Is our democracy on crutches?

Canada gets only a 'C' grade from watchdog

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OTTAWA -- Two MPs forced to apologize within a week for racist and inappropriate comments, but with little suggestion they suffered anything more than some mild embarrassment for their words.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/03/2015 (2739 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Two MPs forced to apologize within a week for racist and inappropriate comments, but with little suggestion they suffered anything more than some mild embarrassment for their words.

A veteran NDP MP getting press coverage all the way to Japan after he blamed a non-existent “gitch glitch” for getting out of his seat during a vote. Humorous perhaps, but Pat Martin’s antics did little to suggest Canadians should improve their perception of politicians.

Is it any wonder a new survey by a Canadian democracy watchdog delivers a “C” grade to Canada’s democracy?

The Samara Canada Democracy 360 report uses a public-opinion survey and additional research to look at the relationship between Canadians and their government.

Its conclusion is Canada’s democracy is on crutches.

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

It’s not just about voter turnout. That sad number has been well-documented. This survey went far beyond just that.

The long and the short of it is Canadians aren’t participating in politics in high numbers, they don’t believe politics affects them much if at all, they don’t see political leaders as effective or influential and they don’t believe politicians or political parties truly want to hear what Canadians have to say. The survey was conducted in December from an online sample of 2,406 Canadians in 10 provinces. It is considered to be accurate within 1.99 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The results are maybe not particularly surprising, but they are disheartening.

Fewer than one-third of Canadians believe decisions by governments affect them every day. Almost one in 10 say political decisions don’t affect them at all.

Only 40 per cent of Canadians trust politicians to do what’s right, and 46 per cent are satisfied with their MP’s job performance. In general, Canadians don’t think MPs do much other than represent their political parties well, offering a passing grade on that (57 per cent) but failing grades on representing their constituents (45 per cent), helping people in their ridings (46 per cent), holding government to account (42 per cent) or explaining government decisions (43 per cent).

Almost two in three Canadians believe candidates don’t really want to hear what they have to say, they only want their vote.

There are serious issues on the table at all levels of government. On Thursday, the federal government was debating a decision to extend Canada’s military mission in Iraq by a year and add targets in Syria. The province is preparing for its budget, a document most people will ignore completely but could have wide-reaching implications across your life from your kids’ education to your access to health care and what taxes you’re going to pay this year.

Meanwhile over at city hall, a discussion brewed about what infrastructure projects should be a priority for federal and provincial funding. These are projects that could shave time off commutes and possibly reduce traffic accidents.

Tell me they don’t affect people’s lives.

Yet many people will pay the decision-making process little mind, putting their heads up only when the traffic barriers go up and construction actually starts. But by then, the chance to influence the decision will be passed.

Canadians are not a lazy people. Eight in 10 Canadians participate in at least one civic-engagement activity, including donating or volunteering their time to a charity or participating in a local group or organization.

But only one in three Canadians participated in at least one political activity such as belonging to, donating to or volunteering for a political party, or attending a political speech.

If Canadians don’t trust the people elected to lead, and don’t actually think those leaders are very effective or influential, it’s no wonder they aren’t voting, volunteering, donating or engaging in politics.

Democracy isn’t broken. But we have to find a way for Canadians to start improving their perception of their elected officials, and start believing in greater numbers that what government does matters.

Because the lower down this slope we slide, the harder it will be to climb back up.

 

Mia Rabson is the Free Press parliamentary bureau chief.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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