worth a read; my last essay on "Democratic Deficit"

Well, folks, here is the final essay I did for the "democratic Deficit" course at U of T. This is probably the last university essay I ever do. I have enough credits to graduate in political science, and I am getting a bit tired of the place.

In fact, I still have enough credits even though I have probably flunked this particular course. And even though it was one of the more interesting courses I did at U of T. In fact, I think worth the rest of the political science crap I did combined. But it was all too much for me all at once, when condensed into a summer c

ourse instead of a year. It is one demanding course and many of the people in it were post graduate.

The trouble was, it was very hard figuring out what the prof really wanted. All the students, many of them post grads, all much younger than me, were puzzled. Many of them got a lot of their work thrown back at them, told to do it over. A grumpy old invalid like me, with limits to how much time my eyes and back will allow me to spend stuck in front of the word processor, just rebels at that. In the end I just did not hand in most of these reports of the service placements and "mapping" exercises; a big reason for my low marks.

Yet despite this, in an odd way I liked this old guy. He seems a bit trapped by, and frustrated by, the U of T system. He said it was full of people who have never been out in the real world, who are totally theoretical. Places like Ryerson usually find teachers who have some practical knowledge.

He definitely does have some practical understanding of what he is teaching. He has worked for numerous cabinet ministers, provincial and federal, and knows about writing briefs to them. That is a large part of this course. But the logic of ministerial briefs is very different from that of U of T essays, which he also has to follow. This is what makes it so hard to figure out just how to write stuff for this course.

One of the interesting things about this course was the learning placement. This too was made difficult by U of T bureaucracy which required us to fill out all sorts of timetables and insurance statements, and by the short time frame. I got an interesting placement; Central Neighborhood House (CNH). I had not been there for awhile but used its services a great deal when I first came to Toronto and was living in that area.

I am still reading through all this stuff. I am glad I took the time to download most of it, because the nutty professor took it all down the day after the essays were due. Usually when they create such an electronic archive for the course readings, it stays up for months after the course is done.

It is getting hard to access a lot of this stuff, even with a U of T library account. You have these publishing companies connected to universities, who take over what professors and other university types put out, and try to make money off it. Many people are noticing that this is greatly slowing down the spread and growth of knowledge.

They have various ways of making it a pain in the ass to download the material to your hard drive. I do not like reading things on paper anymore. I like reading things of a computer screen so I can enlarge them. Also, some formats make it hard to underline or highlight things. For some of this stuff I have to make a condensation using the "grab" function.

I have ways of getting this stuff into a format I can use. I have quite a library of scholarly and not so scholarly stuff about some subjects which interest me or are related to the courses I have done, and usually both.

But as I said, this last course was a real paper blizzard. I have plenty to keep reading and looking into. Enough material for lots of blog articles of a more insightful nature on a topic which interests me and which this blog is going to start to be more about; how to develop a more truly democratic society. There is a great deal more do it than just voting reform of parliamentary reform, as useful as those may be.

ministerial recommendations

executive summary

The promotion of deliberative democracy is counseled as the primary solution for the democratic deficit, that is within the present capacity of elected officials. A real solution for this deficit is not possible until the present oligarchic system falls, but much can be done to prepare the public for the transition, by developing its "social capital" and its judgement about alternatives. This entails subsidiarizing local governments as much as possible, as well as institutionalizing citizen led consultative processes for regional and national issues.


The minister has asked for a briefing on the causes and solutions for civic decline. An absence of trust and low voting turnouts are seen. The minister believes that democracy means the transaction of trust, otherwise it develops into a tyranny.

The supposed decline of democracy is a topic of wide concern. The problem is that there is no widely accepted definition of what "democracy" is. There is a common theme of public rule, of the population governing themselves, of government being in the interests of the whole of the people. Of course, this is not the present reality. The problem of "democratic decline" is a problem of people committing a common and very basic cognitive error. They want a solution to a problem which they have not defined. So, this briefing cannot provide any solution to the democratic decline problem. Yet there is a real problem of a disconnect between government and the people it serves, leading to bad decision making which does not need human needs.

An example of this semantic confusion is the statement of Schmitter and Lynn, [1] that "Modern political democracy is a system of governance in which rulers are held accountable for their actions ... by citizens, acting indirectly through ...their elected representatives." If "democracy" means anything, then the only "ruler" is the public, which appoints and removes governors directly and at will. They do recognize the fallacy of "electoralism", that democracy is merely about holding elections.

There is much discussion among political scientists about a supposed decline of public participation by the public, indicating to them a deterioration of democracy. However, Nevitte [2] finds no indications that the public is dissatisfied with current electoral rules. As well, people's participation in public life is actually rising in Canada, which means that the activities of elected representatives are scrutinized more. They still identify with the Canadian state. People are more dissatisfied with government than formerly. But these changes are not unique to Canada. They have happened in most "advanced industrial states" since the decade of the nineteen sixties. These changes are strikingly consistent across many countries and involve a change to a "post material" value system. People are no longer concerned mostly with survival, but with self fulfillment. The signs of a "crisis of governability" also developed in these polities at about the same time, the decade of the nineteen seventies.

Nevitte finds three areas of research into democratic participation which need further investigation. First is to compare the various ways in which countries try to restructure their institutions, and their effectiveness. Some have focussed on electoral reform. Others have focussed on "greater citizen participation in local administration". The second is on "the representation gap" or how legislators priorities are in variance with their constituents. The third area concerns the role of political parties.

Cameron [3] believes that there is a link between good government and a healthy society. He notes that democracy has been regarded as highly undesirable in some eras, due to the supposed incapacity of the ordinary people. It is in the twentieth century that democracy as he defines it has made great progress. This progress is cyclical, with periods when the numbers of democracies declined. He makes the very important point that declining voter turnout in elections means citizens are not participating, but that they may be finding more effective channels for achieving their aims. This would also be why political parties are losing support. As well, Cameron finds that a rise of individualism and self expression leaves people impatient with a system which has not changed since the nineteenth century. Cameron also talks about civil society, and believes that "strong associations" create some protection from the coercive power of the state. He cites Barber that there are "at least three...understandings of society;" communitarian, democratic, and libertarian. He believes the democratic view is the main one among social scientists. In this, civil society mitigates between "the state" and "the private sector". However, this may not exactly fit the Canadian context, with our history of a strong state.

Yankelevich [4] has advanced the study of democracy greatly by explaining the difference between public opinion and public judgment, a concept that has been missing from discussion of democracy. Yet some pollsters have noticed that there is a difference between people's snap judgements about a subject and their opinions once they have carefully thought the subject through. Looked at this way, people's values and beliefs are stable and predictable over time. The public is capable of making logical decisions about issues effecting them, they merely fail to conform with the "engineers of consent". As well, there is a difference between expert opinion and public opinion. An expert's opinion comes from knowledge. The public has no knowledge to start with and must develop it before coming to a judgment on a subject.

None of these thinkers are able to define what a democracy would look like, but they offer a roadmap for enabling the public to determine what the real problem is with the present governance structures, what a real democracy would be like, and about how it would be achieved. There are several models of democracy which could be considered.

Asset Based Community Development, (ABCD) sometimes called Community Economic Development (CED) is about allowing a local community to build up its social and economic capital in cooperation with higher levels of government, generally according to a co governance model. This has worked reasonably well in Quebec in reducing poverty and creating healthy communities. It does not work in English Canada, according to Shragge, [5] because of the "dominant ideology of the entrepreneurial culture". This leaves the community organizations in very unstable positions and unable to be "political".

E-democracy is the idea that the internet will allow a greater democracy. Sunstein[6] has noted that while the net greatly speeds up learning and communication, it also compartmentalizes people. It prevents shared learning and experiences as people tend to look for what they want to hear, the people they want to know, and to tune out what they do not. Democracy requires that people have a common set of basic beliefs. Democracy must happen face to face.

Improved education is often promoted as a cure for the problems of democracy. This is called the educationalist delusion. Yankelovich states that information is not a substitute for judgement. [7]

The linked ideas, Alternative Economic Development (AEC) and Social Development, mean to develop the economic capacity of local communities, thus creating a resource base and a "social capital" base on which community empowerment and capacity to deal with higher levels of government, can be built. Social capital means the competence, trust, and relationships built up among members of a community to be able to achieve their aims. This enables "transactions of Trust". Canada's charitable status nonprofits generate revenues of more than $90 billion a year and employ 1.3 million people (not including volunteers). More importantly, it has about 10,000 cooperatives that generate more than $37 billion a year and employ about 150,000 people. [8] This is still a fairly small part of the total economy but could be seen as a start toward an a democracy empowering Alternative Economy. However, Shragge has doubts.[9] Community development is still largely dependent on state and foundational support and subject to the pressure of free enterprise ideology as well as the needs of state bureaucracy. Democratic practice must be introduced in order for the development to become "political". There are differences between the extent this is done in Quebec and in "English Canada". [10] The former is considered superior due to the way in which the third sector is considered part of the citizenship regime, and embodies the concepts of Autonomy, Community, and Movement in the name "Autonomous Community Action".

This brings us to Deliberative Democracy (DD), the idea of deciding public policies according to direct input from the public. In places this is called participatory budgeting, planning cells, or citizen's assemblies. There is no space here to go into how these processes work and the logic to them. It is best explained as input, rather than output based, legitimacy. As articulated by Montpetit,[11] government is becoming impossible because its outcomes are seen as illegitimate because it is increasingly against what is generally considered to be the public good. This is so because government is consulting experts who have an idea of the public good shaped by the interest groups which they serve, and the disconnected elites they tend to come from. Thus the real public, within the "Lifeworld", does not see the output as in their interests, but descending upon them from "The System". For policy decisions to have legitimacy the concerns of the public must be inputted into it. It then has "input based legitimacy".

Obtaining legitimate public input into policy is a science in its infancy. Three modes are identified; strategic, rule guided, and communicative action. Strategic is about creating support for an already decided program. Rule based is about following a process designed to insure legitimacy. Communicative action is when parties involved put aside game playing and ideology, examine the issue before them logically and agree to abide by the result. Obviously, this mode is most likely to really achieve legitimacy.

A deliberative approach to developing democracy does not preclude the Asset Based and Alternative Economic Development approaches. These ideas are subsumed into it. The "ABCD" cannot be imposed from outside the community, but requires a deliberative approach to deciding what needs to be developed. The "AED" organizations also need a symbiotic relationship with community level deliberative bodies in order for both to thrive.

recommendation and approach

Promoting deliberative democracy involves two approaches. One is promoting deliberative decision making generally, the other is in "subsidiarizing" local government in Canada. The former has its problems; it is very expensive and cumbersome. It steps on the toes of existing policy networks and may produce results they do not like. Montpetit counsels against naive enthusiasm for "the novel governance discourse". These difficulties do make politicians think carefully before challenging output oriented legitimacy. [12] The experiences of the citizen's assemblies on voting reform in Ontario and British Columbia are illustrative of this. The latter flies against the structure of government in Canada, in which local governments are "creatures of the provinces". The provinces do not like to delegate power to local government and tend to centralize their government, rather than subsidiarize them, as in the case of the forced amalgamation of Toronto.

Politicians and political parties have little to gain by promoting DD. However, going along with the prevailing order is becoming less desirable as government becomes more overloaded and delegitimized as the order collapses. However, if there is a serious commitment to a more democratic system than at present, the following should be considered.


In order to find solutions for a problem, you have to define what the problem really is. Also in this case, what a democracy really is. Democracy has become a debased term. For example, many people talk about democracy as trust between stakeholder groups. That is oligarchy, not democracy.

In a democracy there is one stakeholder; the public. The reasons for declining trust and participation is partly that the public, especially the younger ones, are no longer fooled; they know what system they live in. As well, declining trust and participation suits oligarchs well.

Problems are not solved with the kind of thinking which gave rise to them. The problem of the so called democratic deficit will not be solved by tinkering with the present system. Before we storm the bastille we should reflect that revolutions do not achieve their aims unless those for whom it is made have a clear idea of what they want to replace the existing order with, and have some organizational ability.

The public in Canada does not have these. No constructive change to the present order is possible as yet. What could be done is to increase the public's organizing capacity and its awareness of alternatives. This would be done by a deliberate program of increasing social capital, the capacity for Transactions of Trust, at a local level. This is in effect a form of DD. Even this would engender serious opposition, with attempts to discredit local groups, restrict or eliminate funding, and prevent the groups from having any effect or authority. Cameron's observations should be held in mind, that progress toward democracy is not inevitable; while great progress has been made, things have gone backward at times.

These attacks would come as much from "left" political networks as from "right" ones. Such initiatives must be fought for very hard and persistently, but some countries have made some progress at it. They are not a solution to the democracy deficit; they lay the ground for a better outcome when the present system eventually collapses. Of Barber's three understandings of society, this is a communitarian view and not a democratic one as such. The proponents of the Libertarian view and of the current understanding of democracy (social scientists), will be opponents.

next steps

If a politician and a political party had a policy of doing what it can to insure a democratic transition post crisis, and understood that the best way to do this was to encourage deliberative and community based democracy, they would act as follows. Information would be gathered from the participatory budgeting and planning cell experiences of other countries, and the citizen's assemblies of this country, from countries with a "subsidiarized" governance structure, and from the "Autonomous Community Action" groups of Quebec. This information should be looked at with Nevitte's three areas in mind.

There is no real constituency for (DD) among the "stakeholders", except for the one legitimate stakeholder, the public. The public is the big supporter of DD but is presently disempowered. The public has been shown to be not much interested in being "consulted" but do want to participate in deliberative processes if they feel their time will not be wasted, and their decisions respected. [13] Thus, a powerful constituency for DD can be developed by a political party applying some finesse to building it. When the public becomes accustomed to DD they will support it, making it easier to defend funding deliberative processes as well as local community development. This in turn leads to further support, which is able to counter the inevitable attacks by stakeholders/special interests.

An argument that could win over some elite stakeholders to DD is that it makes government easier in the long run by restoring legitimacy. It reduces the work load on government as it no longer must decide local issues at a higher level. Finally, a very good way to clarify thinking about problems and solutions, and create more allies for them, would be to keep asking people what kind of democratic society and economy they want to see in the future? The democratic deficit will not be solved until a consensus is achieved which defines it. In other words, a public judgement.


1 Page 76&78; Philippe C. Schmitter, Terry Lynn Karl What Democracy Is. . . and Is Not Journal of Democracy, Volume 2, Number 3, Summer 1991, pp. 75-88 (Article) Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/jod.1991.0033

2 Page 4, 8,28- 30 Niel Nevitte, "Value Change and Governance in Canada" University of Toronto Press 2002.

3 Pages 4, 6- 9, 11, 14-16, 20-22. David Cameron October 2002 "THE LANDSCAPE OF CIVIC ENGAGEMENT IN ONTARIO" http://www.law-lib.utoronto.ca/investing/reports/rp1.pdf downloaded June 30, 2013.

4 Pages 10-11, Daniel Yankelevich Coming to Public judgment 1991 http://portal.publicpolicy.utoronto.ca/en/courses/UniversityofOttawa/API5116DemocraticGovernanceandPublicManagement/Courseware%20Library/

5 page 147 & 150. Shragge,Eric, "Activism and social change: lessons for community and local organizing" Copyrightę2003 Broadview Press

6 Pages 1 & 13. Sunstein, Cass; http://bostonreview.net/cass-sunstein-internet-democracy-daily-we? Downloaded August 12, 2013.

7 Page 7 Yankelevich, Daniel " Coming to Public judgment"

8 Page 1. Quartier et al; http://www.urbancentre.utoronto.ca/pdfs/researchbulletins/13.pdf downloaded Aug 12, 2013

9 Page 25,,Shragge, Daniel; "Activism and Social Change; Lessons for Community and Social Organizing" 2009 University of Toronto Press.

10 Pages 1&4, LaForest, Rachel, and Susan Phillips. "Rethinking Civil Society-State Relationships: Quebec and Canada at the Crossroads " Centre for Voluntary Sector Research and Development (CVSRD). [2001-2003?].

11? Pages 4, 5, 7. Montpetit, Eric "Public Consultations in Policy Network Environments: The Case of Assisted Reproductive Technology Policy in Canada" Canadian Public Policy / Analyse de Politiques, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Mar., 2003)University of Toronto Press Downloaded August 13, 2013 http://www.jstor.org/stable/3552490 .

12 Pages 9,15. Montpetit, Eric. "Public Consultations in Policy Network Environments: The Case of Assisted Reproductive Technology Policy in Canada"

13 Page 2, Chris Cochrane, "Citizen Engagement: Ideas, emotions, and institutions." Well, no, that isn't what is in the slides, but it is in my notes.