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Democracy

Introduction

In April 2019, the Lieutenant Governor launched an art exhibition entitled Speaking of Democracy in the Lieutenant Governor’s Suite at Queen’s Park, and online. The exhibition was a response to the observation that both here at home and abroad, many were starting to express concerns about the fragility of democracy and equally of its various and foundational institutions.

Our exhibitions are designed to engage Ontarians in conversation about just such significant and timely issues. We ask: Are we taking democracy for granted? What is democracy all about? How has it evolved? What institutions underpin it – duly elected legislatures and their executives, the judiciary, the media, and civil society? Do they need to change? Where is there room for innovation? In these rapidly changing times, is it important to maintain and support democracy?

These questions may, certainly, appear quite challenging. However they cannot be ignored, unexamined, and ultimately left unanswered.

Indeed, one of the rudimentary yet crucial democratic activities is our collective responsibility to earnestly and honestly approach such questions. The Office of the Lieutenant Governor provides a platform to shine a light on people and organizations tackling our most pressing challenges. We encourage inclusivity along with its corollary: the necessity that everyone’s voice be heard.

Specifically, Her Honour has endeavoured to promote dialogue:

Through Art in the exhibition Speaking of Democracy/ En parlant de démocratie
Through Official Visits to 85 municipalities across Ontario (hyperlink to Section 2): During these visits, Her Honour engages with municipal and community leaders, convening roundtables to hear directly from residents about their pride in community, their aspirations and challenges.
Through hosting and attending events relating to democratic themes. Given her constitutional role in the democratic process, it is both appropriate and natural that Her Honour is able to both support and facilitate conversations around this all-important topic.

 

(Excerpt from the Lieutenant Governor’s speech at the launch of Speaking of Democracy, April 30, 2019)

Why this initiative and why now?

This is a challenging and uncertain moment in time. We live in a world that is borderless and interdependent, forcing us to face unfamiliar geopolitical shifts; a world in which we experience rapid and at times disruptive and complex technological and environmental change, testing our comfort zones; and one in which there is all too often a growing alienation between our political processes and the lived experiences, values and passions of citizens.

Throughout the world and here at home many are questioning whether we have the resilience to cope with such transformative change. I know this because I have been to every corner of this province.

I suspect that like me, many of you have taken democracy for granted. We have relied upon a roadmap shaped by our Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms and built upon values, commonly shared, of peace, order and good government.

We have evolved a system of institutions that includes political parties and electoral politics, a supportive public service, a respected judiciary, a free and independent media and an informed and inclusive civil society.

All are required for a well-functioning democracy.

But perhaps it is time to be reflective about this system we have inherited.

Our democracies appear ever more fragile and cracks in our institutions are becoming visible. The very pillars of our democracy are sometimes ignored, sometimes starved of resources, sometimes even attacked physically and directly.

So is democracy in retreat? We see people concerned in their countries about a real or perceived march toward authoritarianism, populism and polarization. We see the “rules of the game” being manipulated, influenced by special interests and arbitrarily applied. We worry about exploitation by digital technology. These are times of fake news, junk science and echo chambers.

We witness low voter turnout, waves of pessimism and cynicism. Where is accountability? We decry the loss of decency, civility and honesty in our public discourse. And ultimately trust and legitimacy are being eroded.

So this exhibition is timely – perhaps even overdue.

Vice-regal representatives are by convention required to be non-partisan, strictly apolitical and non-prescriptive about policy.  But we have also been described variously as guarantors of responsible governance, as a conscience if you will. We stand apart from politics, representing the hearts, minds and souls of citizens. From this position of privilege we have both opportunity and obligation to speak.

For me, the topic of democracy is very personal. As an immigrant whose family chose this country; as someone who has spent much of her working life proud to be a public servant; and, as someone who has witnessed firsthand violence and hatred against the instruments of democracy around the world – it can be nothing but personal.

Democracy is about so much more than government – so much more than casting a vote. Quite simply it is about the way in which we make decisions. How we govern ourselves as a society. How we learn to live together on this planet in peace and harmony.

And so, I ask questions, hoping to evoke the best of ourselves.

For democracy is a grand human project. I have no doubt that we will succeed.

Democracy is about us, and in the words of the United Nations Charter it is about “we the peoples”. The voices and visions of all will be required as we listen to each other, share insights, harness human ingenuity and build consensus. For our common vulnerability must be met with courage and boldness. We simply must not be complacent observers of the powerful changes around us.

With humility, what I hope is that these words on the walls will make all who see them think, reflect, question and act.”

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