Friday, January 04, 2013

Could We Become Ungovernable?

Is Canada's federal government losing its connection with the Canadian people?   Are Canadians becoming estranged from those who govern them?   Two reports from December, one by Environics, the other from Samara Canada, suggest that Harper no longer governs but merely rules an increasingly unruly and disdainful populace.

"Not only is voter turnout decreasing, but every year fewer Canadians are getting involved in other kinds of political activities, like joining or donating to political parties, signing petitions
or attending protests. If nothing is done to reverse this disturbing trend, those in power will no longer hear the voices of the majority of Canadians.

It could be as easily said that "those in power" have long ago lost all interest in the voices of Canadians.  The Environics research showed that, while the Canadian people remain consistently progressive, their political parties have drifted away from them to the right.

Almost without fail, the disengaged we spoke to described themselves as political outsiders. On the basis of their experiences, they described government, bureaucrats, politicians and the media as working for someone else and, therefore, irrelevant to their needs. Some went so far as to say that the political system makes
them outsiders on purpose. For those who feel like outsiders, there is little reason to engage in politics when politics does not engage with them.

In contrast, those who identified themselves as politically engaged describe an insider relationship with politics, believing that the
political system works for them.

The third and final finding of this report proposes that disengaged people become outsiders through their daily experience and interactions with the political system. This finding is a far cry from conventional wisdom that holds that the disengaged simply do not care or that they lack knowledge.

Some became outsiders after seeking assistance from elected representatives and civil servants in government, but ultimately receiving little help. Others, especially younger Canadians,
came to understand very early on that the political system disregards their concerns. Despite these two different pathways to outsider status, there is a common destination: the disengaged
have learned from personal experience that engagement is futile

Both of these reports, Environic's and Samara's are well worth reading.   Both are warnings we need to hear about the disease in Canadian governance.   The Environics study found that already a solid majority of Canadians see protest and civil disobedience as an effective and worthwhile vehicle for compelling political change.

So far we've had skirmishes - the Occupy movement, the Montreal students' protests - but we haven't had the sort of head-on confrontation in which the public at large stands defiant against their government.   Yet this is one possible outcome from the Northern Gateway pipeline scheme about to be forced on British Columbians.   Will Harper be able to maintain the legitimacy of the federal government if he's confronted, and compelled to subdue, a large resistance of otherwise law-abiding British Columbians?


Owen Gray said...

Interesting findings, Mound. My impression is that Stephen Harper -- when confronted with a mass protest movement -- wouldn't know how to handle it.

Sig said...

Not only does our system of politics today, serve less people, it also serves the wrong times. 21st century realities cannot be met with 18th century political structures.

The Mound of Sound said...

Owen, I wonder whether Harper would react like your man, Harris, at Ipperwash. Steve gives the impression that he sees himself and the government as inseparable, two sides of one coin. That could lead him to view resistance as a personal attack on himself.

@ Sig, there's a lot of accuracy in your assessment. As the Environics analysis revealed politicians no longer see their constituency as the public at large. They now target, and rely upon, one or more narrow constituencies, just enough to float them to a majority in a field divided among several other parties.

Shorter Net said...

Personally I hope that we do become ungovernable. It is the only process through which I see any hope for real change. And by change I mean something more significant than a simple change in which party is telling us what's good for us.

The Mound of Sound said...

You could be right, SN. If so, I hope we can effect change of this magnitude quickly and co-operatively. The coming decades are going to be increasingly challenging for our youth and the generation to follow them. They'll need a cohesive society built on common interest, fairness and trust.

Politicians today have gone for the fallen fruit - wedge politics, fear, anger and divisiveness. These are tactics aimed solely at advancing their personal partisan advancement at the direct and powerful cost to the nation and our people. They're reprehensible lowlife and they're not confined to the Conservative party either.

We must do better. Our kids deserve better of us.

Anonymous said...

Since when are elections in Canada fair, democratic and honest? The Federal election was tainted, fouled and dirtied. Canadian citizens have been denied their votes.

Our younger generation refuse to vote because, Canada is a cesspool of corruption. They say, once politicians get into office, they all lie like hell.

Now Harper is giving Canada to Communist China. Permitting China to set up shop in the tar sands. Taking the resources and the resource jobs. Harper's omnibus bill, gives China the right to sue any Canadians, blocking China's way into Canada. China sued in BC, to take the BC mining jobs.

By the time we can get rid of Harper, this country will be totally destroyed. Harper to me, is a traitor. He has no right to even live in Canada, let alone govern.

thwap said...

Part of the problem is the complete uselessness of protest.

You don't hold someone accountable by staging an afternoon's demonstration and forming a social media page where people can join and carp with strangers for a week.

No politician who depends on the financial support of wealthy donors and who hopes to get a high six-figure income job from corporate Canada is going to throw that all away just because 20 people wave signs on a street corner somewhere.

As a result, we do a lot of complaining and nothing changes and we decide to abandon parliamentary democracy for, well, nothing. Camp-outs in public parks where we can discuss things more or something like that.

Shorter Net said...

People are doing more than complaining thwap, they are disengaging and opting out.

Voter turnout is decreasing because people know that their vote has not really mattered for decades.

People are not joining or supporting political parties because they are increasingly seen as the biggest part of the problem.

Politicians don't care about petitions and protests unless they can turn them to partisan gain so why bother? Look at the federal LPC today, apparently very concerned with First Nations conditions now but communities like Attawapiskat did not spring up only since the CPC came to power. What did they do when they were in power? Answer, nothing, because there was nom partisan benefit in it.

These things are all indicators that the system as it now exists is becoming less and less relevant to peoples lives, and eventually it will lack sufficient legitimacy to regulate or rule.

It can't happen quickly enough for me.

The Mound of Sound said...

Thwap, I take an historical perspective of protest as a precursor event that can lead to more tangible unrest.

I did my undergrad in the States during the post-Tet war in Viet Nam. Several times I saw how protest could transform into riot. We had it all - the Panthers, the SDS, the Weathermen.

I think it was the SDS who were behind blowing up and leveling the ROTC building. Other groups stormed the library and made a bonfire outside of all the index cards (yes, it was that long ago). Racial anger was on fire both on campus and even more so off campus.

There were a great many of us, including some Viet Nam buddies of mine who were in school on the GI Bill, who kept our distance but were quietly supportive of the protesters and even some of the rioters.

These kids didn't stop the war in Viet Nam but they were an integral part in the effort that powerfully changed public attitudes and later compelled Nixon into getting US forces out.

No one that I know of is seeking to abandon parliamentary democracy, Thwap. We actually want it back. What we don't want is today's parliamentary corporatocracy, the legacy of our descent into petro-statehood.

And no one thinks the Northern Gateway is going to be stopped by "an afternoon's demonstration and forming a social media page." If that's how you've got that pegged, you've got it seriously wrong.