Tue 30 Nov 2004
DAMN! It’s 7 p.m. and I just remembered this is the last day to pay the fall instalment on my property tax. I settle in my home office, go online and transfer funds from my bank account to the city treasury — problem solved.
Then I decide to watch a first-run movie. I program the converter of my video-on-demand system and, bingo, I’m watching Tom Cruise.
Before going to bed, I test my blood pressure and, according to the results, self-administer a cocktail of vitamins as prescribed by my doctor.
As an individual and consumer, I’ve been empowered by innovation. But as a citizen? Well, sometime within the next five years — I know not when — I will be given an HB pencil and invited to mark an X on a piece of paper in a federal election polling booth. The advances made possible by technology elsewhere are almost completely absent in politics. Computer models that simulate public policy alternatives, electronic town hall meetings linking citizens with their leaders, constituency initiatives where voters develop solutions to their unique community problems, even voting machines connected to a central ballot counter — all are deemed too problematic to institute.
As we all know, innovation involves ideas and not merely technology. Whoever thought of putting wheels on my luggage, for instance, has improved my life as a traveller every bit as much as the person who developed the electronic ticket. But in politics, we do without the wheels. We’re still using a centuries-old Burkian model of representation where elected leaders serve as our “delegates,” free to follow their conscience, unfettered by constituent wishes for periods of four to five years.
This system might have made sense when voting was less than universal or when voters were generally illiterate. But at a time when citizens are well-educated and informed, and generally feel they have a better understanding of their needs than the politicians do, our political system
is overdue for a re-examination.
Proportional representation, recall and referendum are ideas that at least deserve to be debated, if not implemented, in today’s context. Similarly, mandatory voting, community service and opening up public spaces to facilitate citizen interaction could be considered as means of creating stronger bonds with the community.
In the end, we should probably be most alarmed about the impact the old style of politics is having on our attitudes toward our government and leaders. The innovation vacuum has left us feeling cynical, disengaged and increasingly unlikely to turn out and vote. The time has come to introduce technology and new ideas to reform the political system, to make it more responsive to our modern electorate and to ensure that our values and beliefs are reflected in the utterances and actions of our politicians. That
is, if we want Canada to operate as a vibrant and healthy democracy.