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Citizen participation essential to preserve democracy

In the summer of 2009, when I was first thinking of standing for a seat in the House of Commons, I consulted a number of people whose judgment I respect and trust. Besides my wife and other members of my immediate family, seven of the eleven people I took into my confidence are highly respected members of the business community in BC and else where in Canada. Of the others, one was an accomplished author, another a respected columnist, and another an academic and public intellectual.
 
These are educated and accomplished people in their fields. So I was extremely surprised that without exception, they all were adamant that I should not run.
Their reasons were as varied as the list was long:  The public scrutiny on my private life; the time away from my wife and kids; the financial sacrifice; the high level of partisanship; the premium on style versus substance; and the inability to get anything done in Ottawa. They said that my choice to stand for office during my prime earning years would be professional suicide because “politicians” were held in such low esteem.
 
Much of their advice reflected the accepted wisdom about public life and spoke volumes about how a once noble calling had diminished to such depths in the consciousness of members of the so-called “elite”.  They seemed to almost take satisfaction in telling me how “crazy” I was to even think about running for parliament.  One even sent me a handwritten letter in the mail to reinforce his opinion.
 
The more I reflected on their observations and advice, the angrier and more determined I got. In part because of the honest and heartfelt feedback of these good and sincere people, I decided to run.
 
Their points were well taken, I informed them a couple of weeks later, but I believe we cannot afford to shirk a responsibility we all have as citizens to raise the bar on our public life.
 
I took out a membership to the party that is most reflective of my values and the party with the leader that I most trust and respect. That was the Liberal Party of Canada under Michael Ignatieff’s leadership. I sought and secured the nomination of my new party in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country. I have been meeting my prospective constituents on a regular basis for over a year now.  
 
Since being a candidate, not one of those people I consulted – those that whine and complain about the sorry state of our public life and governance - has shown up in any way. They have been highly conspicuous by their absence. They’ve all been too busy or otherwise engaged. This has been a disappointment to me because they are the very people that lament the sorry state of our politics. Yet these are the people that I have found to be the most disconnected from it.
 
This has also been a real eye-opener.
 
On the other hand, I’ve found that the people that have emailed or called me, turn up at the roundtable discussions, coffee parties, and town halls, are not the type that discouraged me form running in the first place. They are retired people, veterans, students, the unemployed. They are the small businessperson, the trucker, logger, retail employee, trades person. They are health care professionals, cops and firefighters. They are the working person, welfare recipient, corporate middle manager, and the stay-at-home mother. They come from all walks of life. They are old and new Canadians, and as I’ve discovered, even Lost Canadians.
 
These people have done what a vast majority of my business friends have failed to do thus far: Show up. And when they do, they don’t want to talk about how to get more of something for themselves, but they talk about how to make Canada a better place. They want to flesh-out the big issues.  Canada’s role in the world is very much on their minds.  So too is climate change, education, good jobs, secure pensions, our healthcare system, how to build a sustainable economy, and how to strengthen our national institutions and restore faith and trust in our public life.
 
These people energize because they care so much that they take the time to show up and contribute. They want solutions and they don’t mind tackling tough issues. They also don’t mind making tough choices. What they want are straight answers to straight questions.
 
At our core, Canadians are deeply optimistic about the future of our country and they want leaders to lead. I know of someone else who gets the same energy surge and sense of determination from these folks. Five years ago, Michael Ignatieff returned to Canada from Harvard University, where he held the prestigious chair of the Carr Centre for Human Rights. He chose to enter public life at the very pinnacle of his career. He did so because of his love of Canada.
 
Ignatieff has set an example that some of us need to be reminded of from time to time. The act of showing up is the most important act in our citizenship and our democracy.
 

Read more Daniel Veniez here. 

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