Dave Meslin on How to Rebuild Our Democracy | On Civil Society | May 23, 2019

Dave Meslin on How to Rebuild Our Democracy | On Civil Society | May 23, 2019

So anyways… Well, I’m on a rant about a rant about a rant… I love it. Parties, our political parties are spiritually
toxic and what we can do to fix them is two things. One, bring in proportional representation,
so these old dinosaur parties can die. [applause] All of them. I think the room is friendly to this idea. And that’s not… Again, I’m not trying to insult those parties,
that’s a natural psycho for any sector, for any family, for any forest, old things die
so new things can be born. [music] What are you doing here? [laughter] I’m really excited to be hosting this conversation. I think as Jorge said, Dave’s work has really
touched everyone in this room, and now it’s in a book and I’m so excited about this, so
excited about this conversation. Dave, some might describe you, I might describe
you as a human wrecking ball. You’re one of those people who see systems
that are not working and you’re like, “No, no. We gotta have a go at it.” and you do it until
some kind of result happen, and that… I think that’s pretty incredible. I don’t know if you’ve been described that
way before. You look at me and you’re like… I’ve never been described as a wrecking ball. [chuckle] I feel good about it. Well, it’s thematic because it’s tear down,
you see? Yeah. So I wanted to know what inspired you to write
this book. I think it is anger, so I could see where
the wrecking ball thing comes from. It’s impossible not to be angry. If you’re paying attention and you’re not
angry, then you’re a moron. [laughter] So… Right? So, I try and pay attention and I don’t think
I’m a moron, so that leaves me with the only, only possible outcome which is that I’m angry
as hell. Not just at the policies that are out there
and the decisions being made everyday at all three levels of government, but the systems
that have been built to allow those decisions to almost inevitably be stupid. Like a stupid system will produce stupid policy,
and it’s happening everyday and I’m pissed off. So I wrote a book. Listen. And it’s a wonderful book. I think the first time that I saw you speak,
you were talking about how angering it is that people think of democracy as a thing
but you do every four years when you show up and someone is very surly and they’re looking
at you and they’re like, “What do you want?” and then they give you a ballot and then you
go do that, and then you’ve done your democracy duty for several years. Why is it that we’re so stuck on this conception
of democracy? Yeah. And I got a chapter called “Taking the reins.” So I have chapters about how we can make elections
work better, how we can make a lot of decision-making processes work better, but taking the reins
is specifically about that, it’s how we can take the reins of democratic decision-making
processes in between elections. And I think the reason is, we’re just not
really taught that, and to be honest, there aren’t a lot of opportunities in between. Our system is designed that you vote and then
you have this representatives who are supposed to act on your behalf, although even that
doesn’t happen because our representatives are whipped by the party whips. So we elect these people who don’t represent
us at all, and often the person who won in your writing… Actually, most people in your writing didn’t
even vote for. There’s so many layers of things that can
make you angry here. Any one of those four things deserves outrage
and they’re all there. We also don’t grow up exercising our democratic
muscles. So if you think about how schools are designed,
how workplaces are designed, how this is designed, like we’re very often either consuming something,
we’re passive audience member rather than actively participating in the outcome. You could go through your entire life without
ever anyone asking you, “Do you think we could be doing this better?” right? Your teacher’s not gonna ask you, your principal’s
not gonna ask you, your parents might not ask you, and then your manager and your bosses
are gonna ask you, your professor, your dean, you could spend your whole life doing what
you’re told. Well then, of course you’re not gonna have
the automatic instinct or inclination to think, “Oh, I’ve got a good idea. I’m gonna change something.” because we’re not taught that. We don’t teach those habits. I’ve got a chapter on that. So the last chapter’s called “Close to home”
and it’s about how you could change… Hey, Sarah. So nice to see my sister smiling at me. [laughter] You could change the voting systems and change
the legislative practices and the House of Commons, but if you don’t fix some of the
real root causes which is our own lack of confidence I think in ourselves and in each
other, then we’re still screwed. I talk about four faith that are required
to be an activist, to be politically engaged, to try and make a difference anywhere, in
your school, in your place of work, in your city, your province, you have to believe in
your own ideas, and I think a lot of people don’t. You have to believe in each other, and I think
we definitely aren’t there. A lot of people think the problem with democracy
is that all their neighbours to vote all the wrong people, the wrong people. But I think we’re at the point… I mean let’s stop here. The way we use the word populism now essentially,
is a derogatory word against humanity. Populism just means the interest of the people. We use it to mean really negative ideas, hostile
ideas, divisive ideas, racist ideas, over-simplistic ideas. What we’re essentially saying is when the
average normal person votes, we end up with bad policy. That’s gross, right? Number three, you have to have faith in the
political leaders we have. That if I sign a petition or phone my MP that
there’ll be some kind of responsive reaction. And number four, a faith in the entire political
system and how it’s arranged. You need all four of those to be able to take
a step towards any type of political activity, and I think people are… Most people are missing at least one, and
I think a lot of us are missing all four. Let’s talk a little about that muscle. You have a really wonderful anecdote in the
book about… Does anyone ever… Everyone in the room know what the Boaty McBoatface
story was? [laughter] Right? So like the internet was given an opportunity
to vote on the name of this new boat, and the name that won was Boaty McBoatface. Which a lot of people use as sort of an example
to illustrate that you can’t really trust the… People. The people, right. You can’t trust people because people still
vote for Boaty McBoatface. But you take that on, and then you kind of
re-orient the perspective there, tell me about that. Yeah, in a few ways. So that’s part of that chapter. Taking the reins. Because a lot of people say, “whoa, whoa,
taking the reins”? . “You want normal ordinary people making
decisions?” Again Boaty McBoatface. You’ll end up with Boaty McBoatface. And you know, when this came out of, I mentioned
in the book, there was this big stupid fight a year-and-a-half ago, about whether a sports
stadium in Etobicoke should be named after Rob Ford after he passed away, and some people
were like, “No, he was terrible. We shouldn’t”. And other people were like, “Oh this is appropriate”. And I wrote on Facebook being like, “How about
letting the people who use the stadium decide?” Like, why… I don’t live anywhere near it, I’m never gonna
be in it. I don’t think city councillors should have
a vote on this. People who use the stadium should decide what
the stadium is called. If they wanna name it after Rob Ford, great,
it’s none my business. And the answer. The most common response to that Facebook
comment, post was Boaty McBoatface. And it’s a really dangerous idea to buy into
because it’s essentially saying, “I don’t believe in democracy, I don’t like it when
people have too much power”. So my response to that I put forward a few
arguments in defense of humanity in relation to the Boaty McBoatface thing. First of all, it’s not such a bad name. [laughter] Like what’s the big deal here, Folks? Boaty McBoatface. It’s great. Number two, I have a system, I have a whole
chapter on voting systems and how there’s this thing called plurality which is what
we use in Canada. By the way, if you’re freaked out about voting
systems and you’re like, “What’s an MMP what’s an STV? I have a beautiful chapter that explains it
all, using this analogy of a town called Northville. That has to decide if they wanna build a hockey
arena, or a golf course. And I walk through what kind of decision they
might end up with based on a plurality first past the post system, or a preferential rank
ballot with the majority winner or even better, a proportional system using either mixed member
proportional or a single transfer of vote. Boaty McBoatface didn’t actually win. They used first past the post, I actually
went back to the British thing and I got the numbers. Most people didn’t vote for it. The whole thing was based on a lie, the same
lie that got Doug Ford elected Premier of Ontario. Most people didn’t want him either. A plurality is not an actual measure of anything,
of anything. So if me and you run against each other for
Mayor, you can use first past the post for that. Whoever gets the most votes wins. Great, cool, That’s what first past the post
means, whoever gets the most plurality, but you bring in a third candidate fourth, a fifth
suddenly it doesn’t work it off. Just a third candidate. Just a third. So you end up with a situation where you get
30. Sally gets 30. I get 40, so I win even though 60… Congratulations. Thank you, 60% didn’t want me, 60% didn’t
vote for me. You add 10 candidates in the mix, suddenly
someone’s winning with 11% of the vote. This happens in Toronto. We’ve had city councillors win, I encourage
you to all start using your fingers, every time if you’re in Canada, and you’re saying
the words, election, democracy or win, do this. Hey there’s an election happening in October. [chuckle] Trudeau or Shea are gonna win. You can vote with a ballot. Not really but, it’s a scam. I can’t do that. Our whole system is a total scam. So right off the bat you have to do it. It didn’t win. It didn’t… Like I’m on TV. It’ll be like… It didn’t win. So right off the bat, It didn’t win. It’s just a lie, and I’ve got friends all
the time being like, “how does someone like Trump win?” “How does someone like Ford, win?”, I’m like… “Have you looked at the actual numbers?” Not only did Trump not win in any way of measurement,
but also it’s a cartel of two parties. You only had two options and it was like,
crap or crap and most people stayed home. The biggest voting block was the people who
didn’t vote at all, and I don’t blame them. But the larger…, even there, the plurality
winner was Hillary anyways, Boaty McBoatface didn’t win. 11:24 S1: But the other issue is that because
we’re so rarely asked for our opinion about anything, when you are asked for the opportunity
to name a boat, it becomes a chance to do something stupid and silly. It’s like, “Oh, Boaty McBoatface and then
everyone does it because it’s so cool. You can name a boat. What if we already felt that we had control
over our neighborhoods, our schools, our workplaces our government. And then if someone was like “Oh we could
name a boat something stupid” you’d be like, “Why?” Right? So, it only became a viral phenomenon of stupidity
because it was so rare to be asked anything. As you may have noticed, there’s something
happening in the room. You’re talking about democracy and the machinery
of democracy and people are… Democracy. Laughing with you. That doesn’t happen very often. We don’t get that opportunity very often because
we’re told that this conversation has to happen without levity, without… With looking a very serious face with people
who are wearing suits all the time and that the only thing we can talk about is, I don’t
know, like voting outcomes. And to me, what was so triumphant about this
book is that you were so accessible and so light about really substantial stuff, like
you get into it without ever losing the thread of I’m talking to real people and I’m talking
like a real person. What is that like as a translation for you,
or do you have to do any translation at all? Well, one of the advantages of never having
gone to university is that I never sound like an academic. Good win. So academics have to remind themselves not
to use fancy words. I don’t know those words. [laughter] So that was easy. I wanted to write a book that was angry, constructive,
and playful all at the same time, and that spoke in a voice that I would speak if I was
talking to any of you in a coffee shop, which is let’s be honest, let’s be angry, but let’s
be bold and optimistic, and let’s fix this. I think you can be angry and bold with a smile. And I think that’s exactly what we need right
now. And in fact, I have people telling me that
I should stop using words like rigged and broken, that I’m feeding the Trump narrative,
that somehow it’ll make people believe in democracy even less, and the exact opposite
is true, because the system is broken. We all know it. You look at the House of Commons with 338
adults being paid a huge salary to yell at each other for four years, to clap like seals,
to do what they’re told. This isn’t my opinion, this is their opinion. When Samara Canada did their exit interviews
of members of Parliament asking them what was it like being in the House of Commons? They were all shared their traumatic experience
that it was… It was terrible. Even cabinet ministers felt they didn’t have
a voice. So this isn’t my view that the system’s broken. Everyone knows it’s broken. So the question is what do we do with that
lingering anger? If we don’t own it, and we don’t occupy that
space by coming out first and saying the system’s broken, someone else will occupy that space. And that person will tap into that anger and
use it to divide, to feed hatred, to feed racism. When we abandon that space, someone else fills
it. It’s a vacuum. But also if I can use a medical analogy, if
you have a tumour growing inside you, you want it to be found, the diagnosis is a really
important thing to happen. No one wants that diagnosis, but the worst
thing is to not get the diagnosis and then find out too late. We need an honest diagnosis right now of how
cancerous our democracy is so we can start the treatments. [applause] So the flip side of that would be someone
saying, “Oh you should just be more positive about democracy.” That would be a doctor being like, “I think
there’s a tumour, but I don’t wanna bring you down, so I’m not even gonna have you do
a test.” That’s crazy. Listen, when I was reading the book, the other
book that I was thinking about is Susan Delacourt’s book, I’ve been trying to start calling her
Susan Delacourt. She wrote a book in I think it was 2013, that
was called “Shopping for Votes”. She sort of gets into the idea that we used
to think about politics as a sort of like a civics and a duty and an idea of service,
and now we think of politics as we do when we’re going to the mall. We go to the politicians and we say, “Here
are my tax dollars. Give me something back for them.” And the whole idea is that we stop being citizens
and we start being these sort of purchasers. We start being consumers of democracy. And I worry about that thinking. But the thing that I worry about most is maybe
we’ve become accustomed to this and that is how we think about democracy now. What do you think about that? I love that book and I love Susan. But when I was reading it through my research,
part of my research was reading other people’s books on the topic, I found out how interesting
it is that her and I actually have, even though we’re coming at it from the same angle, we
have almost opposite theories of what the solution is. So I have an entire chapter at the beginning
about how we need to run government more like a business, tongue and cheek sort of, of course,
but I talk about the hostile alienating environments that are public buildings. So if you go into a private building or this
building, this is a public building, but not a government building. There are people who pay a lot of attention
and invest a lot of effort into the lighting, the seating, the music, the whatever. They want you to feel comfortable. If you run a store, for example, what’s gonna
get you to… You’re walking in the mall past 100 doors,
what’s gonna make you come through my door? And then once you come in, what’s gonna wanna
make you come back? No one’s doing that at City Hall, I can tell
you. City Hall, I think I called it a cross between
detention and a funeral. That’s the aesthetic, the emotional aesthetic
you feel if you try and participate in a meeting there. The meetings are held during the day when
you probably can’t go. There’s no timed item, so you wanna go for
an item it’s like, “Yeah, it’ll be some time between nine and six. Stick around.” There’s no where to charge your phone. You can’t drink water, you can’t eat. Thanks, welcome to City Hall. Oh, and can we check your bags? Because we think you’re a terrorist. [chuckle] The level of security at City Hall has been
going up and up and up with zero… I don’t mean low, zero data to back that up. There is no evidence of any type of terrorism
happening in municipal buildings in North America. I dug into it, I checked. I’m not justifying any terrorist action, but
when people are attacking a government, there is a reason behind it. And usually it’s because that government bombed
someone. It’s not because your garbage wasn’t picked
up on time. Right? [laughter] So someone might run into the House of Commons
with a gun because they have a fleet of fighter jets. City Council has a fleet of Zambonis. [laughter] I did the research, I looked to see if… Just to make sure I wasn’t being irresponsible. I looked for examples where municipal politicians
had been attacked or harmed by members of the public and what I found is this, there
were a small number of cases, most of them were councillors trying to kill each other. [laughter] You laugh. It’s actually really sad. Harvey Milk. Harvey Milk wasn’t killed by a random citizen,
he was killed by a fellow councillor. It’s a terrible story. But guess what? Go to Toronto City Hall, they’ll check your
bag. Do you think they’re checking the bags of
the councillors? They walk right through. Anyways, the only reason… [laughter] The only reason they’re checking their… I like that you just planted that there. You’re like, “Anyways, moving on… ” The only reason they’re checking… The only achievement… The only thing that it achieves to check people’s
bags is to make them feel not welcome. They don’t belong. And even if someone was once stabbed in that
building. Again, run government like a business. This is a long answer to your Susan Delacourt
question. Someone was stabbed in a Shoppers Drug Mart
in the PATH, remember that? Four or five years ago? Do you think they’re checking bags now? No, why? Why aren’t they checking bags? Someone was stabbed, shouldn’t they check
bags now? Perception of safety and inconvenience to
the customer, prioritizing user experience over just risk aversion. City Hall doesn’t care about whether people
feel comfortable. And this isn’t a pointing fingers at people. City Hall’s full of amazing people, both in
the civil service side, the clerk’s office, the city manager, and the councillors. It’s about the culture that they’ve fallen
into and the fact that council… Here’s an interesting thing. Again, anti… Anti… Not anti. Inverse Delacourt lens. A private business has a built-in incentive
to invest in user experience. If I own a restaurant, obviously, I want people
to show up, buy my hamburger. For a city councillor… This isn’t a conspiracy theory. I’m not suggesting they’re actively trying
to keep us out. But for a city councillor, there’s no built-in
incentive to want people to show up. In fact, if people start showing up to City
Hall, they might start opposing the councillor, or maybe even run for office. You need to have a separate, external department
of user experience, with people who know how to design comfortable spaces, with a safe,
solid budget that council can’t touch. And that’s recommended in the book. But the other thing is, most of my shtick
about voting systems is also all about free markets and how we should run our democratic
spaces more like our private spaces. If I start up a shoe store and I get 10% of
market share, ’cause I got great stores, great shoes, I get 10% of the revenue. When the Green Party starts up a new party
and gets 10% of the votes, they should get 10% of the market share, which is 10% of the
seats. [applause] So, even though in a lot of ways I’m a center-left
person, I actually have a lot of appreciation for the value of a competitive marketplace,
and I like seeing disruptive entrepreneurial forces opening up new shoe stores or restaurants
or whatever. And it breaks my heart that we’ve allowed
a two-party, kind of three-party cartel to run this city… Sorry, this country, for 150 years, trading
power back and forth. We would never tolerate that in any other
sector. [applause] I think part of… The great part of your term is that you’re
like, “We do this, but why do we have to keep doing it?” Tradition. Right, but that’s the thing, and that’s the
next thing that we have to talk about, is there is this perception that because we’ve
done things in a certain way, we have to keep doing them that way. And that might be the biggest obstacle that
we have. It is. I go back to that over and over in the book. Can I just acknowledge my editor, Nick Garrison? Stand up for a second. Nick Garrison, just for one second. [applause] If it wasn’t for Nick, this book would be
three times as big and it’d be a piece of garbage. He really helped me turn this pile of words
into a book, and it took us half a decade and I really appreciate your patience. Tradition is our biggest enemy. There’s nothing wrong with appreciating things
that have value and having a sense of tradition. When tradition becomes the dominant and only
aesthetic that we design political things around, we’re stifling our abilities to be
creative and to imagine. The House of Commons feels like a museum. Why? It’s crazy. If there’s one spot where we really need to
have space for imaginations to flourish and for people to be creative, it’s the people
who are deciding the future of our country. And yet, we expect them to talk and sound
and sit and act just like they have for 150 years. I don’t think we even expect them to talk
like people. There’s sort of an expectation that a politician
will talk like a party does. We treat political parties as though they
are living, breathing things, even though they’re really not, because of that whip system. Now you said the word “parties”, don’t get
me going on them. Please do. So, I have a whole chapter called… I think people would like you to. I have a chapter called “It’s my Party and
I’ll Cry if I Want To”. And so, my political journey has been trying
out all the different ways that you can engage as a citizen, or a non-citizen, we can talk
about that as well. I fully support extending voting rights to
permanent residents who haven’t yet got… [applause] Citizen status. And to 16-year-olds. We’ll do that later. So, I started out as an angry, young teenager. There was a war happening in Iraq, there was… At that point, it wasn’t climate change, it
was acid rain. But there were things I was reading about
in the news that made me mad. I was like, “This is our world? I’m not happy about this. That’s not cool.” And I started out just doing protesting in
the streets, which is what you do when you’re young, and there’s a lot of young kids doing
that right now and it’s really inspiring. We didn’t use Instagram Stories to organize
back then. Way easier. But essentially… I know, it’s easier. But then I said, “You know, I’m getting a
little older. I should try and actually influence the system
from within. And I joined political parties, I worked for
parties, I worked as an executive assistant at City Hall, an executive assistant at Queen’s
Park. I’ve been registered as a federal lobbyist. I’ve been a campaign manager both on national
campaigns and local and I’ve worked for every party, I’ve worked for Michael Chong as the
National Director of Friends of the Reform Act. I work closely with Kathleen Wynne, the government
to bring in some really amazing voting reform legislation. Every step of the way convinced me of two
things. One is that change really is possible, and
it’s worth investing time and it’s really rewarding to do. And number two, wow is the system messed up! It couldn’t be designed to be more hostile
to an ordinary person coming in and that’s why activism is like a really weird, quirky
subculture. We all know each other, there’s this little
scene of activists. It’s a great… Half of you are here. You can laugh, give yourselves a pat on the
back. It’s a great scene, like amazing people, but
there’s three million people in this city, right. So 1000 people marching the streets. There’s probably 1000 people playing ping-pong
too, whatever it’s statistically nothing. I think you’re over-estimating the number
of people playing ping pong but anyway. Yeah, maybe. Knitting? Yes, definitely. Knitting okay, that was a shout out to my
mom who is probably knitting right now. What was I… What are we talking about? What really drove me crazy of all the institutions
that I thought were like toxic was the political parties. And again, I’m not blaming the people. Beautiful, beautiful people involved with
political parties and especially if you’re with the new Democrats, the greens. ’cause let’s be honest, you’re often running
a campaign knowing you have no chance of winning. In fact, you might even be helping the conservatives. That’s hard, spiritually, but you have to
do it. So I used to be in NDP central office sending
out Jack Layton and Howard Hampton signs all across the province. And there was some writings where I was like… “Yeah, this candidate’s got a good shot go,
go, go.” And there was other writings where it was
like, “I hope this package gets lost.” [laughter] Because it’s gonna be liberal or conservative,
and the only role we can play there is to screw it up. Again, that’s only because we have such a
stupid voting system, which by the way, is incredibly obscure on the global scene. We are the only member of the OECD that uses
first-past-the-post universally for all of our elections. No one else does it. And none of the parties do it to choose their
own leaders. So, anyways… I’m on a rant about a rant about a rant. I love it. The parties… Our political parties are spiritually toxic,
and what we can do to fix them is two things: One, bring in proportional representation
so these old dinosaur parties can die… [applause] All of them. I think the room is friendly to this idea. And that’s not… Again, I’m not trying to insult those parties. That’s a natural cycle for any sector. For any family, for any forest, old things
die so new things can be born. We’ve had a two-party cartel for 150 years. It’s holding back our country, but the second
thing we could do is join the parties and try and shake them up from the inside. It’s really important, there’s good young
people within every party trying to make them more inclusive and democratic. They’re not democratic, right now. So in my writing I did an experiment where
I joined all four parties, which is… Violates all of their rules, but I did it
for research purposes. I wanted to see how they would treat me as
a member and I have a whole chapter explaining how poorly they treated me as a member. But the best example is the nomination meeting. So one important role of electoral district
association for the NDP for the liberals is we get to choose the candidate, the members
in our writing gets to choose a candidate. And in my writing one of the parties, I think
I mentioned them by name in the book, I won’t do it here, ’cause it’s not important, they’re
all the same. When it comes to this type of thing, the way
they do a nomination is they pick a candidate, themselves, and then invite you to the meeting
where you get to vote for them. And what I say in the book, accurately is
that that’s how elections are run in North Korea. They have ballots there, you get to vote in
North Korea, but you’re voting for the person who’s already been chosen to be the person. That’s how my writing association works in
Davenport to choose our candidate. And they use a lot of… Come out to our meeting to choose our candidate. We’re really excited, I’m like, “Dude, what
are you doing?” I just wanted the room to just sit with this
for a minute because that’s a lot to sit with. You know what let’s talk about… From that same chapter you talk about slag
and I would like you to explain to people what slag means so I’m not just saying slag
on stage. Say it more. Slag. Last time, okay. It’s a different chapter. All the chapters overlap which is the trouble
me and Nick had trying figure out how actually to break it down. We started with 100 chapters, I started with
100 chapters. Is that a joke? No. You know how there’s… You know how everything’s like lists now… You are a hero. Thank you. Everything is lists. All the magazines have lists of 60 ways to
this, the 70 ways… So I was like… The original book format was a 100 remedies
for a broken democracy and there are 100 remedies in the book, but the original format was a
list of all 100. 100 introductions, 100 conclusions, 100 hooks,
100 narrative arcs. And it was crazy and then Nick got me to bring
it down to like 47 and I was like, “Whoa, that was hard. I just got rid of 50 introductions right?” And he’s like, “You can do more.” So there’s only like 10 chapters in there
so I did get rid of 90 introductions, 90 conclusions. Amazing. The chapter you’re talking about I think is
probably End of heroes. End of Heroes is about how one of the deepest
cultural issues preventing us from reforming our democracy is that, I think we’re still
culturally obsessed with the heroic prophetic leader, the one person who will save us, and
it’s a biblical notion. It’s the most ancient narrative, it’s Moses
leading us through the sea, right? And I remember when David Miller won in ’03,
and he held a broom up over his head, and I was like, “We haven’t evolved as a species. We’re just waiting for that guy to hold up
the stick and split the sea.” And let’s be honest. It’s usually men. There’s some anomalies happening. You’ve got, South of the border Ocasio-Cortez,
which is really cool. We just had a lesbian Premier, which was really
cool. But you look at the overall data, and it’s
just stunning. There’s 13 Premiers in Canada. If you add up the provinces and the territories,
13. Guess how many of them have male premiers
right now? Thirteen. What is the statistical possibility that that
could happen in 2019? I have another stat in the book of how many
members of the House of Commons have sat with their brothers? I think it’s 120. And how many members of the House of Commons
have sat with their sister? Zero, zero. But it’s also, we’re still stuck not just
with men, the great male leader, but we’re still doing the hereditary thing. What the heck? So the old system was easy, you didn’t have
elections. When the guy died, his son took over. That was pretty simple, pretty efficient. What’s going on? Our Premier’s dad sat in the same legislature. Our Premier’s brother was our mayor, our Premier’s
nephew is still on that council where he replaced his uncle. Our Prime Minister’s dad was the Prime Minister,
right? It’s, the degree to which we’re still living,
choosing male, white male lineage. We’ve got two councillors now who are not
just second-generation, third-generation councillors, Latham and Ford. Both great guys, both Mikes by the way. Mike Ford and Mike Latham. I met Mike Ford 10 years ago, I was speaking
to a high school in Etobicoke, and we were talking about engagement. And I was like, “Most of you probably don’t
even know the name of anyone on city council.” And this one kid put up his hand, and he’s
like, “I know one. Rob, because he’s my uncle.” [laughter] Mike Ford in High School. [laughter] Anyways, he’s a city councillor now. Great. SLAG. Let’s get back to SLAG. So, SLAG is an acronym for a Single Leader
Annihilates the Group. And the reason I coined it, is because I went
back to the original documents of the people who envisioned how the Parliament would work,
which evolved slowly, starting from the Magna Carta, and also the discussions that were
had in the United States when they created their constitution. And they created systems with a very specific
intent for deliberative dialogue amongst a group of people. A congress, a parliament, a council. But they also couldn’t quite let go of the
idea that there still needed to be one person who’s not really in charge, but is there just
because they couldn’t let go of that spiritual, not spiritual, aesthetic element of monarchy. It’s like, “Well, if someone’s not there,
what do we do?” And they, you should read this stuff, they
bent over so far backwards to make sure that no one would ever see the President as a king. In fact that he would have hardly any power
at all. The job of the executive branch was just to
execute the will, it was a managerial role, right? The legislative branch, the people, the group,
the collective, they make decisions, then someone has to implement it, make sure it
gets done. The President presides over the execution
of the legislative branch, the same with the mayor, the council is supposed to be supreme,
our Mayor is supposed to have one vote. Our Prime Minister is supposed be first among
equals, accountable to the legislature, not the legislature accountable to the Prime Minister. But because they kept that, I think it was
a mistake, because they kept that one person there. Aesthetically, we’ve now culturally reverted
back to monarchy. Monarchy doesn’t mean that there’s no elections. Monarchy just means one leader, one person
in charge. And I can tell you that most of our legislatures
are now ruled by one person. In terms of the shape of power, a group of
people actually deliberating, versus there being one person who’s calling the shots,
we’re at monarchy, We’ve reverted back centuries. The apparatus is aesthetically. Ottawa is one person. So yeah, so it looks like, “Oh there’s a House
of Commons, cool 338 people. Oh cool. City Council, 44 people.” I can tell you that if you don’t have the… Sorry 25. [laughter] Almost 47. I can tell you… I’ve worked on a lot of municipal advocacy
campaigns. You won’t get something through council without
the Mayor. You know, when you could? When Rob was Mayor. It was actually really cool, because he was
so dysfunctional, and at times, at rehab, that for a moment, we actually had what we
should have all the time, which is a council that acts as a deliberative body. So out of the 44, when there were 44, I needed
23 votes. They could come from the right, the left,
the middle it didn’t matter, we won votes under Rob Ford without the Mayor’s support. You could never do that right now. So what I propose in that book is a whole
bunch of ways of how we could get rid of that icon of the person at the top. And what the book does is there’s kind of
three categories of remedies. Some of them are really easy. We should just do them tomorrow. For example, if we randomize the seating in
the House of Commons, so imagine you’re all eggplant lovers, and you’re all carrot lovers. And then we had a discussion about which vegetables
are the best? You’re gonna start. The animosity would be very clear between
the two sides because you’re arranged as two hockey teams. And that’s what happens in the House of Commons,
all the reds on one side, all the blues on the other, a few orange off to the side. And they attack each other like a mob, because
the room is designed for mobs to fight each other, just randomize the seating. If you’re a conservative you can’t yell and
swear at all the liberals if one of them’s right beside you, and he happens to be a nice
guy, and your kids go to school together, right? So there’s stuff like that, where it’s like,
“Come on, let’s just do this.” Then there’s stuff that needs… Probably needs a few years to look at different
options, like voting reform. Yankee candidates do that overnight. There are a lot of options. And then I proudly have a bunch of pie in
the sky ideas that probably could never be implemented but should really be looked at. One is that politicians, just like race car
drivers, should wear the logos of all the companies who sponsor them. [laughter] Right? [applause] And that’s not my idea, that’s come out of
the US. And let me be honest, most of the book isn’t
my ideas. I went out to find the best ideas. Some are funny, some are very practical. It’s an aggregation of hundreds of solutions
that I’ve crowd-sourced from across North America. But another crazy idea that fits into how
to defeat slag. This one, I think, we actually is… It’s pie in the sky, but we could try it on
smaller scales. It’s called sortition, that’s the academic
term for it. It’s the idea that we don’t need elections
at all. We randomly choose juries in courts of law,
random people comprised of barbers, and carpenters, and artists, and teachers, and they sit there
and make really important decisions and have very complicated discussions facilitated. And they make decisions that affect people’s
lives. So there’s one school of thought that are
out there now saying, “Why don’t we try this for governments?” What would happen if you just… What if you got a letter in the mail saying,
“Hey, You’re an MP for the next four years. Show up for work.” [laughter] It would solve… See, some of you are thinking of the Boaty
McBoatface now. It’s like, “Oh no, we’d have a… There’d be crazy people in the House of Commons.” Hey, I got news for you. [laughter] There’s crazy people in the House of Commons. I think it would lower the ratio drastically
if we did it randomly. Let’s be honest here. What election self-select kind of the craziest
people, right? You’ve got a riding with 60,000 people, 100,000
people, and election’s coming up. The 100,000 people will have to pick the one
person who’s got the most talent and smart and creativity and research and whatever to
be the leader for 100,000 people, and then someone’s like, “That should be me.” [laughter] Right? So right off the bat, elections self-select
these kind of crazy people. Then that’s just to get your name on the ballot,
you have to kinda have a crazy ego, right? Then you have to fight. So then who ends up winning? These people who have egos, way too much confidence,
and they’re good fighters. Then we put them in a room expecting them
to listen to each other and deliberate with no facilitation at all. I have a whole separate chapter on that. Two people married to each other need professional
support; counselors to help them learn how to listen to each other and understand each
other. And then we put 338 egotistical maniacs in
a room and we’re like, “Come up with some good legislation. No one’s helping you. Go.” Robert’s Rules. What? And then we’re surprised when they do crazy
things and make crazy decisions. But what are we talking about? Slag? Where are we? [laughter] You did great. You did great. Sortition. Kinda moved around a bit. Sorry, It’s hard to sit down. So, Peter MacLeod, are you here? Could you make it? Okay. Peter MacLeod runs a company called MASS LBP
and they’ve actually been experimenting with this model, not to replace governments with
sortition, but… It was pioneered in 2004 in British Columbia. They were gonna have a referendum on changing
their voting system. The problem was, which system should we switch
to? So instead of having their politicians just
decide on their own, which is a bad idea, conflict of interests, having the activists
decide on their own, bad idea. I can tell you, we’re kind of crazy. The idea was to have a jury. It was called a Citizens’ Assembly, and they
sent out thousands and thousands of invitations to normal people, ordinary people all across
BC. Sorry, I’m making it harder for you by walking. You had the camera set up on the… I won’t walk far. I just needed a stretch. And they said, “Do you wanna be a part of
this Citizens’ Assembly? And you’ll go through a three-part process. Very intense. The first part is you’ll be exposed to experts
who will teach you about all these different systems. STV, MMP, AV, whatever, you name it. You’ll be exposed to the pros and cons of
both sides. Not from activists, not from politicians,
no one who has a built-in self-interest. Then you’ll go through a facilitated deliberative
dialogue where you get to talk to each other and decide what the best option will be for
British Columbia. Then you’re gonna go out and also hear from
other ordinary citizens, let the activists speak to you, etcetera. And then finally, a referendum on that recommendation. 58% of BC voted in favor of that recommendation,
because they knew it wasn’t coming from politicians or activists. It was coming from their neighbours. So since then, this group MASS LBP has been
offering governments this service of creating these mini-juries. So if government’s like, “We need to come
up with a new policy about healthcare. What should we do?” MASS will go to them, they’ll pay MASS, and
MASS sends out these letters, just like you would get for jury duty. And random people join these groups and it’s
the richest form of deliberative dialogue you could ever have because no one funded
their campaigns, no one’s whipping their votes. They’re not these overly-confident people
who are like, “I can lead my riding.” Right? They’re just like your barber. Like someone. They’re just people. That’s what they’re called. People. So here’s my suggestion for that. Why don’t we start it in things like our student
councils? Why the hell do we have students in high school
have to have these competitive elections to pick a president? Teaching them all the wrong
things about leadership right from the get-go. That one of you has what it takes to be a
president and the rest of you are just supposed to clap when they win. And again, who’s gonna run? The most confident, the most, like… You’re not gonna have an introvert. Introverts are the most thoughtful people. They’re not gonna run for office. We’re almost excluding the best deliberative
decision makers from even having a chance of being a politics. Here’s what we should do it. School elections and then school boards, randomly
selected parents, and most importantly the Canadian Senate, random selection for the
entire Senate. ‘Cause we’re not… We don’t have elections, anyways. Let’s do it. [applause] I can’t do anything about this. I have one more, I have one more part to this
answer. So that was the pie in the sky way that we
deal with SLAG. The other way is you don’t have to… I don’t think the Council needs a mayor, I
really don’t, and I dissect this very carefully in the book. I go through all the historical arguments
of why people thought that we need these three branches. The executive branch needs to be there to
keep the legislative branch in check. And I go through them one by one, and I’m
convinced that that might have made sense 200, 300, 500 years ago. We don’t need it now, but again, forget the
pie in the sky, you don’t have to get rid of the mayor. But the problem is when we elect the mayor
as a mayor… When we go through a municipal election, hardly
anyone knows who the candidates are for Council, but they know who’s running for mayor. Why? SLAG. Culturally, the single leader annihilates
the group. Just as if you went out on the street now
and asked someone who’s your Councillor they won’t know. Who’s your mayor? They’ll know. Culturally the single leader annihilates the
group. So what you could do is a few things. I call it dilution and rotation. Dilution is to have two or three people sharing
that role. Why do we need one mayor? And if you go back to the founding fathers
of the constitution, they actually had this… They came very close to having three presidents
in the United States. It was voted upon and it was a close vote. And the reason was they thought if we have
one person sitting in that seat, eventually down the road, that person might start acting
like a King. For example, we have this little mechanism
called Executive Order, which isn’t really supposed to be used much and in the first
10 presidents used it on average of once a year. ’cause it wasn’t… You were never supposed to be making any decisions
about anything except implementing the will of the legislature, but SLAG happened. So, dilution. The other one, so easy, is rotation. And they do this a bit in the US. You elect a Council and just a Council, and
then members of the Council take turns being the mayor. So if for whatever reason you’re still convinced
that there needs to be a mayor fine, but the important thing is, you weren’t distracted
during the election campaign of who was running for mayor. And that gives more voice to all the Councillors. Now listen, I’m supposed to be opening it
up some questions in a moment, but I have one, I think final question for me, which
is that… You’re after take… After tear down because I think you expect
more from us. I think this is ultimately a very optimistic
book about what we can expect from one another. And my question is “Why the hell would you
be optimistic about us?” Can I throw it back at you? Yes. Okay, I’m throwing it back at you. When is the last time you saw a few humans,
2, 5, 10, interact in a way that you felt was really impressive and beautiful? I think I see that every day on a much smaller
scale. There you go. Yeah, but… That’s what we’re capable of. No, that’s what we’re capable of. What breaks my heart is if you contrast what
we know humans are capable of, which is infinite beauty and wisdom and empathy. And caring, then you contrast that with what
our governments produce. You know something is broken, this isn’t who
we are. The question is, does it… It’s a distortion of… Of who we are. And we can scale. Right, that could kind of scale to all of
us. Absolutely, of course we can… The question is how… So, I’ve written the road map, to do that. If you don’t believe that in the capacities
of humanity, of the individual person, then I don’t know why you’re here, I don’t know
why you believe in democracy at all, and I feel sorry for you. But I think we all know and we’ve seen it… Every individual has the capacity to be drawn
towards conflict, divisiveness, anger, closed-mindedness. Or we can be just the most beautiful, mind-blowing,
poetic, authentic spirits. The design of a system can lead us in either
direction. And so, what I’ve tried to do… In the introduction I talk about the word
teardown. How teardowns have come in three flavors:
We’re most familiar with the word teardown in the context of something really being smashed. Real estate, you buy a house that’s a teardown
and a wrecking ball comes and smashed it. The second kind there was an engine teardown
which is completely different, it’s a very slow, careful, meticulous process. Nick Arison came up with this analogy. Brilliant. He named the book Nick Arison. And in an engine teardown what you’re doing
is taking apart every belt and bolt and nut and screw of the entire engine, cleaning them. Seeing if any of them need to be replaced
and then putting it back together so your engine runs better. There’s a third teardown in the tech world,
when a new smartphone or tablet comes out. People will take it apart into every little
chip resistor, transistor, diode, wire… Lay it all out on a white piece of paper and
take a photo so they can share it. And just for people who were curious of like,
what’s in that new iPhone? So the three teardowns each have a different
purpose. One is to destroy. One is to repair and one is to learn. And my book does… Attempts to do all three in the context of
politics. It dissects this ecosystem, this political
ecosystem that I think a lot of people feel very confused by, and alienated from and says,
this is how it actually works. These are all the pin points where you could
actually have your voice heard and here’s why those pin points right now, are clamped
shut. A lot of it is education. A lot of the book is kind of a crash course,
a 101 in really plain language to explain the role that big money plays in politics. The way that amalgamations of municipalities
really harm people’s ability to have a sense of local government, the way that privatizing
the commercial environment with billboards affects people’s sense of belonging, and the
impact that has on citizenship and how voting systems work. And then lastly, there are parts of the book
where I’m like… Yeah, we need a sledge hammer for this.

2 thoughts on “Dave Meslin on How to Rebuild Our Democracy | On Civil Society | May 23, 2019

  1. "Four requirements to be an activist:
    1.) Believe in your own ideas.
    2.) Believe in each other.
    3.) Have faith in the political leaders we have.
    4.) A faith in the entire political system and how it's arranged."
    SO 👏🏾 WELL 👏🏾 SAID!!!👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾

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