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Canada Just Got a Democracy Report Card and Our Grade Isn’t Pretty

The Canadian civic-engagement advocacy group Samara just released its first-ever report card on the state of “everyday democracy” across the country. The result? Canada received a disconcerting ‘C’ grade.

What does that mean?

We’re failing on a lot more fronts than just voter turnout, according to Jane Hilderman, Samara Director.

“The political process now repels more citizens than it attracts — particularly young Canadians,” she said.

“While most evaluations of democracy focus on voter turnout, we need to better assess the relationship between citizens and political leaders beyond a trip to the ballot box every four years.”

The report found Canadians have very little trust in Members of Parliament and don’t believe MPs actually do their intended jobs.

Only 40 per cent of Canadians say they trust their MPs to “do what is right.” More startling, only 31 per cent of Canadians feel politics are relevant to their everyday lives.

Yet nearly half of all Canadians still donate to charities, volunteer and sign petitions, showing an underlying desire “to connect to causes rooted in and affected by politics,” the report found.

Canada ranks in the bottom fifth among democracies — with a voter turnout of 61 per cent in federal elections — according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Canada’s declining voter turnout can be almost entirely attributed to young Canadians between the ages of 18 and 24. This group votes at nearly half the rate of elderly Canadians aged 65 to 74.

The report focused on three key points of political engagement — communication, participation and leadership.

To rebuild a sense of value in politics, MPs must increase reliable, two-way communication with citizens, citizens must become more politically active beyond the ballot box, and leaders must encourage involvement and demonstrate the power of politics to make a difference.

“Quite simply our democracy is not doing as well as a country as rich as Canada deserves,” the report states.

“Canadians are not participating in politics as much as they could, they don’t believe it affects them, and they don't see their leaders as influential or efficacious. To turn this situation around, Canada requires more than just higher voter turnout.”

Canada needs to experience a “cultural shift towards ‘everyday democracy’ in which citizens feel politics is a way to make change in the country and their voices are heard.”

“The grade of ‘C’ is not good enough in a country like Canada,” added Alison Loat, Samara’s co-founder and executive director. “A federal election presents a perfect opportunity for Canadians to turn this around.”

“Let’s get involved with campaigns, ask tough questions of candidates, and make a stronger democracy a theme in the upcoming federal election.”

Image Credit: Zack Embree

Carol Linnitt is a journalist, editor, illustrator and co-founder of The Narwhal. Carol has been reporting on energy and environmental…

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