Canada Democracy Week
The week of Sept 16 to 22nd has been set aside in our country to observe “Canada’s Democracy Week”. The theme that has been selected this year is “Connect to Democracy” and is an effort to include more young adults in the electoral process. Although not nearly as fun as, say, Christmas or Festivus, it is something none of us should take lightly. We are incredibly fortunate to be residing in a competently run democracy (mostly) and it is imperative we engage our notoriously apathetic and apolitical youth in the system that safeguards it. It is vital they understand how precious what we have is, and only by constant vigilance by the voters can we maintain the integrity of our democratic ways. The torch of citizen oversight must be passed on. Nothing would delight a wayward government more than a disengaged public.
What are some of the ways we can celebrate this somewhat obscure special week?
For starters, make sure that politics at every level is discussed in the home. Discussions should always be positive, of course, and everyone must be allowed to make comments uninterrupted in a spirit of friendly debate. Studies show that when parents chat about politics, news and current events, the children are far more likely to be politically engaged in their adulthood.
Invite all political parties in the area to talk to kids in Civics classes about their beliefs. These courses on modern citizenry also statistically increase the voting rates as the kids move into adulthood. It would be beneficial for the kids to get an understanding of what each party is espousing not filtered through a biased authority figure such as a teacher, whatever their political stripe. If Civics is not taught in your area, lobby until it is. Being taught how to be a good citizen is as important to society as learning physics or chemistry. Not all kids will be able to be scientists but all of them will be able to be voters.
Besides political parties, it is incumbent on local politicians to discuss, in these Civics classes, how the children have a role in making their town better. They need to know their voices do count; every bit as much as their elders’. You’d think it would be an easier sell to be treated as an equal partner.
When I was on Calmar’s town council for three terms, I recall our councils were always open to any request from a dedicated group, especially with a youth component. We recognized we were too old to really know what the young folks in town would really like. Rather than developing plans for recreational activities and infrastructure we thought they might like (often erroneously) we put money aside to support ideas brought forward from the community. It was through that process, the kids currently have a skateboard park, a water spray park, and a range of activities that began with a request from a community group or the result of information gleaned from their recreation questionnaires. Whenever we approved money to fund a grassroots request from the youth of the town, it always came as a shock to them that, not only did they have a role in the municipal government as expert advisers, but that they had real influence over what recreation initiatives the town funded. They felt empowered and there is no doubt having a positive experience with government would carry that feeling of political activism into their adulthood.
This would be the ideal year to have discussions in the schools regarding local governance and the electoral processes that set policy. This is an election year for all Alberta municipalities and, because of a change in the Municipal Government Act, there won’t be another election for four years. Perhaps one topic they could discuss is why local officials have their election day mandated while their provincial masters reserve the right to choose their own date for the provincial vote.
Of course it is important to impress on young people about the importance of voting from a theoretical point of view. What might catch their attention more, however, might be explaining to them how each choice in every election will affect their pocketbooks. Discuss with family members how election promises are, at their heart, a pledge to spend our hard-earned money, not the politician’s. There’s no such thing as magic money. It has to come from somewhere. If politicians talk a lot about new programs without new taxes, you must find out if they are going to cut spending elsewhere in the budget. Get specifics. If there is no plan to raise taxes or redistribute budget dollars, be very concerned. They are obviously lying, conniving, stupid or a heady mixture of all three.
Canada’s Democracy Week isn’t just for the youth of the country, however. Like the democracy it is designed to celebrate, it is inclusive of all. If you don’t have kids or a spouse to discuss democracy with, talk to friends, make politics something to discuss around the water cooler with co-workers. It impacts all our lives so much more than sports. Maybe do some research and actually find out if the parties you don’t normally pay attention to, actually have things to offer that might interest you. Too many of us allow the media to do our analyses for us. We allow journalists, as much by what they choose to report as what they do not report, to shape our opinions. It is much better to get the unvarnished goods right from the parties’ websites.
However you choose to honour Democracy Week, it is essential that we do. As world events constantly remind us, democracy is, indeed, a precious flower and is far more fragile than we have grown comfortable believing.
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