A recent comment about Hugo Chavez reminds one that a role of political leadership is to inspire democratic participation. “Democracy Watch” panellist, Eva Golinger, stated that President Chavez inspired all Venezuelans, both his opposition and supporters, to become involved in the political life of Venezuela.
In Canada we lack such widespread citizen participation. The 61 per cent voter turnout for the last election resulted in the Harper government being elected by only 25 per cent of the citizens eligible to vote. This does not bode well for the future of democracy in this country.
The reasons for citizen apathy toward our present political system are many. An unelected Senate, the dysfunctionalism of the party system, the enormous influence of corporate lobbyists and an antiquated political system have done much to dampen the desire by many, especially the young, to participate in our democracy. Given the limitations of protest politics and the shortfalls of our parliamentary system, a reformed political structure is our best hope to deal with the present environmental crisis, redistribute wealth and create sustainable jobs.
In order for any system of government to have legitimacy it must have, at least at the beginning of its mandate, the support of the majority of eligible voters. In progressive democracies this is achieved through proportional representation, that is, a party gets a certain percentage of the seats based on the popular vote it receives. Clearly a non-elected Senate is the antithesis of this type of modern democracy.
Every time an election is held and citizens choose not to engage in the issues of the day or express their cynicism about politics through not voting we witness the decline of our democracy. This must change if Canada is to truly become an economically equitable and democratic country. Given the refusal of the Harper government to follow through on its promise to institute proportional representation, a voter’s rights movement is needed to demand that the opposition parties commit to establish such legislation when elected. Only in this way can we achieve the social, economic and environmental reforms that are so desperately needed in Canada.