By Jason Menard
Perhaps the term engagement gets a bad reputation because we’ve been so bad at defining what it means. I have some suggestions, but the one thing I do know is that engagement does not mean the equivalent of a guaranteed win.
It’s a topic that I think we’ve discussed almost ad nauseam, with little sense of resolution. But that may be a result of not truly understanding what engagement is, socially and politically.
That’s the problem with using empty, Biz-Speak-type words. They’re too open to interpretation and allow arguments to persist in an environment devoid of parameters. I have been quite vocal in my dislike of the term engagement, but the truth is that I really just dislike the way it’s been defined – or undefined as the case generally is.
To me, here’s what engagement is:
- It’s being involved in the political process, however much you choose to be. It can be as little as casting a ballot once every four years, or as much as having your elected representative on speed dial;
- It’s being involved in your community, whether you choose formal or informal roles. You can serve on official committees and think tanks, or you can volunteer at your local community centre or school, or it could just be shovelling your neighbour’s driveway after a winter storm; and
- It’s about doing your part – however large or small – to make your community a better place.
Here’s what engagement is not:
- A guaranteed win.
All too often when we hear or read the term engagement it’s framed in the context of lack of satisfaction. People are not engaged enough in the ‘future’ of our city; they’re not engaged enough in the ‘political process,’ or they’re not engaged enough in a certain ‘issue’ that’s up for debate.
But those statements are usually made by those dissatisfied with the status quo. The alleged lack of engagement is often in direct proportion with the lack of positive movement for the critic’s cause.
Engagement is a neutral concept – it’s not validated by change or the moving forward of one ideology. In fact, maintaining the status quo is often the most prominent form of engagement.
As I’ve said before, I’m not a supporter of the Conservative government. My political and social leanings tend to lean a little more left. And while I may feel this government isn’t listening to the totality of the population, there are a significant number of voters who are quite happy with the process. They were and are engaged, elected in a majority, and believe that the leadership of our country best matches their own beliefs and philosophies.
I don’t agree, but I’m not arrogant enough to say this is because of a lack of engagement.
No one side can own engagement. It’s not the underdog’s brand to bear. At its best, political engagement incorporates the thoughts and ideals of all sides, working across party lines to ensure that the best solutions are brought to the table.
But it should never be about personal net gain. It should never be validated solely by one side getting what they want.
Engagement is a choice. As Canadian citizens we have an obligation to pay taxes; we have the right to vote. We also have the right to choose not to exercise that right. As someone who has missed only one election in all my eligible voting years (the night my daughter was born… I’m giving myself a pass on that one), I don’t understand why you would not vote. But I also am a strong advocate for the idea that if you’re not willing to put in the effort to make an educated vote, you shouldn’t bother. To me an ill-informed vote is potentially more dangerous than no vote at all.
But engagement should be seen as an opportunity, not a net result.
Engagement efforts should centre around ensuring that all citizens, young and old, rich and poor, from coast to coast, have the opportunity to quickly and easily have their voices heard. If there are no barriers to access and they choose not to engage, that’s their choice. And if they’re content with the status quo, that’s also their right.
If we reframe the concept to how engagement should be defined, it makes it easier to measure and judge. By leaving the concept vague and conscript it to causes, then it’s an empty term that betrays the truth.
Engagement isn’t about winning a cause or proving a point. Engagement is about ensuring that all Canadians have the opportunity to share their thoughts, views, and opinions in the most convenient way possible to them.
Like it or not, and whether or not it meshes with your ideology, that concept of engagement offers a winning environment for the country as a whole from left to right – both geographically and politically.