The success of a democracy is relative to
the degree of citizen engagement
June 9, 2023
Sir Winston Churchill stands prominently in history as an outstanding orator, strategist and politician. He was a stalwart Prime Minister seeing the United Kingdom through WWII. With great admiration and respect, I say Churchill was a quick-witted politician who could coin a phrase to grab people’s attention and inspire like few other figures in modern history.
Speaking of democracy in the British House of Commons in November 1947, Churchill is quoted to have said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Such a simple statement, yet it can lead one to ponder far-reaching ideas.
Churchill makes an excellent point about democracy, at least its potential greatness. No, it is not perfect, and it is not automatic. For it to work and improve lives for all people effectively, it is up to the citizens to make an actual effort to participate in decision-making.
Voting on election day is only the first step in making government work for the people. Elected representatives, be they municipal, provincial or federal, must be willing to listen to what all people have to say, not just those you agree with or who are close to you.
Listening to all voices seems to be a weakness of Premier Ford. In his case, it seems his ears are only tuned to hear the voices of his wealthy friends and supporters who promote privatization and development at any cost. He seems only to hear them when they speak like a powerful choral group and are positioned where everyone, including the media, can hear them clearly.
For example, consider the objections voiced by numerous agricultural and farming organizations who objected to Bill 97, the Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act, 2023. Bill 97 was the subject of this column two weeks ago. It is part of the government’s solution to our housing crisis.
A key aspect of Bill 97 was designed to promote increased housing construction in areas beyond urban boundaries and rural areas, including allowing up to three new lots on parcels of farmland. The agricultural community saw this as a recipe for disaster. Farms would be subdivided and sold for residential use, primarily by urbanites wanting to enjoy a quieter life with more natural surroundings. The farmers knew from experience that this would mean the permanent loss of arable, food-producing lands to feed the world.
My hat is off to the many farm and agricultural organizations for the way they organized collectively and made themselves heard. by writing letters, meetings with local MPPs (me included), and media presence. The farmers left no room for the government to wiggle without seemingly bulldozing the entire agricultural community.
As a result of their efforts, they left the government with no wiggle room. Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark responded by writing, “We have clearly heard the concerns that have been raised about the need to preserve Ontario’s farmland — and we share that goal … We want to continue working with the agricultural sector to look at alternatives that would assist farm families in succession planning but do not involve additional severances.” (The Star, May 31, 2023)
In a nutshell, Mr. Ford flinched.
So we know that when the public gets involved and makes their voices heard, our democracy works. The agricultural community can proudly say that they made democracy work for them as it should. Maybe by using the agricultural community’s recent success, it’s time for Ontarians to tackle other issues. Right now, Premier Ford is ploughing through with his head down, eyes closed, and ears tuned only to the voices of his circle of confidants..
If people organize and speak as one and support one another, perhaps Premier Ford can be convinced to drop the appeal of the Ontario Court ruling that Bill 124 is unconstitutional. Readers will recall that Bill 124 limited wage increases for nurses and public sector workers to a meagre 1 percent per year. This is a significant part of why Ontario is so desperately short of nurses, and so many are leaving the province.
In fact, Doug Ford is even out of step with his own government. Global News reported that it had evidence found in a binder for the Minister of Health. Global reported, “One portion of the minister’s binder that dealt with “retention issues” in the healthcare system stated that “concerns about wage disparity via Bill 124″ were a contributing factor, along with wage disparities.” The article said that Mr. Ford dismissed his own government’s analysis, saying that it was “not accurate.” (Global News, Jan. 11, 2023)
Ontario nurses have been awarded almost $1 billion in retroactive pay. And just days ago, we learned that WSIB workers will receive $900 million in retroactive pay—a fair and just decision because Bill 124 imposed wage controls which overrode individuals’ constitutional right to collective bargaining. The government legislation was ill-advised and poorly drafted. They were told many times that it was wrong. The government wasted many thousands of dollars with the government’s court appeals. But Doug Ford chose to dig his heels in no matter the cost. In the end, the people of Ontario will remember the egregious implementation of harmful unconstitutional legislation and subsequent mismanagement of our tax dollars as a black eye for the government.
We all know that governments can be masters of ‘politispeak’ to make us believe they hear the voice of the people. However, an engaged and vocal public is most often more than capable of separating the spin from the substance when it comes down to it.
As Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” The critical thing to remember, however, the success of any democracy is relative to how involved the citizens are.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at my new address, firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député