This is an interesting article published in The Globe and Mail. Dwindling voter turnout in Canadian election is considered one of the huge problems in Canadian politics. Especially, the youth, Canadians under the age of 35 are alarmingly staying away from exercising their democratic rights.
Don Tapscott has provided a few good ideas that need to be further explored. His ideas are not exactly new, these are floating in the net for sometimes now, but haven't seen its acceptance in the mainstream yet.
Here are his suggestions:
I offer two suggestions. The first is for the winner to start exploiting today's cheap and plentiful information and communication technologies and involve Canadians much more fully in the governing process between elections. The second is to overhaul the election process itself. Our current system defies logic, because it almost always elects a government that most voters don't want.
Excellent idea. Why not tapping the power of technology to more democratize the entire political process?
Many unforeseen issues arise between elections, and it's not credible for the government to assert that it has a voter mandate to take specific action. Moreover, governments lack sufficient in-house policy expertise on many issues. So even if a government commissions an opinion poll to discern the public's view, the polling process doesn't tap into the wisdom and insight that a nation's citizens can collectively offer.
With technologies such as the Internet, we can resurrect Pierre Trudeau's vision of "participatory democracy," but this time, actually make it happen. Citizens could become involved, learning from each other, taking responsibility for their communities and country, learning from and influencing elected officials and vice versa.
Participatory democracy could be implemented with utilizing today's technology, large pool of Canadians who have been traditionally left out of the political process, could be tapped into shaping and designing more beneficiary policies that could be more representative of the nation than the policies imposed by a few selected ones without representing the entire nation.
Mr. Tapscott provides a few tools that could be used in attracting more vital civil participation in the political process:
New democratic tools could include the following.
Digital brainstorming: Bringing together policy officials and citizens to have real-time, moderated, on-line brainstorming sessions to identify new policy issues or needs.
Virtual question periods: Elected officials would use the Internet for question-and-answer sessions with their constituents.
On-line citizen juries and panels: Citizens chosen at random serve as policy jurors or advisers on a topic. The jury uses the Internet to share information, ask questions, discuss issues and hear evidence.
Deliberative polling: This gives citizens the resources to learn about and reflect upon the issues in a collaborative and deliberative fashion. This would combine small, group discussions on the Internet with scientific, random sampling to contribute more-informed public input in policymaking than instant polling can provide.
Scenario planning: Building scenarios with simulation and modelling software to project future policy needs and to understand the long-term consequences of decisions. Politicians, bureaucrats and citizens could assess the potential impacts on a range of factors, ranging from health to the environment, to the economy.
These are all wonderful ideas. However, I do not agree with the following comment:
These tools have nothing in common with the wacky "direct democracy" schemes, where we would all vote on-line after watching the evening news. That may be a good way to choose a new Canadian Idol, but it would be a lousy way to run a country. It would be mob rule when what we really want is reasoned opinion.
Why would "direct democracy" schemes be "a lousy way to run a country"? Why would it need to be "mob rule"? Can't the public be trusted to provide "reasoned opinion"? Since we are talking about making the political process to be more transparent and inclusive, counting everyone, their voices in designing public policies should be the cornerstone. Surely, there should be efficient methods need to be implemented so that the entire political process does not disintegrate into chaotic anarchy, but surely that could be taken care of by today's advanced technology.
With the current system, regional tensions are exacerbated as parties are shut out from representing a region, even though they capture a healthy percentage of the vote. Examples abound, such as the many Albertans who vote Liberal federally, yet rarely elect an MP.
Conversely, the system overrewards the successful party, sometimes hugely. This is particularly true of provincial elections. In 1987, the New Brunswick Liberal Party captured every seat in the legislature -- that's right, 100 per cent -- even though almost 40 per cent of the voters chose the opposing parties. Banana republics would be embarrassed with such a fiasco.
These are valid issues. Proportional representation should be taken account. By silencing a large groups of people who vote against any political group that form the provincial or the federal government, could indeed exacerbate the regional tensions and the overall political alienation.
Canada has had 16 majority federal governments elected since 1921 -- but only a handful received more than 50 per cent of the popular vote. In the nine other cases, a majority had voted for the losing parties. It's small wonder people become alienated from the electoral process and don't think their votes are worth anything. Most of the time, they're right.
There are a number of workable proportional-representation voting systems used in other countries that we could adopt. With new communications technologies, there now may be new alternatives for organizing our representation. Sounds like a great topic for the first nationwide digital brainstorming. I'm sure we would have lots of ideas. Perhaps we'd even get engaged.
It is not only in Canada, many other nations that boast their "democracy", in reality, alienate a huge proportion of their population, sometimes the majority of them, like the 2000 American Presidential election where the Democratic nominee Al Gore had received more popular vote than the eventual winner President George W. Bush, and there were allegations of corruption in the voting process, including barring a large number of minority voters from exercising their democratic right using various intimidation or social barrier tactics. It is not only United States or Canada, in the developing world like India, Bangladesh, Latin America and Africa, there are concerted efforts from the elite political groups in discounting the voices of the poor and the minorities in systematic methods.
Though there has been considerable progresses in establishing the rights of minorities and the poor in the developed and the developing nations, and indeed the current democratic norm is far better than the existing and previous monarchy and autocratic rules, the present democratic process in our world is still far away from representing the mass, it is still driven by the small groups of political elites, representing small segment of middle to higher class population while the voiceless, homeless and the starved ones remain marginalized.