“Democracy is the worst form of
government – except for all the
others that have been tried.”

Winston Churchill
Nancy Cooke
On the Hustings

I was horrified, then angered, to learn about the recent murder of a sitting member of parliament in the United Kingdom. This act of violence caused me to consider what it takes to preserve democracy.

For Democracy to work, we need people who are engaged in their communities and the issues that affect their lives. These people must express their thoughts and be willing to put their names forward to provide voters with options.

Democracy is messy. Policies must be put forward. Good policy development involves meeting with members of the public to determine if you can create policy that solves the problems that people need solved. This process is not simple or straight forward. For every policy option considered you must also consider the reasons why a policy may not work. During this policy process and public engagement, many voices are heard. When a representative is putting their life at risk to simply hear from the public, this should be cause for significant concern.

My heart goes out to the families of anyone who has been the victim of violence. When it’s a person who has dedicated themselves to the life of a public service, my heart goes out to the community as they need to heal and move forward and remember that democracy still matters.

Elected officials have been hosting meetings with constituents since the beginning of organized society. This direct engagement with the public they represent is critical to establishing trust and building relationships. Social media exchanges are replacing face to face meetings. Social media has created both an opportunity and a risk for communication. The opportunity is for people to add their voices without the barrier of attending meetings in person. Lack of access to elected officials has long been a criticism from the public. Social media presents a chance for broader engagement. 

The risk is that the voices can be anonymous. Anonymity often provides people with confidence to behave poorly. Another risk is the lack of fact checking information shared.

 The use of social media as a method to communicate is entrenched. There is no going back to a world without social media as means of expression. We must allow people to share their opinions and let them know that we are listening to both the good and the bad. This reality is something governments and candidates must work with and make every effort to flag threatening or harassing voices so there are consequences and attempt to prevent potential acts of violence.

I have put my name on the ballot at both civic and provincial levels of government. These decisions were not taken lightly, I discussed the opportunity with many people, first and foremost my family. A campaign is an intense time of undivided attention and dedication which impacts everyone close to you. It is a rollercoaster of events and emotions as you spend time engaging with voters to understand what they need. From my door knocking experiences, I can tell you that I am fine with someone attacking my ideas. I am not fine with them attacking me. No one should find this acceptable. 

I am concerned that the added level of fear and vitriol that is experienced by elected officials may discourage people from being willing to run for office and may scare their families into discouraging them. If we don’t have dedicated individuals who are willing to put their names forward to give the voters choice on election day, then do we really have democracy?

You can reach Nancy Cooke to comment on this article at [email protected].