Democracy, behind closed doors?

There is some puzzlement here with Canada’s democratic institutions minister. She asks for public input on political leaders’ debates for the next federal election but meets with those her department chooses to talk with behind closed doors. For all the problems we experienced with Maryam Monsef, the first minister of democratic institutions, she was at least open about her limitations and her department’s deliberations. Regrettably, it left her inexperience exposed.

The new minister, Karina Gould, must be trying to play it safe. We have no way to really know how much she knows or what she wants to know. Only the news media will have a chance to find out. Her office seems to want to go out and gather the usual suspects every time there is a question to explore. The usual suspects are the political scientists with their theories, the Elections Canada people with their rules and the elected MPs who think they know how they got elected.

It seems though that the people who could really supply her with the answers are people with extensive experience in political campaigns. I refer to them as political apparatchiks.

Many of us who have this type of political experience, have sat in meetings over the years discussing the pros, the cons and the realities of leaders’ debates. And as much as it was discussed, the leaders still wanted to cherry-pick the debates with a potential for individual advantage.

And if one of the party leaders has nothing to prove or win in a leaders’ debate, why do it? Sometimes, the discussion can be around a strategy to get leaders to cooperate.

The point is that leaders’ debates have to be handled in a flexible environment. No two elections are the same. Leaders change, campaign strategies change and everyone has to understand that debates are for the voters, not the politicians. A debate is part of the democratic process.

And also understand you are taking a serious risk if you start rolling today’s technology into the rules of the game. Technology evolves too fast. Facebook might be yesterday’s technology. And has Donald Trump in the United States discredited Twitter as a political soapbox? You have no way of knowing what will be the technological solutions two years from now. With all due respect to the academics and officials with which she is talking, the minister needs to learn from people who understand the political problems.

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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