Archive for June, 2019

Democracy is an exercise
June 9, 2019

Democracy is an exercise. And like all exercise, the goal is fitness, strength and resilience to meet challenges.

The month of June is a poignant reminder that challenges to democracy require epic feats of strength and still may not be overcome.

June 4 was the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. For weeks, indeed years before, university students had mobilized to bring more democratic measures to a society and an economy in turmoil after the death of Mao Tse Tung. The Tiananmen protests began in April upon news of the suspicious death of a professor who had lead the movement and continued for weeks until June 4 when the People Liberation Army acted on what they called civil hostilities. To this day, we do not know the death toll nor the opportunity lost of that push towards democracy. We remember only that student facing that tank and the 10 metre tall sculpture of the Goddess of Democracy made of foam and paper mache in a mere four days. She didn’t survive either.

June 5 and 6 on the other hand are dates of epic feats of strength and tragic human loss where the battle to save democracy was brutally accomplished. On June 5, troops gathered on the shores of the English Channel in Portsmouth when an army was moved across an ocean to face a waiting and well equipped enemy. Churchill and the Allies understood that Hitler would never give up a port city so the decision was made to build and move a floating port under cover of darkness across the channel for the D-Day Invasion of June 6 on the shores of Northern France, the artefacts of which still stark in their reminder of that fateful day. 

Increasingly, progressives leaders of our time are likening the mobilization required to win in World War 2 to the efforts now necessary to combat the greatest threat to democracy today, the fight for climate justice. And we’ll need to be fit and strong and resilient to save the planet. Many will argue that Canada is not on the front line of climate change. We are a free and open society with an enviable lifestyle. We are not an island nation facing rising seas, not a war ravaged state in the Middle East, nor a drought stricken third world country. But just as the war efforts on the home front were critical and necessary to the success and sacrifice on the front line, so must we mobilize.

This was a prominent theme at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities that I attended last week on behalf of the city. All four national leaders were present and spoke to the delegates, none more passionately than Elizabeth May, Leader of Canada’s Green Party who referenced Churchill and how perilously close we came to a negotiated settlement with Hitler’s Nazis. Days away in fact when the entire British Army was stranded on Dunkirk in May of 1940. Churchill called on the local population to use their mere hundreds of private vessels to rescue 240,000 troops so that the war efforts might have a hope. And they did. It’s our turn to get in the boats and row ourselves to safe shores. And we will need to be fit and strong and resilient.

Democracy is an exercise. There are acts of democracy we can practice daily. Conserve water. Grow and eat local food. Ration carbon use. Reduce, re-use and if you can’t do otherwise, recycle. Take transit. Compost. Refuse single use plastics, among many others. But the greatest act of democracy is to cast an informed vote and in the lead up to the next federal election, participate, educate, challenge and act as if you were on the front line. Democracy only works if we do. 

At the municipal government level, there is clear evidence of a take-charge attitude. No longer are we waiting for directives from the province or the feds to take action. From organics collection, to plastic bag bans, and enhanced transit services, the work is being done at the level of government closest to citizens. The work is being done here, on the home front, and I thank you for your efforts and sacrifice to get it  done. 


“As long as we have faith in our own cause and an unconquerable will to win, victory will not be denied us.” ― Winston Churchill