I promised myself at one point that I was going to stop talking (heck, thinking) about the Occupy movement in Canada, but I couldn’t. What has bothered me so much about it is that it claims to be democratic, but ignores the fact that we already have a democratic system in place. Not a perfect system by any means, but you have to start somewhere if you want to create change.
What has really bothered me is that there are things that could be done within the democratic system that would a) actually require a lot less effort (and frostbite) than Winter camping, and b) actually force the government to pay attention.
These things are called petitions.
But here’s the thing: if someone somewhere figures out what they want to ask for, finds a sympathetic MP (there are many), and gets a petition presented, the government HAS to listen. They have to reply in fact. Within 45 days. And if they don’t reply, then a whole committee is required to get together and investigate that. Doesn’t that sound like kind of a pain in the butt? Especially if it were repeated? See where I’m going with this?
Your MPs and MPPs may walk past you every day sitting in whatever park you’ve chosen, but that’s all they can do: walk past. They’re pretty busy people and they swore to uphold the democratic process we currently use. That’s kind of the basis of their promise to us. So my point is give them something they can use.
What should the petition say?
Nobody expects any one person to solve everything. Nobody is asking the people who are Occupying various parts of Canada to cast the magic bullet. I can’t answer the question of what Occupiers should petition for because I don’t, to be honest, know what they want. But I think the heart of it is inequality and general unfairness. And at the heart of that is poverty, because nobody really cares that some people have a lot except for because other people have so much less.
So the issue that I think people really want addressed is poverty.
The problem, it seems to me, isn’t that nobody in government cares about poverty. It’s that it’s not anybody’s job. There is no Ministry or even Committee currently looking at poverty on its own. Everyone has been handed a single tool and told to fix the broken ship, and they can’t. They ARE trying, and they DO care, but nobody has yet said, “Why don’t you go to the tool shed and choose whatever you need.” That is to say, each group can only affect change concerning those things that fall under the purview of any given Ministry or Committee.
So, someone needs to send them to the tool shed. Which, incase this is as poor a metaphor as I strongly suspect it is, means that I think they need someone whose job is to look at poverty full-time.
Handily, there is already a bill in the works that calls for the appointment of a Poverty Elimination Commissioner, and some other more specific things to aid in the elimination of poverty. A Poverty Elimination Commissioner would be independent and would hold the government accountable to staying on track with its poverty reduction goals and remaining committed to the effort.
SO, LONG STORY SHORT
If I were going to write a petition (and actually, I would be happy to do that), I would request that the government pick up the pace a little on that bill, which had a first reading in June, or even better, move ahead on the part where the Poverty Elimination Commissioner gets appointed. Because the changed legislation will take time, but there surely is much to learn, and a great deal a Commissioner could be doing, in the meantime. For one thing, couldn’t said commissioner weigh in on other government activities and their effect on poverty? That’s a real question, so if you know, let me know.
If Occupy wanted to present a petition, I would not just sign it–I’d help. I’d help them present a hundred petitions. Because unlike the people who participating in the Arab Spring, we actually do still have this kind of great democratic process to use. So let’s use it. Hell, let’s just go ahead an abuse it a little.*
I suspect (though I could be gravely mistaken, as I often am; well not gravely–so far none of my mistakes have killed me. Knock on wood), that given that the existing bill is of NDP origins and has a good deal of support from the Green Party and BQ, it would not be that difficult to find an MP to present a petition. So, who’s in? Anybody?
TO THE OCCUPIERS
Really, I don’t see any reason Occupy needs to be involved in such a petition at all. I just figured since there’s a bunch of people who’ve created a strong network committed to working together toward something, they might be the people to do it. I debated removing any mention of Occupy from this article because people hate me enough already over my Occupy criticisms, but I have to give them credit for being the people who sparked my interest in this. So, huh, whaddayaknow: you made me pay attention and make some effort. Good job!
*I say that because I don’t think there’s any way for the average person to abuse the democratic system. I do not officially endorse abuse of the democratic system. And Lord knows it happens.