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The Inspiration for Tiered Democratic Governance

I was in my sixth year as an active volunteer of party politics. I was starting to see some cracks in western democracy, but I just couldn't put the pieces together.

A couple of years earlier, I met Herb at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast club. I found Herb a friendly and intelligent fellow. Then he asked me for a social outing at a restaurant. Semi-strangers asking for my company doesn't happen to me often. I found Herb a master of good dialogue. As time went on, I found him to be a person of integrity and high energy. He was someone who should be in politics. We could say that I introduced Herb to my political party, but he may have already had these ambitions: if not through me, he would have found another way. His family was selling their successful agricultural business, and Herb was looking for another life challenge.

About a year later, I was working on Herb's campaign in an internal party election. He was seeking the party nomination to represent the party in the general election. We had a team of about eight key people and maybe another 15 in smaller roles. That's enough workers to win these local internal party elections in Canada.

Our main strategy was to have Herb visit as many party members as possible. We had access to the party members' list, a common practice in 1992. We would phone party members and ask them if it was possible for Herb to come for a visit. We made good use of those Motorola brick cell phones of that time. We could arrange five to eight visits in an evening. Our first objective was to showcase Herb. If a party member was somewhat undecided which of the six contenders to vote for, that little visit might tip that member to vote for Herb. Our second objective was to show the local constituency association that Herb was able to put together a great campaign team to later win the general election against the other political parties. They should vote for us for that reason.

We probably visited 300 party members. Our evenings and weekends were lost to Herb's campaign. My main job was to go with Herb and make sure he did not stay in one visit for too long. I was the "bad cop" telling the hosting party member that we had another visit waiting for us.

Here's how one visit changed my thinking about politics. We were at the home of a teacher who recently retired. She was knitting something while Herb was giving her his spiel, something which I had heard many times already. She was kind of paying attention to Herb, but maybe more to her knitting. Then a crazy thought entered my head, "All she can really get from this 15-minute visit was that Herb spoke the party line quite well and looked good in a suit. She has no idea of Herb's internal character. He could be hiding that he is an embezzler or wife-beater." This party member did not know Herb in the same way I knew Herb. She could not have voted for Herb in a wise way.

This thinking then led to "We citizens know so little about the names on the ballots. No wonder we often make poor choices in our elected representatives." And the party members are almost as blind in the internal party elections as the citizens voting in the general election.

So this we-don't-know-the-people-on-the-ballot mantra was running through my mind over and over again. "This is not a good way to choose our representatives." I was still participating in Herb's campaign, but I was troubled.


I am a walker. Good for both physical and mental tuneups. While on a little suburban trek, my mind was on my political paradox. Then I got one of those epiphanies you hear of scientists sometimes having. Within a few minutes, I got insights into why western democracy cannot rise above these so-unknown-people on the ballot, which become Chapter 2 of my book. And somehow, I also got a replacement system of governance where voters would know something about the people they are voting for. This eventually led to Chapter 3: my concept known as "Tiered Democratic Governance (TDG)".

A week later, the internal party election was held. Let's just say that Herb's campaign team overestimated the strength of one of the contenders and underestimated the strength of another. The "underestimated" fellow won by a handful of votes. Our close second place meant getting nothing.

Political parties love candidates who can win elections. The victor's group informally had control of the constituency association — and Herb's group was gently pushed to the side. After six years of being active in party politics, I lost whatever influence I had acquired.


The TDG has a different dynamic. Electoral districts are granulated, to about 200 people. Voters are educated to vote for someone in their neighborhood who has good character and capacity for governance. So, to get elected into that first tier, these elected representatives need to earn the trust and respect of at least 20 neighbors. That is one test many of today's politicians would have difficulty in passing. These elected TDG representatives get that trust and respect by neighborhood conversations, visits, and helping each other out.

Our campaign work often had me visiting Herb's family home in a cul-de-sac neighborhood, I was amazed at how many of his neighbors with whom he had already built a good rapport. There was even a nearby trailer park, and people from there were dropping in for a little time with Herb. Think of that: a successful businessman can make friends with people living in a trailer park.

Herb liked being around people. And he was patient with people. He had a good intellect.

Herb would have been elected to the TDG. He would have risen with his natural talents and skills and love of people. No campaigning would have been required. Herb's campaign workers could have put their hundreds of volunteer hours into other tasks to make the world a better place. And Herb would have served well in this system of governance.

It's time for a new way, isn't it?

Published on Medium in 2021

The TDG Essay

Building a Wiser, Kinder Democracy

Four Salient Features of the TDG

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