Excerpt From Bill Freeman's book: Democracy Rising: Politics & Participation in Canada
In 2016 two political events have been like an earthquake, shaking the waters of public life. The first was the Brexit vote by the British people to leave the European Union, and the second was the long campaign of Donald Trump and his election to become the president of the United States.
Many political leaders, the corporate elite, and the media have been in a panic. All of their predictions have been wrong. Trump was dismissed at the beginning of the primaries as being a lightweight, and yet he went on to win the presidency of the most influential and powerful country in the world. Britain's exit from the E.U. was thought to be so remote a possibility that a referendum was called to put the issue to rest. It was believed that ordinary people would not leap into the unknown and vote for political options that could lead to chaos and disaster, but in both instances the public defied the elites.
The media is still puzzling over what happened. They blame those who have been economically left behind and say that these votes point to the rising influence of right-wing politics. Age, ignorance, and gender are other factors, apparently. In both Britain and the United States, it was older males lacking post-secondary education who voted for these marginal candidates and causes. In fact, the roots are much broader and deeper than this.
There is a common element that runs through both of these events. Vast numbers of people are fed up with the elites who control the political process and engineer government policies for their own interests. Decisions are being made that threaten their jobs, their families, and their communities, and no one is listening to their concerns. They want it known that they are hurting, and that the political system is not working for them. People are struggling, and their children face a diminished future. They don't like it one bit.
But above all, they are tired of prosperous members of the elite telling them what is good for them and how they should be voting. They have rebelled in the only way they can – the only way the system allows them to rebel – by voting for a know-nothing, self-centred political demagogue, and by rejecting the E.U., a political power centred in Brussels that they know little about.
There is a deep dissatisfaction among the followers of the left, right, and centre, and it goes through all parts of the developed world, Canada included. People are not happy with the cozy relationships their governments have with elites. The message that they have delivered is that they want something done about the way that governments are run, or there is going to be hell to pay.
That is what this book is all about.
In Democracy Rising, award-winning author Bill Freeman, examines the political malaise that has gripped Canada by showing how economic elites have created a political system that benefits them, and how it can be changed. Other groups have challenged elites and have made the political system respond to their concerns and it can be done again.
Democracy is rising in this country. People are becoming engaged in politics and public life, and that is a good thing. It is only when our representative democracy becomes a truly participatory democracy that we will have "government of the people, by the people, for the people."
Bill Freeman is a writer of eighteen books on Canadian life and urban issues, including Shantymen of Cache Lake, which won the Canada Council Award for Juvenile Literature. He was the script-writer for the popular Mighty Machines; television series for children. Two of his recent books won awards from Heritage Toronto.
Bill holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from McMaster University, and is a past chair of the Writers' Union of Canada. He lives on Toronto Island.
Democracy Rising: Politics and Participation in Canada was published by Dundurn Press in 2017 and is available in bookstores and online.