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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Talking Democracy

Nathan Raine
Published Thursday October 29, 06:05 pm
Viewing Canada through the progressive spirit of Allan Blakeney

On Nov. 6th and 7th a national conference titled “Law, Public Administration, and Challenges to Democracy: A Conference in Honour of Allan E. Blakeney” will be held at the University of Saskatchewan, addressing the many challenges facing democracy in Canada during the start of the 21st century. The conference, just on the heels of the federal election and Harper-ousting, honours one of Saskatchewan's greatest leaders. Allan Blakeney, Premier of Saskatchewan from 1971 to 1982, was both progressive and passionate in his aim to improve all aspects of Canadian democracy.

The conference will assemble a large number of speakers from across North America, including Simone Chambers from the University of California, Irvine, David McGrane from the University of Saskatchewan, and Blakeney's very own successor, former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow. Topics will include democracy and religion, party finance, First Nations, gender and democracy, and equality, among others.

“The kernel of Blakeney's existence was the ongoing promotion and development of the 'good state,' where there is freedom of expression, integration, cooperation and good, open debate,” says Romanow. “Uplifting every generation's quality of life is essentially what the conference tries to talk about. We've put it in the name of Blakeney as an example of a leader who subscribed to that kind of approach.”

Romanow’s talk during the conference will examine conflicts between the governments of Canada and Saskatchewan over the regulation of natural resources during the 1970s, which culminated in a compromise grounded in Blakeney's vision of democratic socialism. Romanow worked with Premier Blakeney as both deputy leader and deputy premier, helping to create the constitution of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was designed to entrench the rights of people, their freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Blakeney died in 2011, but his ideas and impact remain vibrant, says Romanow.

“I think we can use and draw lessons from Blakeney as we look at 2015 and beyond. One of the biggest challenges and opportunities is the development of social media and the wide-ranging exchange of ideas and opinions, which, in a democratic setting, is very beneficial,” he says.

“But what does concern me [is] whether or not, in the exchange of ideas and opinions, we do so within the larger framework of an ideological or philosophical perspective of how our state, city, province, country should be organized, and what its objectives should be — the most fundamental one being, I suspect, the issue of values: What values do Canadians hold, and what programs best fit into those values. Because there's a blizzard of opinions out there, and I think it would be very helpful if it could be constructed as much as possible within the idealogical precepts or conditions in which our democratic society is based.”

Although Romanow will not be speaking on social media, he says it's one of the challenges that continue to shape and define our society.

“The importance of democracy and how it's constantly evolving, particularly with the aid of new technologies and methods of communication [all work] to keep our eye on the overall goal: equity of opportunity to everyone.”

McGrane, for his part, will address the issue of equality in democracy.

“I'll be arguing that you can't have a well-functioning democracy in an uneven society,” he says. “One of the foundations of a well-functioning democracy is that it has to be based on the equality of its citizens. This makes sense, right? But how can a citizen who is extremely poor, or being discriminated against, for example, participate or be equally involved? The society I personally think we want is one where there's as few barriers as possible to democratic participation.”

The conference, organized largely by McGrane, comes at a good time — just after an election, when these types of democratic and political policies are on people's minds.

“I would characterize the conference as an audit of Canadian democracy, following the 2015 federal election,” says McGrane. “What does Canadian democracy have right? What does it have wrong? What [Canada] can be in terms of democracy in the aftermath of an election.”

Although the conference focuses first and foremost on today's democracy challenges, Blakeney's spirit will guide the event.

“It's a very powerful group of thinkers we've assembled to discuss these many challenges in Canadian democracy,” says McGrane. “I'm happy to have a conference on democracy in honour of Blakeney. I think it would make him proud.”

For more information about the conference, please head to / blakeney_conference.The conference is open to the public, and admission is free.

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