The Power of Democratic Engagement


THUNDER BAY – Since being elected in 2008, both John Rafferty and Bruce Hyer have established what in Western Canada is a political norm. The two MPs have hosted public townhall meetings to gather input and ideas from the people they are elected to represent.

Some have suggested all these kinds of meetings are is a publicity stunt. Others have suggested they are more partisan efforts.

The reality is that an open townhall meeting is a return to a grassroots democracy whereby you can communicate directly with your elected representatives.

With the passage, at second reading, of Bill C-501, a private member’s bill to protect employee pensions, the real power of a public meeting can be witnessed. From the floor of The Di Vinci Centre in Thunder Bay an idea has come forward and made it to the floor of the House of Commons.

Listening and then acting on the wishes of the people a politician is elected to represent is “Job One” for any elected representative. It is also a great way to engage the people in the region into starting to realize that Northwestern Ontario is changing.

The public meetings hosted by Rafferty have often been live-stream web broadcast on Our goal there is a simple one. Engaging the public and allowing you, our readers and webviewers to have all of the information unfiltered.

It is a perfect mix of the old-fashioned spirit of engaged democracy with the latest in computer and Internet technology.

It is very likely that the return of the public meeting, across the federal and provincial political levels is going to make a full return in our region.

There are several reasons it should. First it represents a solid return to representative democracy. Those in elected office, allowed by those who elected them to act without engagement, are likely to end up captured by the party machine, and end up representing the party to the riding rather than the party to the parliament.

Second, it is vital to remember that there are many people across Canada with expertise in many areas. Those people can help when asked to solve or prevent problems. All it takes is the courage of an elected representative to actually listen.

Finally, in an era where voters tend to be cynical, or believe that politicians just are not listening, having regular opportunities to directly engage their elected representatives is a means of making sure that those officials are listening.

To me, the suggestion that we need fewer opportunities to engage and direct our elected officials can only be the idea of the party bosses, and the political backrooms. They are not the idea of true democratic people.

So for all of those who believe in democracy, this week we have seen that your ideas, from the floor of a town hall meeting can, and do make it all the way to the floor of the House of Commons.

That of course is just my opinion, as always, your mileage may vary.

James Murray

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