A brief guide to the other ways to do democracy

It’s been election season, and fittingly, this municipal contest falls in November – a month of increasing darkness, destructive storms, and general unrelieved gloom.

Really, the only sensible response is to go home, make hot chocolate, and hide under blankets until it all goes away. Or to rant about how democracy ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Why do we run our democracy the way we do? Why do we run pretty much every democracy in pretty much the same way?

Go around the world, from the faux-elections of Russia and Cuba to the genuine representative democracies, and it’s the same structure: voters trundle out to polling places, peruse a list of possible candidates and pick the least worst option.

Democracy simply means "rule by the people."

Winston Churchill famously said that democracy was the worst form of government, except for all the others that had been tried.

So why aren’t we trying new variations on democracy?

Here are a couple of other ways we could run our civic political system: Wards. Ah, yes, the ever-popular ward system. Used in a number of communities, including Toronto. Of course, most Lower Mainland communities don’t have millions of people – there’s not a single city that tops one million, in fact – so why go to wards? Because our communities are spread out and have distinct neighbourhoods, which are often poorly served by having "at large" representation. Do you think the folks in Shaughnessy have much in common with those in the Downtown Eastside? How about folks in Langley’s fast-growing Willoughby versus rural Glen Valley? Surrey’s Cloverdale or Whalley?

In many cities, whole neighbourhoods have literally no representation – neither the mayor nor anyone on council lives there. Not coincidentally, these tend to be the poorest areas.

Sortition. This is the selection of public officials by random chance. So your mayor and council would be picked from the list of voters. Does that sound insane? Utopian? Impractical? Exactly like the system of democracy used in ancient Athens?

Well, we do use sortition already. It’s called the jury system.

So in Canada today, we trust to the wisdom of 12 average citizens to decide on the fate of accused killers, but to decide on rezoning bylaws, you have to plaster your face on signs all over town and spend thousands of dollars on advertising. That’s not crazy at all, nope.

If we do go this way, we could change mayor and council frequently. Every three months, say. Which would mean a lot of people would get a chance to become active participants in civic government, and our government would look a lot more like a real cross-section of our communities.

If you’ve ever watched a politician talk and thought you might be smarter, give sortition a chance!

Trial by combat. When there’s a controversial issue, there are always fears that special interests are listened to, that leaders have already made up their minds, and so forth.

So why not settle it the way ancient Germanic tribes did – with axes! Random chance and the will of Thor shall decide!

OK, maybe not axes, but if a council splits and can’t reach agreement, why not have an MMA fight to settle things? "In this corner, Yes on Bylaw 93-B; in this corner, No. Gentlemen, begin!" Two pins out of three wins.

Mad? Yes. But we can sell Pay Per View rights to development permit hearings.

Fighting! For once, it would reduce the cost of civic government!

Matthew Claxton is a reporter and columnist for the Langley Advance, a sister paper to the Now.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey Police Board approves creation of municipal force at first-ever meeting

Process for hiring a police chief to ‘start immediately’: McCallum

Tree falls across road in Surrey

Crews on scene to clear the debris

Delta Nature Reserve boardwalk realignment to begin this fall

Stretch of boardwalk to be rebuilt to make room for new Highway 91/Nordel Way vehicle ramp

Cloverdale store owner giving away free face shields

Tricia Ellingsen offering more than 200 free protective shields

B.C. announces regional cancer treatment centre to be included in new Surrey hospital

Services expected to include treatment, supportive care, research, education, innovative technologies

371 British Columbians battling COVID-19, health officials confirm

Thursday (Aug. 6) saw a second straight day of nearly 50 new confirmed cases

Four activists face charges linked to 2019 Abbotsford hog-farm protest

Mischief and break-and-enter charges laid for incidents on four separate days prior to the protest

Visitors and non-residents entering closed remote B.C. First Nation’s territories

With limited resources, they say they don’t have any authority or power to enforce the closures

UBC loses appeal on Fisheries Act convictions

BC Supreme Court upholds order to pay $1.55-million fine

Masks to be mandatory on BC Transit, TransLink starting Aug. 24

Both BC Transit and TransLink made the announcement in separate press releases on Thursday

‘Tiny home’ being built for Abbotsford woman with severe allergies

Online campaign raises $59,000 for custom cargo trailer for Katie Hobson

Acclaimed B.C. actor Brent Carver passes away

Carver, one of Canada’s greatest actors with a career spanning 40 years, passed away at home in Cranbrook

B.C. would not send students back to school if there was ‘overwhelming risk’: Horgan

Plan has left many parents across the province worried about their children’s safety

Most Read