Gary Bettman thinks the Calgary Flames need a new arena in order for the city to thrive. Canadian entrepreneur Kevin O’Leary wants Albertan premier Rachel Notley to resign. And local businessman Brett Wilson thinks Uber should be allowed in Calgary.
In theory, all of this should be fine. Democracies thrive on people publicly expressing and debating their opinions. But that’s not the half of it.
Bettman attempted to intimidate Mayor Naheed Nenshi over the delays on CalgaryNEXT. O’Leary promised $1 million of investment in Canadian oil projects should Notley step down. And Wilson plans to give $100,000 to the Calgary Public Library — if city council amends its bylaws and allows Uber to operate legally.
That’s not the democratic process. All three of these men are nothing more than corporate bullies repeating half-truths and getting attention for it because they can back up their ridiculous grandstanding with large amounts of money.
Everyone who isn’t a shill for the Wildrose party has said it, but it bears repeating — Alberta’s economy is doing poorly because the global oil industry collapsed, not because Notley is personally stealing money from oil patch workers. The new arena known as CalgaryNEXT isn’t a go because the plans for it are vague and have no numbers. And our city council hasn’t legalized Uber because they prefer bickering with each other to drafting policy.
These are not problems that O’Leary or Bettman or Wilson can fix by waving around comparatively small sums of money. What they can fix, however, is how much public attention they get for their ideas, no matter how harebrained and out of touch they are. All of these businessmen got responses from the public figures they were trying to intimidate. And while Nenshi and Notley dismissed any attempt at bribery out of hand, these opinions and ideas were still acknowledged.
Corporations and the wealthy don’t have the right to bully governments or people just because they have money. It seems cliché at this point, but democracies work because everyone’s vote counts for the same. Your vote and Wilson’s vote both go into the same ballot box, and you both get one ballot.
A democracy where your ideas only count for something if you can back it up with cold hard cash is a weak one. The work of democratically elected governments should take precedence over the whims of individuals, no matter how much I personally agree with them or how much money they wave around.
This isn’t to say that you can’t disagree with democratically elected governments. I’m sure the Wildrose Party is about as happy with Notley as O’Leary is. But they can at least claim to represent thousands of people who live in Alberta. They back up their rhetoric with people, not money.
And that’s how democracies should work. You don’t like something? Fine. Find other people who agree with you. Organize. Petition your elected officials. When the next election comes around, vote for someone else. Help their opponents.
But don’t expect people to give your opinion more weight or credence because of the amount of money you’re willing to bet on it. And stop trying to coerce democratically elected leaders into resigning or changing policy with promises of money. It cheapens our democracies and weakens the best chance we have to see change — by finding other people who agree with us and working together.
Kate Jacobson, Gauntlet Editorial Board