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Apathetic about Apathy

March 11, 2013

With a provincial election just around the corner, politics are in the air, on the radio and in the news. With both election time and the arrival of spring fast approaching, the clocks have been turned forward, but will this season bring politically engaged citizens?

Six weeks ago, I was hired as the B.C. Program Coordinator of Democracy Talks. At that moment I would have described myself as a politically discouraged, engaged citizen; discouraged because I felt out of touch with and discounted from my political system; and engaged because I have a background and deep-seated interest in the dialogic model of communication, which I recognize as a necessary tool in the creation of successful and inclusive civic engagement.

I’ve studied the dialogic model of communication, worked within it, and you might even say that I’ve brought it into my best friend’s wedding planning. It’s a model of communication based on the principle of trust, a model that opens any topic to be discussed in a safe and welcoming way. Even democracy and politics, two topics that typically foster debate, can be the subjects of an open and productive dialogue.

During the lead up to the provincial election, five communities across British Columbia will host Democracy Talks discussions. Based in Vancouver, I am actively working with community partners, and dedicated individuals throughout the province to engage these communities. The process of planning and reaching out to potential participants has been exciting, and encouraging in so many ways. But there is one way in which it’s been somewhat discouraging; I’ve been hearing the following questions in repetition: “What’s in it for me? Is there an honorarium?”

Sure, both seem like relevant and fair questions to ask when you are asked to give up two hours of your Thursday night to come talk about Canadian politics. But wait. Why exactly is it relevant and fair to ask, “why should I participate in Canadian democracy?” Isn’t that, participation and engagement, democracy in a nutshell?

Have we become apathetic about apathy?

I honestly don’t think Canadian citizens are apathetic, but I do think we are politically worn down by our electoral system, and confused about political process and our ‘role’ as citizens. It begs the age-old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? But in this case we could compare: an inapproachable political system or the so-called apathetic citizens.

The thing is, one does not exist without the other. 

I am inspired here by Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, Marc Mayrand’s, speech at the Economic Club of Canada, Maintaining Trust and Engagement in Canadian Elections: 
A Call to Action on September 25th 2012.

So, who has the responsibility for keeping our democracy healthy?” he asked. “The answer is simple: we all do. These are public policy issues that concern us all. Building and maintaining a healthy democracy is a responsibility we all share – citizens, political parties, electoral management bodies, Parliament and the media.”

Regardless of which issue came first (an inapproachable political system or the so-called apathetic citizens) let’s work on addressing both!

I invite you to explore how and under what circumstances you would be comfortable engaging with democracy, consider your options, and choose to engage! With the strong and stable platform- one welcoming dialogue- Democracy Talks is creating the opportunity for inclusivity to breed, and apathy to cease.

Come explore these questions and share ideas with a diverse group of Canadian voices at discussions in Prince George, Vancouver, Victoria, Comox Valley, and Nelson throughout March, April and May. Contact me, Marissa Lawrence at for registration information and any additional questions that you may have.

Find the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada’s full speech from September 25th, 2012 here.

For more information on the Democracy Talks project:

Learn more about Samara:

Marissa Lawrence is the B.C. Program Coordinator for Democracy Talks

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In early 2013, Samara partnered with SFU Public Square to bring Democracy Talks to British Columbia. Democracy Talks (DT) is a series of nation-wide discussions and events designed to engage citizens in politics. DT offers a structured, non-partisan and accessible space in which participants can share their ideas and aspirations for the Canadian political system, and the role they’d like to play within it.