Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Colliery Dams Dispute in the Larger Context



The Colliery Dams dispute, like so many other disputes today, is in large measure a result of a difference of opinion over what constitutes democracy in the contemporary world. People should be aware that democracy is not a thing, it is an-on-going process. What was in the past considered democratic is considered authoritarian today. Voltaire praised 18th Century England as a bastion of liberty, and compared to Louis 15th's France, it probably seemed so. In reality, 18th Century England was a vicious slave-owning oligarchy where less than 5% of adult males had the vote. Jump ahead 100 years to Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy In America where neither women nor people of color were considered persons, but this was a vast improvement on 18th Century England.

After the First World War the present system of representative democracy was finalized with women's suffrage, and not much has changed since. I would suggest that this concept of democracy is that of council majority and that permanent government that is the city bureaucracy. This concept of democracy is in direct conflict with a new conception of democracy.

The older concept reduces democracy to voting for candidates every number of years. Once in power these members can do more or less as they see fit. Should the masses object to the policies imposed upon them, they are treated as a virtual enemy. Should they persist in their protest, the state is there to repress them with force and violence. Civil disobedience arises when democracy is not working properly, where people have been excluded from the process.

For a population that was mostly uneducated, inarticulate and insecure, this system was not too problematic. People grumbled but obeyed. We saw this with the damming of the Arrow Lakes in the mid-1960s. Thousands of acres of prime farm land was destroyed and small towns inundated. There were complaints, but no action was taken. This is an example of Peter C. Newman's concept of Canadian deference to authority. However, today, with a population that is well educated, highly articulate and full of confidence, - such as the people fighting the destruction of Colliery Dam Park - deference has flown the coop. For them, the older democracy is not democratic at all but is more of an elective dictatorship.

It is no coincidence that at the same time as the Colliery Dam protests erupted, so too the spectacular revolts in Turkey, Egypt, and Brazil. A global movement for a new form of democracy has evolved and encompasses everything from Spain's Neighborhood Assemblies and the Occupy Movement to the Neighborhood Committees of Venezuela.

With the new-style democracy, people must have a say over every important event that impacts upon their lives. Democracy must be 24-7 not every 4 years. People prefer delegated power rather than independent representatives. All stakeholders must be involved and a rational compromise sought acceptable to the overwhelming majority. People with different ideas are not always the enemy, but a source of valuable input to be included, not excluded. Political power is to be horizontal, not top-down, webs and networks, not tightly controlled centralized bodies.

I wish the city Council majority would consider what they are doing in this world historical context. I invite them to stick their toes into the cool waters of the new democracy. They can do so by bringing all the stakeholders together, and most especially the First Nations, and find a rational solution to the conflict.










2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I would suggest that this concept of democracy is that of council majority and that permanent government that is the city bureaucracy."

A great analogy!


"This concept of democracy is in direct conflict with a new conception of democracy."

How do we develop the new conception?

10:29 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

An excellent question. I suppose we could start off with any effort to achieve more popular control over government such as easier recall, direct legislation, and referenda, (but without the government being allowed to propagandize on their own behalf.) A continuous pressure to include all stake-holders in any important issue - much in the way Neighborhood Plans are developed. Return of the ward system, which would involve more people in the process and allow each neighborhood representation. A binding contract signed by representatives to act according to the wishes of the people and not special interests... Neighborhood assemblies such as they have in parts of Europe, which while having no legislative power (yet!) can put an immense pressure on the govt. Any other ideas are welcome...

4:34 PM  

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