

Anyway, some of this is probably tangential but I'm very interested in what you come up with!

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I think a significant barrier to participation in democracy is our first-past-the-post electoral system. I have heard quite a few people saying there is no point in voting because it won’t make any difference. Unfortunately, they are right. Many votes are “wasted” because they don’t elect anyone, due to our majoritarian system. I have never elected anyone in my life, because I have always lived in ridings where my party isn’t competitive. If I wasn’t so bloody stubborn, I would have given up long ago.

We’re you aware that there is a Charter Challenge underway? The case is being brought by Fairvote BC and Springtide, and was recently heard in Ontario’s Superior court. I sat through two days of the three-day hearing and heard the compelling case being made for why our electoral system undermines Charter rights and should be changed to proportional representation. The decision should come in the next several months.

If we had proportional representation, more women and minority populations would be elected, and every vote would count. I hope Canada will move into the modern world and adopts a more democratic electoral system.

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I haven't read the other comments (yet), but right off the top of my head I would say that this awareness and education of politics and economics has to get more thoroughly into high school. Furthermore, teacher education in social studies needs a complete overhaul.

I hear my three grown-up children say repeatedly that they graduated from high school and hadn't learned a thing about banking, or labour law, or workplace laws, or how government works (you know, political parties, election theory, voting systems) and on and on.

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Lots of great ideas above. I have two frustrations with general political coverage and discourse.

The first is the more manageable: News coverage often closes our imagination. By this I mean we lack context, nuance and international comparisons. The way things are done here are the only way we can conceptualize the world, perhaps with minor changes. As an example, some Scandinavian countries are fast tracking heat pumps but you still get a wild amount of skepticism of them here. But this extends even more to voting systems, political debates etc.

The other challenge is news coverage focuses on what's "news", that is it's controversial or something has triggered a story. This deeply biases us into accepting the status quo on so many issues. For example, most people oppose private and separate Catholic school funding but both are treated as immovable issues. Protests can sometimes challenge this but even then.

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Another thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is the role of urbanism and community in how we mobilize. Our societies are individualistic by design. We prioritize privatize space above all: cars over public/active transit, single family detached homes vs density, fenced yards vs parks, grocery pickup/delivery vs shopping. We go to great lengths to avoid human contact, and this manifests in complacency and a lack of civic engagement. How do we come together to mobilize on issues if we can’t even come together to say hello on the sidewalk?

I want also to explore the role of the cooperative mindset more. I read something recently about how Gen Z is more apt to use sharing services (tool libraries, book libraries, transit, car share...) which I’m sure is in part because of economic circumstance but I do think it’s also a value shift and wonder how it will impact organizing. Anyway, this is a winding rant, but I guess I’m interested in how the actual infrastructure of our cities and communities contribute to this lack of participation in (and access to) democracy and civic life.

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A few general frustrations with politics and the discourse:

Arguments are taken on face value instead of being seen more cynically as mere talking points defending things that are supported for other reasons.

Perhaps it has always been this way, but it is too easy for evil that is done to others to be abstracted away.

Short memories — doing serious historical, comparative work takes homework. Most people have only what’s recent at the top of their minds and their takes reflect this.

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You get a lot of replies on substack from people really concerned about the issue. I beg you to remind yourself while reading it all of the biggest fact of them all about governance:

Nobody wants the work.

People don't *WANT* to serve on the condo board, it's work. It's an unpaid job. My wife puts in hours per day. Not because it's fun, but because we fear the consequences of bad governance.

Everybody would rather somebody else watched the employees at the till; that's why lots of people don't vote; they just figure on "herd immunity" - somebody else will watch the till, and they can free-ride on the other's governance work.

That's why politicians are constantly crying wolf about the other guy's depredations; you have scare and shock some people before they make an effort to vote. Nobody cried "carnage" louder than Trump, and Trump's big victory was to convince people who didn't vote to do so. (5 new voters for every one Obama voter flipped).

We get bad governance from the wolf-crying; the loudest crier gave his country the worst governance of them all. Wolf-crying is also at the heart of militarism, military budgets ("a bear in the forest").

Mandatory voting isn't the key; Australia got awful governments recently.

Nope, we need education. Kids should come out of school thinking that people with no political interests are dull, and not worth dating. That few things in society are more interesting than where society is going.

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Democracy Issues: Basic civics and education courses in political literacy might help. The entire model presupposes that people are rational actors that make informed ballot decisions and they usually aren't and don't. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of impetus from those in charge to do this, as an informed electorate is a hassle. The other major problem is the media are largely corporate run entities who function more as propaganda outlets than sources of information. Given that most people are fairly busy, they do not have the time to inform themselves.

Political Writing: The odds of a progressive political writer getting much influence in corporate media is slim. The people with staying power are usually total hacks.

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What I am about to say may not be very significant but allow me to say it anyway. I have always from a very young person regarded myself as a student of history and at the age of 83 I still do.

I believe that one of the main problems we face today is that many people could not give an accurate definition of what democracy really is, beyond the right to vote. I believe that every Canadian university student, regardless of his or her field of study should be required to take at least one full year course on Canadian History. I think that course should cover our parliamentary system of government, the political parties etc. I believe that many Canadians do not vote because they think it will not count. I think it should be impressed upon them that it counts even though their candidate does not win. If a person votes, at a minimum that voter will pay a little more attention to the person they voted for and assess how he or she measures up to the views they articulated during the campaign. I think that in itself will cause them to pay even more attention. It may not be much but it is a start.

As a young man I could not wait until I was old enough to cast my first ballot. That that was so was largely due to some excellent civics and history teachers who truly inspired., I have never missed an opportunity to cast my ballot municipally, provincially or federally, or in any referendums that came my way. My candidate or the position I supported was not always attained but I always had the sense that my views counted and I still do. I often joke that I vote in the advance polls in case I die between that day and the regular election day. No candidate in any election should be permitted to avoid an all candidates meeting without a good excuse. It is one of the few opportunities that a voter gets to assess a candidate in person and a candidate should not unilaterally have the right to deny them that opportunity.

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First past the post has to go. Proportional Representation forces parties to compromise in order to get things accomplished.

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I was going to write in support of PR, proportional representation, as a way of increasing a citizen's skin in the game. And others in this space have made the argument more eloquently than I could.

Many people feel cheated that JT promised a review of PR and FPTP, and once elected, promptly forgot about the issue. And why not, since FPTP rewards the victor disproportionately. How could we not feel cheated?

It's no panacea, but PR is one way to get Canadian to re-engage with their political representatives.

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When everything seems to be going to hell, how do people enact change outside of election time? Is it even possible in a majority government situation? This seems to be what a lot of us are grappling with or entirely giving up on... this disconnect between government and people, and the sense that once elected, the party in power can do what they want unchecked. What are the checks and balances?

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You mentioned "class" and "economics" as missing from simple discussions about politics.

As a naive and (with respect to politics) uneducated Canadian, are there actual political classes here, separate from the economic ones?

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Your "Too dumb for democracy" was thought provoking and I have kept it near my reading table to re-open from time-to-time. In Chapter 6, Pluralism and civil society (p 157, paperback) you wrote that "civil-society organizations play a hugely important role." For example, the Urban League of London has brought together neighbourhood champions to elevate common positions to City Hall. This could be a case example that you could write about grass-roots participation and scaling upwards in municipal politics. In Chapter 9, Slowness (p 208) mentions the Berger Commission and the Truth and Reconciliation hearings and the opportunity for these to be more deliberative. The Berger Commission, 1976 had direct effects on oil and gas exploration and indirect effects on standards of participatory democracy. These are topics that you might explore more deeply

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How might we lower the barriers to active democratic participation for Canadians who are preoccupied with economic survival, and in the age of proliferating conspiracy theories, does legislation like Bill C-18 serve to enhance or obstruct their ability to engage meaningfully in our democratic processes?

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One word:


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