Thursday, January 16, 2014

Does Democarcy Matter for Good Governance?

(published in the Campus resident, Jan. 21, 2014)

Last month Director Beyers opined in the Campus Resident that the UBC was rather like the Austro-Hungarian Empire and that as residents of the UNA we are like the former citizens of Vienna; somewhat privileged pets living in a gilded cage.  In the same issue resident Jim Taylor and Director Zhou showered praise on our current from of government, yet added nothing that actually contradicted Director Beyer’s assessment of the lack of real, effective, local democracy in the University Neighbourhoods Area.

I essentially agree with Beyer’s comment on the lack of democracy here in the UNA.  However, I think the more apt analogy is Pinochet’s Chile.  Why?  First, the Pinochet dictatorship used the fa├žade of the rule of law to justify its actions (even as they summarily ignored the laws they enacted). 

More to the point, however, was the way in which Pinochet’s government privatized much of Chile’s resources and used private corporations to develop key services.  Chile under Pinochet piloted many of the economic measures that are now common: deregulation of the economy, transfer of state property to the private sector, the reduction of government services (except for enforcement agencies), and the transfer of the management of public services to the private sector. 

A third parallel involves the systematic silencing of opposition. Under Pinochet’s rule opposition was silenced in a variety of ways. The most persistent forms involved silent pressure and constant threats against individual security. While one would be foolish to say the same thing exists here at UBC, there is a parallel form of silent pressure that is exerted: the often-mentioned ‘nuclear clause’ in the Neighbours Agreement (see section 15.3-5).  The Neighbours Agreement between UBC and the UNA allows UBC to withdraw at almost any time if they feel the UNA is not acting appropriately. Lurking in the background is the constant threat that UBC will pull the plug.  UBC, through its permanent appointed directors, is able to monitor elected Directors.  Through a combination of paternalistic reminders and internal self-censorship, elected Directors are constantly aware that if they deviate from UBC’s plan the entire UNA edifice may be taken over and any semblance of autonomy removed.

An enhanced status quo, a la Jim Taylor, might improve some of the perks Director Beyer suggests UNA residents might enjoy. It is clear that under Pinochet a so-called economic miracle occurred that benefited large corporations.  The trains ran on time and, as long as one was quiet, most people were able to live out their lives relatively unmolested by the state.  I wonder though, is that really the type of society we want to live within?  Are we really willing to give up democratic rights that people across our country and world have fought for? Just for a gilded cage of privilege? 

I think not. The time is right to move forward on a full democratic reform of the UNA.

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