Don Lenihan writes that Canadian politics has been corrupted by a powerful fallacy. Simply put, that fallacy is that government should be run like a business. And, because successful businesses identify and fulfill consumer wants, politics has transformed citizens into consumers -- who expect to be satisfied, and who feel no responsibility for the health of the country.
The problem with this model, Lenihan writes, is that
consumers do not own or run the businesses they shop in. Nor are they responsible if a business fails, anymore than they should take credit if it succeeds. Their role is focused on purchasing and enjoying the products and services.
So, in this view, if the public is increasingly disengaged from politics, this is due in large part to the political class, which has encouraged them to see political participation more in terms of costs and benefits than rights and responsibilities.
From Lenihan's perspective, the Roboscam scandal takes on new meaning. If the only decision facing voters is to buy or reject what the government is selling, then citizens simply don't see or feel the danger that a corrupt government represents. The methods a government uses to deliver or to shut down a service are less important than the service itself.
There is a way out of the morass, Lenihan writes. But the solution rests with our political class:
It starts with recognition that the role of political debate is not just to hold government to account or even to inform the public. It is also to engage the public. How our leaders speak to citizens affects how they understand their relationship to government and, ultimately, their role in democracy. The first step in turning things around is to speak to citizens as citizens, rather than simple consumers.
Ultimately, though, things will only change when citizens stop thinking of themselves as consumers.