Maybe it’s because the weather is unseasonably warm in some parts of this country that we have the energy to dispense on existential national queries. Those leftover Christmas calories we might otherwise expend shovelling the sidewalks or keeping our balance on the skating-rink sidewalks that arrive overnight, those dangerous deliveries care of the winter winds from Colorado giving a final gasp before heading off to die somewhere to the north, are begging to be used. Maybe because it’s been warmer, and the snowdrifts have been smaller and the sidewalks less icy in the nation’s capital, that we have time for the bigger questions. Questions like: what is democracy, anyway?
Of course, that’s not the question you’ll hear on the TV shows or decipher from the pixels in front of you. No. There, the question is put another way. It’s a question that’s much more focused, apparently. It’s something about whether you can change the rules of the game without everyone in the game having a say about whether the rules should be changed. To put it more specifically, as the politicians have tried to do: by what rules shall we vote for a new government, the next time we have to do it? Ho ho! Good one. We are hooked. There are few things we like more, when we get right down to it, in this country, than discussing the rules of our national games. Which is perhaps why this one feels so compelling. Who ultimately wins these games is another matter entirely – a more American thing, perhaps. But up here, by God, we must know by what rules shall the games will all be dictated.
There is something in there about an innate sense of fairness, perhaps. Something, just maybe, about our patriarchal origins, our (sometimes) happy subservience to a crown rather than the go-it-alone attitude of our southern brethren. But maybe there’s nothing to it at all – nothing more, anyway, than the fact that we tend to be, as a collective, a bunch of nitpickers. The beaver is a fitting national symbol, one imagines, in this sense. Yes, it is a hard worker, diligently building a home for its family. It is also anal-retentive A F. A necessary thing, of course, to ensure that little water bridges the dam of all those little twigs and sticks, but all the same, obsessive about the details.
And the details matter in this case – a lot. Or, at least, they might, depending on how things go. The idea, such as it was laid out many months ago, was grandiose and all-sweeping – a commitment made when making commitments was all the rage: that within 18 months of a new government laying root in Ottawa, the entire system of how elections happen would be changed. A committee of elders would convene the people, experts in the field of nations and democracy, and a suitable replacement for our winner-take-all system would thusly be inserted.
But why! Why bother with all this? Why fix a system that is not yet entirely broken, that has served up both minority and majority governments, that has not left anyone immune from scandal and corruption, that allows for us to throw the bums out in good time? Why, more democracy, of course! Let all the voices of every beaver be heard! Let us build a better home with many different sticks rather than a home of mostly the same ones of the same colour! Let us redecorate for the future!
Then the question came – this political pondering about democracy that we are now dealing with in the warmth of our last winters. Shouldn’t everyone have a say in this rule change, the question began. Shouldn’t we all – all of these little beavers in this house – have a chance to say whether our house be made of multiple colours or mostly just of similar ones? If a bit more democracy is a good thing, then isn’t a lot more democracy an even better thing? Shouldn’t there be a… referendum?
Oh my god. OMG. You guys. Can this be correct? Is that equation right? Get the calculator. I am too tired to reach it, I have had too much tryptophan and I am sluggish in my winter months. Is more democracy actually more democracy? Could it be? Could it be possible that this promise of more democracy can be trumped with a new promise of a more democratic democracy? Get the opinion pages. What is the word? What say the wags? Which way is the wind blowing?
Let us now scratch our weary, stylish, beards and think this over. How much democracy is necessary to change democracy? What is democracy, anyhow? If this is more democracy, this idea of referendum, then perhaps we do away with the other, lesser democracy, entirely. Maybe we had it wrong all along. Maybe it is just this simple. A quick vote. A yea or nay. It feels right. Is it? Now all this deciding at the top by the government we just elected with that old way we used to do things so many months ago when it was even warmer than now, sounds different. That whole bag doesn’t sound like democracy. This sounds like democracy, now. It sounds like something we should have known, maybe could have known, all along. Another way, whispered in the wind, only rumoured to exist before, but now here, for the taking.
We could keep going. Questions on questions on questions on questions on questions. Referendum after referendum until it is all solved. No more of this no-more-politics-as-usual. Instead, let’s update. New software. Upvote-downvote democracy. That feels better. It feels immediate and instant. It feels like something newer than new, fresher than fresh, fairer than fair, more open than open. It feels clean. Cleaner than all that politics stuff we waded through last summer. A fresh start for the new year. In fact, it doesn’t feel like petty politics at all.
Oh but hang on what if it is.