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, January 8, 2012

The Real Outsiders – Disengaged Citizens.

Having finally gotten around to reading Samara's report The Real Outsiders: Politically Disengaged Views on Politics and Democracy, published late last year I will give a brief synopsis of their findings along with my reaction to their findings. In their focus groups from a variety of social economic backgrounds they compared those who considered themselves 'engaged' in politics with those who did not , not surprisingly both groups indicated frustration with both politicians in general and with government bureaucracy specifically. Most of my extracts and comments will focus upon those who feel that neither of the above are serving them well and who have thus become 'disengaged'.
Two main themes seem to run through the responses, firstly 
“We are too busy with our own lives.”
“nine times out of ten I just have so much other crap on my plate.”
“I have a job. I got school. I have friends. I don’t have time.”
“I don’t feel I have a role in politics”
“the best way for me [to cope] is just not to care about them.” 

This is understandable, particularly for those for whom it is a daily struggle just to keep their head above water, in an earlier post I looked at how income affected democracy, here then is yet another possibility, those struggling to make ends meet, working long hours, looking after family and so on simply don’t have the time or inclination to follow the daily shenanigans of whatever party is currently in power. The little sound bites that the spin machines produce that they catch on the news are their sole exposure to our “political system”. No wonder so many are cynical, turned off and less than knowledgeable about our democracy and its governance.

Secondly “why should I care for the system if the system doesn’t care for me?” In the
end, many expressed feelings of fatigue. They were tired of having to “fight all the time to be

“When a problem arose that
required government assistance—be it finding
a job, securing a daycare spot, or addressing
overcrowded schools—they expected little of
their politicians and little of their government.
Importantly, when disengaged participants
experienced difficulty with the system, there
was little conceptual separation between the
role of civil servants and the role of politicians.”

Perhaps this is the most revealing part of this study, that for many folks government programs and the difficulties in obtaining answers or assistance is directly linked to the political side of things and the local MP or MPP is often viewed as the front door to such things.

For most of the people we spoke to, government
was synonymous with politics. Thus a negative
experience in accessing government services
or receiving poor service from the office of a
Member of Parliament were equally likely to
shape an individual’s negative perception of
the political system.

In theory our members of parliament are not there to guide us through the government maze but to represent us during decisions being made on our behalf in the various legislatures, in practice the complexity of ever changing government programs and the often uncaring response we get from some departments means that we NEED someone to help us through the maze. Our local MP or MPP seems to be the place of last resort in such struggles. That is not how it is supposed to work but that is how it IS working. When such effort fail is it little wonder that folks blame the politician or the system equally and are 'turned off' politics.

In a healthy democracy, the
political system will respond to the issues the
public cares about, in part because the public has
the ability to hold politicians to account for their
actions. Instead, we heard about untrustworthy
politicians and an unresponsive bureaucracy.

Earlier reports from Samara showed that even many politicians were unsure of their role in our democracy, are they representatives of the people or of the party or advocates or the doorway to government services. In the present circumstances it is indeed hard to tell whether they are all of these things or none of them. One thing is clear, such distinctions need to be clearly spelled out and the status quo changed to make them more accountable individually rather than as just a mouthpiece for their party, and government services must be streamlined and made more accessible to the public so that the MPs can get on with the job of holding the current centralized “government” to account.

Only when the public feel they are being listened to will they start to become 'engaged', perhaps that is why so many of us are being ignored?

Samara's Executive Summary says “(P)olitically engaged Canadians feel, despite their frustrations with politics, that the system does work for them. They believe in their ability to effect change. “
I count myself as fairly 'engaged' but I for one seriously doubt my (or any other non lobby group member of the public) ability to effect change, particularly withing the increasingly oligarchical system of governance we are seeing of late.

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1 comment:

The Mound of Sound said...

I can't think of a time in the post-WWII era when the public had so many causes for anxiety from global warming (and the host of associated challenges) to economic threats, domestic and global, to the bevy of security threats from terrorism to nuclear proliferation and the transition in major superpower reigns.

Yet I can't think of a party in Canada that engages the public on these pressing 'concerns of the day.' When the political classes disengage from the public the people can hardly be faulted for their disinterest.

I have never seen Canada so bereft of compelling leadership. It's truly pathetic. If we're lucky we will find another grand leader who will capture the public's imagination and cause them to re-engage.