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Mayors for a better Canada

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Jessica Dixon

True to my age, a cynical perspective regarding the effectiveness of Canada’s democratic structure flows through my veins. With this in mind, I attended American Professor, Benjamin Barber’s presentation (and the following panel) about the message of his new book If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities. This Big Thinking session forced me to reconsider whether it is democracy itself that is malfunctioning, or the people involved.

“Citizens tend to trust their elected city officials more than those occupying federal positions” Barber began, outlining the issues with those in parliament being so far removed from the public, “Surprisingly, Rob Ford had more support from the citizens of Toronto going into rehab than Obama has.”

Barber attempted to explain why people within newly-formed democratic countries have yet to see democracy work is because they have been regarded as passive citizens.

“Decapitation of the main figures within a tyrannical government, and the installation of a voting process has mistakenly been seen as the only solution to problematic rulers.” Barber critiqued, “In reality, all that breeds from such violent take-overs is chaos.”

Barber suggests that since mayors are able to smoothly ensure the functions of their cities, they would be better suited for accomplishing what needs to be done nationally. Barber suggests that seeing countries as exclusive, separate beings in this day and age is impossible; the solution? Annual meetings of big-city mayors should occur regularly to find ways to run the country as pragmatically as they run their cities.

This idea was not supported by all members of the following panel discussion with Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi and Allan Broadbent. Some members expressed doubts regarding the effectiveness of this mayor-run world, and others denied its feasibility.

“I’m so busy controlling issues at home, I doubt that I, or any large-city mayor would have time to attend a meeting on that scale.” Nenshi declared honestly, “A meeting that large would be nearly impossible to organize with so many conflicting schedules.”

Democracy has had its issues in recent years, and although mayors tend to receive more support than federal officials do, yet a system as expansive as Barber suggests would take a lot of planning to accomplish. Even so, if Canada is to get anything done regarding so many currently un-addressed issues, perhaps federal officials would benefit by looking towards certain mayors for inspiration. 

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Congress of the Humanities and Social SciencesCongress 2014Big Thinking