Our municipal election is over. Now what?

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Our municipal election is over. Now what?

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Like all other Canadian cities, London faces daunting challenges that seem to defy solution. They are apparent and they have persisted. The downtown construction jungle, homelessness, high accommodation costs, and businesses struggling to escape the clutches of COVID are just a few of these obstacles.

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There’s no point in looking to our new board to solve all of this, not because they’re not engaged, but because whatever solutions exist, it’s going to take all of us, not just a few decision makers. .

The famous American politician Tip O’Neil liked to say that “all politics is local”. Yet things are less political when they happen in the community – little official party interference or partisan enmity, and no bowing to a “super” leader. We have more than enough in the higher political courts. We mainly have national challenges requiring greater citizen involvement than in other jurisdictions.

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It is not politics that we need in London, but local democracy, a fundamental aspect of our collective life for more than a century.

When European aristocrats visited America, they marveled at how citizens found every reason to associate, especially in communities. “They unite voluntarily, observes Alexis de Tocqueville, by adopting written rules, electing local elected officials and deciding together, often by vote. The same spirit permeates all acts of social life.

Similar observations have been noted in Canada, where our vast distances between populations made communal living essential for commerce, security, and even survival. Over the decades, service clubs, church groups, arts and culture organizations, and unions of all kinds have increasingly dotted the Canadian landscape. Civic participation was everywhere. Our most effective provincial and national politicians cut their political teeth in the villages, towns and cities of Canada.

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One documentary filmmaker even defined this community force as a “shared civic religion”. This is how London was formed, as a sort of shared consensus that, by working together, something significant could be formed at the fork of the Thames. We now better understand how we isolated Indigenous people from these efforts and seek to right these wrongs. But the actions of early Londoners to establish industry and culture were indeed impressive.

They have learned to govern themselves in innovative and unusual ways. They consulted each other, formed associations and committees to meet challenges, and founded institutions that survive today, to enable their collective potential. When differences surfaced, as expected, they realized they had to find a way forward instead of splitting if they were to prevail. They chose leaders from among themselves and held them accountable because they lived in the community.

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It’s clear what happened. These voluntary associations eventually became centers of learning, where people developed the capacity to govern themselves. They grew up, outgrew their parochialism and built a city. By learning to associate, they discovered the essence of the new democracy, and not the other way around.

Is this true of London today? Are we a community of joiners displaying a compelling desire to mobilize strength, to let go of our silos, to support our institutions when they are in trouble, or to have the ability to build new ones when needed? ? Despite some exceptions, the answer is no. When problems arise, we retreat to our corners and wonder why no one is solving them. We have become a community of complainers, not facilitators.

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Commentators remind us that there is a direct correlation between the rapid fall in our participation in civic organizations over the past two decades and the decline of our cities, best noted by political scientist Robert Putnam in his book, Bowling Alone. It turns out that vibrant communities can’t be rebuilt by a nation of loners whose only engagement is online.

We can bring together all the committees and research papers we want, but unless Londoners overcome their distance from each other and bring the generations together instead of letting them drift apart, we will fail. We don’t need politics to solve our problems. We need people who vow to transcend their enmities, silos and lethargy and create a new London for a new future. Engaged citizens is what we need.

Glen Pearson is co-director of the London Food Bank and former Liberal MP for London North Centre.

[email protected]


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