Imagine you’re new to Canada. Sure, your citizenship study guide told you a bunch of good things about Canada. But it never really told you how to become engaged in Canada’s democratic process: about your right to speak out, and what your vote really means. Depending on where you came from, those can be very big questions.
Imagine you’ve just turned voting age (for some of us, it’s a stretch). You have smattering of Canadian history that mainly involved memorizing names and dates from a grade seven textbook, now long forgotten. So you can vote, but who cares? Does your vote even count? Does anyone even listen?
Enter Democracy Talks on May 9 at the library, an evening of citizen engagement aimed at newcomers to Canada and 18 to 25-year-olds who think they might have something to say and want the tools to say it. Democracy Talks asks the questions:
• Are you looking for a political discussion and trying to encourage others to get involved?
• Are you sick of politics, politically tuned-out or worn down by the negativity and rhetoric?
• Are you convinced that you don’t know enough about politics to contribute in a meaningful way?
• Are you looking for a fresh way to engage your community group politically?
This evening of free speech and inquiry is hosted by Samara, an NGO that aims to reconnect citizens with politics and our democratic process. Registration is required for the maximum 20 participants (email email@example.com) for this oh-so-democratic evening, facilitated by Samara’s Marissa Lawrence and Nelson’s Bill Metcalfe.
Frustrating as the electoral process feels at times, I know I’m lucky: I grew up in Ottawa (not something I’m quick to confess around anyone with a political bone to pick, as if I’m somehow responsible) in a family that embraced political discussion, fueled by Maclean’s magazine and the CBC news. I can write a feisty letter to the editor, I’ve turned up at the odd political rally, and I always vote.
I’m confident in my voice, with a healthy Canadian political irreverence that — weirdly — goes hand in hand with my reverence for the fundamental tenets of democracy and free speech. The Raging Grannies and the Radical Cheerleaders are heroes. I see election returns as something of a sporting event: get out the popcorn, crack a cold one. Revel in the system.
It’s essential that all citizens know they have a voice, and how to use it. That’s why I’m so stoked about Democracy Talks coming to Nelson, and the conversations it will inspire. It’s great that the library — about as democratic an institution as you can have — is able to play host.
For those who don’t fit the youth or newcomer demographic, but who’d like a refresher as another Provincial election looms, check our shelves for the NFB DVD Democracy 4 Dummies (321.8 DEM), read Jack Layton’s Speaking Out: Ideas that work for Canadians (971.0648), or — closer to the homefront — former Rossland CAO Andre Carrel’s Citizen’s Hall: Making Local Democracy Work (305.69 CAR).The Groundwork Guide Democracy in the teen section (YA 321.8) offers the brass tacks, and Dynasties and Interludes: Past and Present in Canadian Electoral Politics (320.971 DYN) is ideal for the politically fervent, or chronic insomniac.
For comic relief, try Terry Fallis’s fictional satire of the Federal election process, Best laid Plans, or former New Denver mayor Gary Wright’s social and political expose Unrepentent.
You can read about Samara and Democracy Talks at samaracanada.com. There’s even a link to the Citizenship Study Guide, where you can read about all that stuff you forgot from your Grade 7 history textbook and maybe find out a thing or two about Canada’s political system you actually didn’t know — even if you grew up in Ottawa.
Voting Day for the BC provincial election is May 14. Read, discuss, get informed, vote. Pop that popcorn, watch those returns. And be glad you’ve got a voice.