Governments should take step back

We tend to think that improving our democracy is about grand gestures

Re: Incubating democracy

I am reading a book on the public spirit that existed in early America. A quote in it made me think of proposals before our local governments, such as solar panel subsidies and incubator farms.

In studying democracy in America in the early 1800s to learn how he could improve his home country of France, Tocqueville observed:

“When a private individual meditates an undertaking, however directly connected it may be with the welfare of society, he never thinks of soliciting the co-operation of the Government, but he publishes his plan, offers to execute it himself, courts the assistance of other individuals, and struggles manfully against all obstacles. Undoubtedly he is often less successful than the State might have been in his position; but in the end the sum of these private undertakings far exceeds all that the Government could have done”.

If the sum of these private undertakings exceeds what government could have done, are we undermining the contribution of our citizenry by stepping in with government too readily these days? We certainly lose some benefits that come from citizens having to engage one another.

For instance, I once knocked on many doors in the Valley seeking money for a political initiative. Thinking I was right, I was surprised both by receiving cold receptions, and at their great number. In asking people why they disagreed with the proposal, I learned that they had good reasons for holding their views, which helped soften my own.

The initiative proved a success, but the real victory was the political education I received, both in learning that you can work together with other citizens to get something done and that not as many people wanted to be a part of it as I had assumed. What a shame that when governments step in to take on initiatives that could otherwise be supported and funded by citizen efforts, we lose these benefits. What else do we lose? And what about the initiatives that wouldn’t get enough citizen support door-to-door to justify government funding, yet receive it anyway?

We tend to think that improving our democracy is about grand gestures such as abolishing the Senate or making changes to election laws, and no doubt, these are important, but so is how we engage one another as citizens. Here’s to being “less successful than the State might have been.”


Brock Demus McLeod


Cowichan Valley Citizen