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The Advancement of Democracy

By: James Jeff McLaren
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Opinion Piece on how Kingston is at the Forefront of Democracy's advance

One of the next steps in the advancement of democracy is moving public input into the process generation phase of any undertaking. This is important because when opposition arises it is usually during the established process of the undertaking but by this time the process has a life of its own that may be directed against the best interest of the people. To fix this form of structural violence, democracy must be present before the processes are set in place. Open public consultation should be part of the process determining step because without it processes can become closed, alienating and anti-democratic.

The virtue of democracy is more than just voting in an election. Democracy is a civic virtue that needs to inform and permeate all aspects of government. In today’s age part of the crisis of democracy can be seen in the problems of process. For example it can be seen in the PARC process, the way the school issue was handled after that and in the way the 2015 KTMP was handled. Democracy is often held hostage by process. However, process should always be at the service of democracy; not in its opposition.

When process subverts democracy we have a form of structural violence. A legally legitimate process determination phase that does not have public input can lead to a conflict between democracy and the rule of law. This is a conflict that could be avoided by the expansion of democracy, via public consultation, in the process generating step of an undertaking. By convincing the people that the process is always necessarily trustworthy, justified, legitimate, or “the way things work,” structural violence makes people disengage with the political process. One reason that people disengage is that it can appear that nothing that can be done. This sentiment is a sure sign that the process has achieved a life of its own in opposition to democracy. By that time in a “legally legitimate” process it is usually too late to change the outcome.

But something can be done. Democracy can be expanded to the process determination phase of any potentially controversial undertaking. The history of English democratic tradition has been one of an expansion of the scope and depth of democracy. Simply and very briefly, starting with in 1215 with the Magna Carta the power and authority of a King was reduced and spread around the lords of the upper nobility. In 1295 the “Model Parliament” included representative of lower nobility and from the counties. They were included to approve taxes but they expanded the scope to include petitions for the redress of grievances. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 made parliament supreme and deepened democracy with the introduction of the Bill of Rights of 1689 which included new requirements to seek out the consent of the people. Moving over to Canada women started to get the vote in Manitoba in 1916 and all of Canada in 1918. One way to look at this history is the expansion of the number of people who can partake in government and an expansion in the range of issues which people can expect to have a say. This last trend, expanding the range of issues, is a key to the future of democratic advancement.

One way forward to a more perfect democracy is to more fully integrate democracy into the processes of seeking the consent of the people. In other words, to eliminate structural violence we need to democratize the meta-process; that is we need to consult the people when deciding the process by which a community undertaking gets done.

Added on: Dec 7, 2015
By: James Jeff McLaren
© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren