People power is our best engine for change

"...the rise of the citizens of that corner of Trail is a nice story no matter which side of the lot you’re sitting on."

I wouldn’t quite go as far as calling it a “Glenmerry Spring,” but the rise of the citizens of that corner of Trail is a nice story no matter which side of the lot you’re sitting on.

I’m talking about a group who didn’t like what their elected officials were doing. They talked to their neighbours and asked their opinions. They presented a petition and got enough people to sign in agreement that they were able to put the brakes to something their government was going to do.

Like I said, it doesn’t matter which side of the issue you agree with, the point is that citizens do have a measure of power in the way their community operates.

It can be extrapolated to the nth degree in today’s world.

Just this week in B.C. the voice of the people was heard when the Harmonized Sales Tax was rescinded and the old system of the Provincial Sales Tax and Goods and Services Tax was revived.

It was as much an indictment of Gordon Campbell’s introduction of the tax as it was an exercise in the power of the people.

Enough citizens mobilized and enough people supported the motion that the government had to listen and, rightfully, ask the electorate in a referendum if they wanted the tax or not.

Some people griped about the cost of the referendum, just like they did in Quebec in its 1995 referendum, but you can’t put a price on the power citizens can exert on their own country, province or community.

We’ve watched wave after wave of citizens rising up around the world and telling their elected officials and dictators too when things need addressing.

From the disenfranchised youth in Tunisia and Egypt to grieving parents in Connecticut; the will of the people can only be ignored for so long before it overwhelms those in the ivory towers.

To witness people power in action is truly a remarkable thing.

The voices against pipelines are unifying and putting up a strong front against a government-friendly lobby group.

The Idle No More movement has helped give a strong voice to the aboriginal community.

The students rallied in Quebec to stop increases in post-secondary tuition and the ruling party toppled in the provincial election.

In a world that appears dominated by people staring into their iPhones and iPads, it is inspiring to see that when people want and successfully unite, it can impact change even more than an election.

That’s not to say our vote doesn’t give each citizen a sense of control, but it is limited at best.

In today’s era of negative campaign ads, powerful lobbyists and the greed and need to get re-elected at any cost, too often elections don’t bring about the change promised and often deliver the same pattern of autocracy.

I admit I had to double-check the meaning of autocracy before I used it in the last sentence.

This is what I found on Wikipedia: “An autocracy is a system of government in which a supreme political power is concentrated in the hands of one person, whose decisions are subject to neither external legal restraints nor regularized mechanisms of popular control (except perhaps for the implicit threat of coup d’état or mass insurrection).”

Which brings us to the big news of the day from the nation’s capital.

Charges were laid against a young Conservative campaign worker who apparently masterminded an elaborate robocall scam to mis-direct voters to the wrong voting stations.

How one junior staff member can singlehandedly misinform voters left me scratching my head, especially since there were a reported 1,400 complaints in 200 of the nation’s 308 ridings.

It seems to me governments throw out an inquiry or commission to study everything from tainted blood to pipelines to funnelling money to Quebec to Ben Johnson and steroids.

But somehow there is no call for one in this case despite the ongoing robocall complaints, one election result in Ontario going to the Supreme Court due to irregularities, charges against campaign worker and a general concern for our democratic system.

Hard to imagine it getting any more important than that.

It makes you wonder when the tipping point will come. So far there is no groundswell of citizens calling for action.

Will we quietly wait for the next election?

Somehow the words of Marc Mayrand, Canada’s chief electoral officer, provided little comfort that we live in a modern, democratic society. He warned that rules must be in place to stop fraud and deception before the 2015 election.

“There is enough that happened in the last election that we should be all concerned,” Mayrand said.

Just the fact that he uttered that warning makes me think our so-called advanced democracy is still a work in progress.

And that’s what makes people power more important than ever in our society.