Tuesday 15 November 2011

On Occupy Toronto and why Trust Matters

Like the financial system, democracy is predicated on trust in the institutions that serve it and the means by which they're expressed. For finance, that means that people trust banks to protect their money, banks trust each other to reconcile their massive overnight lending, and we all take a leap of faith that money- the tool by which this is expressed- means something.

It's a complicated relationship, one that's easy to take for granted until no one trusts Lehman Brothers or the Icelandic Krona.

And trust is at the root of our democracy, the root of any institution really. It's this characteristic that enables us to defer to authority and consent to be governed. Unfortunately, the public's lack of trust in the Ford administration- and rightly so- erodes the confidence in that institution.

This problem came up today at the City Hall press conference to discuss that confluence of financial and democratic trust, Occupy Toronto's protest at St. James Park.

The story will lead all the papers and trending topics on Twitter, but the Mayor was otherwise occupied and did not speak about it. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday did an admirable job filling in for the mayor; despite his politics he is a genuine, genial and honest individual and the right replacement for a sensitive subject.

It's a problem that Ford, who often invokes his authority as the elected Mayor, declined to take ownership of an important decision. It's a problem that he wouldn't express himself while limiting the expression of the Occupiers. It's a problem that Holyday cites 'social workers' as the city staff who have had a dialogue with Occupiers, because that misses the point.

It's pretty disrespectful of the Mayor, to both the Occupiers and general citizens. A case can be made that the Occupiers should be moved-Sue-Ann will take care of that- but one can't be made that he should have been there to answer questions. Instead his absence distanced himself from justifying the decision and alienated himself from the democratic process.

The Occupy movement, whatever its flaws and limits may be, is largely built on a mistrust of institutions and the imbalanced power structure provided. It's something we see at City Hall too, where the Mayor's own people don't trust him to speak about the subject and decline the opportunity to build a personal case for why he feels eviction is unfortunate but necessary.

And so confidence in our Mayor erodes once again, but hopefully not the office. We need something to trust, something to believe in, something around which we can build.

We can dislike the Mayor and his actions, but Democracy is too big to fail. So we reform the institution of City Hall with higher expectations, increased vigilance and good ideas. If that can't be done than the currency of our citizenship is further devalued until our democratic deficit becomes a bankruptcy.

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