One of the few ways citizens can preserve democracy is to write to the government
Communicating with our political leaders is an essential part of our political system. This is what makes a system a democracy — politicians act on the voice of the people, and they need to hear those voices to accurately reflect them.
Politicians are more accessible than ever, with email addresses, phone numbers, and office locations readily available at the end of a quick internet search. So why aren’t we reaching them?
It may feel overly complicated, futile, or just plain intimidating, and that’s a failure of our political structure. It should be as easy and inviting as possible to communicate to our representatives, but it’s not. So, in lieu of a functioning education system that incorporates Civics 101, let’s go through the basics of our political structure.
There are three levels of government — federal, provincial, and municipal. We elect representatives at each level, and each level is in charge of different matters of governance. For example, did you know that provinces are entirely in charge of all levels of education? There is actually no education branch of government at the federal level.
To communicate to our representatives, we need to know who is representing us. When we elect someone to any of the three levels of government, we are their constituent, and in that relationship, they are obliged to hear our voices.
Even if you didn’t vote for the person representing you, if they were elected by your district at any of the three levels of government, you are entitled to communicate to them, and they are obliged to take your feedback.
If you feel strongly about a certain incident, decision, or plan made, you need to do a little research to find your elected representative, and reach out to the appropriate branch of government, and the appropriate representative.
Writing to the government is instrumental to our democracy. It’s one thing to talk to friends over coffee or rant on Twitter — and it’s definitely relieving — however, contacting our representatives serves a specific structural function.
If people don’t communicate their opinions directly to officials through official channels, then there is no official record of these opinions. This means that when journalists or researchers look for information on, say, how favourable the population is of decriminalizing cannabis, there will be data for them to gather.
Essentially, this allows watchdogs to hold governments accountable for their actions.
Once you find the person you wish to reach, and their contact information, the next step is to construct your argument.
When writing to officials, it’s important to be firm, and to show them you know the law, their role and duty, and the details of the issue you care about. Communicate your argument in concrete terms. Tell them what you want to see them do. Cite your sources, give examples, and quote from past legal cases. You can find the contents of many Canadian legal cases here.
Here are some examples to get started:
It is your duty to represent my best interest as I convey it to you.
I need to know in concrete terms what you plan to do about __.
In order to represent my best interest and voice, it is imperative that you immediately issue a public statement denouncing __, supporting __, funding __, defunding __.
Talk in real terms. Be literal, be clear, and explain the solution you want to see in practical steps, and if you don’t see it happening, follow up. Write again. Call and leave messages. Tell them you expect a response to questions you have.
Hold these cozy politicians accountable, and make it hard for them to get around corners! Keep it polite and stay firm, and remind them of their duties.
Here’s a few examples:
In order to preserve a legacy of honour, you must conduct yourself honourably when yielding the power that you have. These are the moments that dictate whether an honourable political representative sits in your seat. Please do the right thing and__.
“In order to honourably represent my values, it is imperative that __. By law, you are charged with the task of representing me, and I believe you are capable of it.
The stakes are high, and we have an obligation to take the debates going on in our society seriously. They don’t impact everyone firsthand, but that only means that our system needs reform. While the system we operate in is highly flawed, it is the one we have. We need to operate within these parameters, and make it as inconvenient, difficult, and exposing as possible for politicians to bend to corruption, manipulation, and deceit.
It can be confusing and complicated, but don’t let that discourage you. To help you get started, here are some links to our sitting members of government. You can find the federal liberal cabinet here. You can find Quebec’s CAQ cabinet here. You can find Montreal’s city council here. With their name and position, you can find contact information of the relevant representative with a quick internet search.
If you’ve never been much involved in politics, right now is the best time to start. If you’re a seasoned petition signer, but haven’t taken a crack at writing letters or making calls, right now is the best time to start. It’s about creating momentum and keeping it going.
It’s 2020. Let’s do this.
Feature graphic by @the.beta.lab