Retail Democracy and Canada’s Tragedy of the Commons
“Conservative Voice believes that Canada needs an organized, non-profit voice financed by industry to ensure that the Canadian political landscape remains in balance and we are looking for like-minded entrepreneurs to invest seed funding at this critical time,” the group says on its website.
Do you hear the Party sing?
Considering we currently have a Conservative Government using public dollars to push their partisan messaging (Economic Action Plan, anyone?) I would argue the right is pretty well-represented already. Still, a counter-argument can be made; the left has WWF, Greenpeace, Working Families Coalition, etc, pushing “the left’s” message, doesn’t the right deserve more interest groups, especially as the Sun goes down in Canada?
You might think this means the system’s increasingly in balance — every group’s got it’s champion every dog has its bone, etc. I would disagree with you.
The world does not break down into left and right. Issues do not break down into left and right. Increasingly, Canadians are fed up with the hyper-partisanship of our politics on the whole and tuning out. At #CBCAsks last week, the vast majority of attendees agreed that our system is broken and that the average Canadian is being squeezed out of the conversation.
Why on earth would we think that?
Parliament is supposed to represent the interests of the people. Increasingly, we’ve seen Political Parties dictating the interests of the people in efforts to build stable coalitions of voters, drive fundraising campaigns, knock-down the enemy and even suppress middle-road voters.
In theory, you could say Interest Groups are promoting the interests of people, be they ethnic or religious groups, environmentalists or business-friendly organizations. Yet each of these is looking at narrow lists of issues from the inside out with little appetite to look at broader context. Where contentions come in, there’s no appetite for discussion, compromise or iteration; it’s with-us or against-us politics.
Teacher unions provide a great example. The debate is framed around economics, work hours, sick leave and the live by the unions, while the other side argues teachers have it easy, or the crown is imposing ideology on youth. Kids become pawns in this Game of Funds. Rarely does the question of “what do we expect the education system to do for youth? What do we want them prepared to do afterwards and what’s the best way to ensure that happens?” get addressed.
The more Interest Groups we have pushing one agenda or another, the less we have actual discussion about context and consequence. This is especially true as Parliament becomes increasingly irrelevant, with elected officials parroting the speaking points of unelected Party staffers rather actually absorbing and reflecting the opinions of their constituencies.
As our politics becomes more and more focused on marketing, Canadians are being viewed less as citizens with civic responsibilities to go along their Rights and Freedoms and seen more as consumers of political ideology.
It’s retail politics, complete with micro-targeting, even neuro-marketing to nudge people into positions that are good for a given Party, regardless of social impact. Even fund-raising campaign emails sent to Party Members are being framed as “from the boss’ desk” as though it was the job of the membership to please the Leader.
Forget unpaid internships or employees being left on contract for years; what message does it send when Parties demand increasing sums of money from their Members as their primary obligation, then turn that money into campaign attack ads? When did pleasing the leader become the principle of membership, instead of the reverse?
Government is supposed to create laws it believes are in the national interest and Parliament is supposed to critique those laws through the lens of their communities. Senate theoretically ensures the interests of under-represented groups haven’t been ignored.
When every group that touches policy — elected officials, Parties, a partisan Senate, plus all the external interest groups, are pushing set agendas and automatically opposing anything brought forward by anyone else, who’s representing the interests of the people?
Nobody. We’re not being represented, we’re being sold one omnibus bill of goods after the other.
This is the world Ayn Rand wanted to see — the Non-Society is doing everything in its power to replace the Just Society. These Retail Parties can refuse to believe there’s such a thing as “the people” or “the public good” and disdain the concepts of context and consequences all they want.
It doesn’t make the ground reality any different.
Canadians know when they’re being spun and are frustrated by the lack of meaningful opportunities to engage in what’s supposed to be our democracy. More groups shouting louder or offering the same partisan products with newer, not-for-profit packaging won’t change this fact.
People are already tuning out the partisan voices are hearing; the songs are monotonous, old and aren’t speaking to them and their realities. This is the Tragedy of the Canadian political commons. Our common ground is being stripped and salted.
Push politics has fundamentally altered the social contract between citizens and government in unsustainable ways. We aren’t seeing he ROI of civic engagement, and that’s a problem.
As more and more folk recognize their realities aren’t being reflected in the voices they hear, they’re going to tune out in greater numbers.
Then, they’re going to start singing their own songs.
Do you hear the people sing?
It’s the music of a people who won’t be ignored again.