I have become increasingly concerned about the fragility of democracy in the current global context, about the erosion of respect for our democratic conventions and the public institutions that support them, about the decline of civility in public and political discourse. I am concerned about the online echo chambers we currently inhabit that insulate us from views that differ from our own that create a breeding ground for disinformation and that contribute to a culture that is less open minded and more fearful of different and new ideas. I am concerned that people are increasingly disengaged from systems that require too much political management, too much inflexible and combative rhetoric, and not enough thoughtful and nuanced discussion, all factors that breed cynicism and all that goes along with it.

My role as Lieutenant-Governor provides me with a unique platform from which I hope to promote appreciation for our public institutions, cross fertilization of public opinion from leaders from the government, business, and the civil society, courteous dialogue, and informed decision-making based on shared facts and agreed principles of engagement. But the question of how we engage deeply and constructively with those whose views are different is one that haunts me.

I have two thoughts to offer. First, as individuals I believe we need to enter these conversations by initially suspending our desire to convince and win the argument and by adopting the primary goal of listening with curiosity and a willingness to alter our positions when confronted with superior arguments well supported and well argued. Why do people hold the views they do? Under what circumstances have we ourselves been willing to change our opinions?

Second, as citizens, we can do our part by being active in civil society and promoting the active engagement of others. I believe a thriving third sector is a marker of a healthy democracy. It enhances economic and political literacy and builds trust, resilience, and genuine connection among citizens.

Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin
Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia

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