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MAY 6TH 2011 

Memo to Harper, et al: You work for us

The Canadian electorate just gave a majority mandate to the Conservative Party, so if you’re like most citizens you’re sitting back and thinking three things:

•  Whew, no more federal elections for at least four years.

•  Government is for the politicians to worry about, that’s why we elect them.

•  I’m happy/sad that the country is now stable/going to hell in a hand basket thanks to the Conservative win.

If you’re an activist like our friends at leadnow, you’ve already started to rally public opinion to ensure the government delivers on its promises, and that it recognizes that it governs for all Canadians, not just the approximately 24% that voted for it. That’s the way our system works.

Observe that nowhere in our thoughts is there likely to be a nod to any action that we ought to take as citizens between now and the next election. Oh, we’ll reserve the right to praise and complain (more likely the latter), and we’ll engage around specific issues if we really feel strongly about them. But there isn’t really a viable mechanism for us to actually do much as individual citizens. That’s also the way our system works.

Some would say this is good. Many policies the government enacts will take time to work in the way they intend, and if it only has a minority in parliament, it won’t have that time what with the opposition (and citizens) holding the plug and prepared to pull it.

Others would say that our system needs a rethink. In a world that has been increasingly democratized by the internet and social media, with examples ranging from the sublime (Egypt) to the ridiculous (American Idol), should we not be contemplating changing the role for citizens between elections? Should we not be giving them greater access to the decision-making process of government, recognizing that many people think they have better things to do, and that’s what an election is for?

There are interesting initiatives afoot. On the one hand, there are people experimenting with citizen panels, as this Globe and Mail story reports: On the other hand, the city of Toronto recently announced it was going to shut down many of its “citizen committees”, as discussed in this somewhat harsh editorial:

Whatever your point of view, it’s tough to argue with the citizen’s right to be involved where we want to, whatever the mechanism.  So as this new Canadian government begins its term, our Citizen Capitalism community is committed to three things:

•  We’ll develop a list of the new MPs and their contact information to make it easier for you to reach them.

As a community, we’ll shine a light on citizen initiatives you think are worthwhile.

We’ll find tools of engagement — or create them if necessary — to help us engage meaningfully with the governments that are shaping our societies.

Remember, we “hire” our governments. They work for us. We give them a mandate to deliver on the platforms they’ve promised us, but we don’t give them carte blanche to do so. We care deeply how they do it. We expect them to listen, to behave, to be transparent, and to be accountable more than once every four years. If we are overcome by cynicism and allow it to lower our expectations of them, that’s our fault, not theirs.



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