A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Small Town Democracy

This week a number of observers have been focusing on the place and influence that the MSM, in particular print media, have upon our democracy. More particularly our 'need to know' what is happening in our various governmental institutions so that we the public can hold them to account and ensure that they are respecting our democracy and following the rules and keeping us informed regarding the decisions they are making on our behalf.

Much has been said of late on this subject and concern that the loss and/ or amalgamation of various print media is seriously impacting our ability to have accurate, in depth, knowledge of government policy’s, decisions and proposals. This week I first watched a discussion on this on “the West Block” with Samara's Jane Hilderman, I then read Lornes take on things at Politics and its Discontents and Kirbys follow up at kirbycairo . What more could one say?

Perhaps the best place to start is at the Municipal level, not my usual fodder here but how much closer to the electors can you get when looking at democratic issues? One of the problems I have with addressing this at the local level is that since the loss of local small town newspapers (or their assimilation by major corporate chains) there is almost no regular information available to the average citizen. Even IF one goes digging about a specific local issue the information is spotty at best. Sure most councils post their agendas (in some cases AFTER the meeting has taken place!), minutes (very basic, we discussed this and decided this) and if one digs deep enough perhaps some supporting documentation. Of public discussion (if indeed there was any), rebuttal and suggestions put forward by citizens (again if any) you will find NOTHING in the official minutes. There is nothing wrong with that, they are after all just minutes meant to reflect the decisions of council, however unless citizens were firstly aware of the issue and then took the time to actually attend said meeting these 'details' are lost and unavailable to interested parties.

The days when reporters attended EVERY council meeting and reported, even briefly, on such goings on are long gone (at least here in rural Ontario), sure when a highly contentious issue comes to the public’s (and thus the MSMs) attention it will be briefly reported, but beyond that our councils may as well be operating in a vacuum. This to me is just a forerunner of what may well happen in upper levels of governance if our MSM continues to struggle with how to fund their operations and pay their staff, particularly those 'investigative' reporters, The sad part for me is that I would fully support a small independent newspaper (on or off line) but in my area there is no such thing, there are a couple of small town weekly newspapers that belong to a major chain that print non local 'articles' gleaned from various contract writers and a few local 'headlines' but real LOCAL news is sparse. The corporate owned daily paper in the nearest (small) city on the few time I have read it was not worth the paper it was printed on, the total local content would perhaps fill a weekly!

Then there is the TV news that according to this report is where over 80% of the 60% who do in fact follow the news get their information. (Lorne has more to say on that here) If you live in Toronto or another city where a TV station is located you may well see a little local news but outside of those areas your community may as well not exist.....until a major disaster or some other 'newsworthy' thing happens to get their attention! Sure you will learn all about the latest bombing in Timbuktu but in depth news of small town Canada, not a chance. Our local radio stations are now rapidly becoming the only source of local news and generally speaking they do a fairly good job of that but even they rarely cover Municipal Council deliberations, in short if you want to know what your Councillors are doing you must either go digging on line (with in some cases very limited success) or attend every meeting to personally listen to the proceedings. Not an option for most folks.

Bottom line here whilst 'modern communications' have made it possible to have almost instantaneous news of events world wide, fewer and fewer folks are keeping an eye on and using those tools to report on what is happening at various levels of governance (and it would seem from the above report fewer even care) resulting in less accountability to those they serve. Will it become news by press release? Is this a taste of things to come in upper levels of government? In short I wonder if democracy will survive because of the internet or in spite of it!

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Lorne said...

As you say, Rural, there is nothing more democratically immediate than municipal politics. Surely one of the ironies of our times is that local elections generally, by far, have the lowest rates of participation of all levels of government. No doubt, a lack of local media coverage plays a role in such abysmal rates of participation.

I live near Hamilton, and despite the loss of much of CHCH television's news staff, there is still some coverage of local issues; this is supplemented by the Hamilton Spectator, an excellent online site called Raise The Hammer, as well as area weeklies. My observation is that when matters of council and local issues are adequately reported on, people do take notice and engage far more than when that coverage is virtually non-existent, once more attesting to the vital role the media play in the health of our democracy.

Rural said...

Yes Lorne, few if any folks will go wading through council web sites on a regular basis unless items of interest to them are first brought to their attention!

Owen Gray said...

We are lucky to have an independent local weekly where we live, Rural. The other weekly is owned by the Sun -- now Postmedia -- chain. If the independent paper folds, we are in deep trouble.

Rural said...

Independent papers of any kind are becoming increasingly rare, Owen. I hope yours hangs in there.