reimagining our democracy

A democratic minidrama takes place whenever a ballot box is emptied onto the counting table during one of our elections.

A democratic minidrama takes place whenever a ballot box is emptied onto the counting table during one of our elections. All the weeks of effort at preparing posters and brochures, canvassing for support, debating other candidates and a myriad of other tasks come down to the tabulating of the results, one ballot at a time.

We fortunately don’t have the problem of “hanging chads” or computer-program failures that confound the voting process at times in the case of our continental cousins or raise the eyebrows of the cynical about the integrity of their electoral system.

We just simply count the x’s placed on paper ballots.

Serving as a scrutineer for a struggling third party, I witnessed my first count on election night of the 1974 federal campaign in a riding, which included a goodly portion of Westmount, Quebec, one of the wealthiest districts in the country, and the student ghetto of McGill University at the opposite end of the income continuum.

My urban planning thesis advisor at McGill had asked me to volunteer in the race she was helping to manage for the NDP candidate. It was a request I couldn’t refuse for obvious reasons but one I now see as having served as an important introduction for me to the Canadian electoral process.

The party I volunteered for in 1974 did so poorly in that riding that it lost its deposit. Not surprisingly though, many of the social policy ideas that it promoted then eventually became accepted concepts embodied now in our country’s laws.

Times have changed. Ideas planted and party organizing done over the years have borne fruit. Once a marginal party in Quebec 38 years ago, the NDP now holds the most federal seats in that province and is the Official Opposition in Ottawa. Incidentally, that 1974 election was one of the first federal elections, if not the very first, where party affiliation was placed on the ballot under the candidate’s name.

The ballots have been counted and victors declared in the 2012 Municipal Elections in the Yukon, as well as in the recent Ta’an Kwach’an First Nation election for their chief this week. All candidates, successful and unsuccessful, should be honoured for their willingness to step forward and offer their time and energy to this process. The issues they all raised offer, as well, an action template for the in-coming administrations.

Particularly impressive in this year’s municipal race, from my perspective, was the range of candidates who sought one of the six Whitehorse City Council positions. Their diverse cultural and class backgrounds, gender balance and age distribution all reflect positively on the vibrancy of our community.

Most aspirants for a city council seat in Whitehorse have been denied the opportunity to sit but they can take some comfort from the fact that the ideas they put forth live on as long as they and folk they have inspired, take their role as citizens in our democracy to heart.

Democracy continues to thrive only to the degree we take our role as citizens seriously. This means making sure our voices are heard not only on election day but in the weeks, months and years between elections. This means reimagining, re-energizing our democracy over and over again.

Bill Moyers in a Now commentary for the Public Broadcast System – the same one U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney wants to cut – some years ago stated that “America’s corporate and political elites now form a regime of their own and they’re privatizing democracy. All the benefits – the tax cuts, policies and rewards – flow in one direction: up.” We can’t let that happen here.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact