Samara Canada’s second edition of the Democracy 360 is a made-in-Canada report card on the state of Canada’s democracy. Built on the understanding that democracy is about more than just casting a ballot every four years, the report card examines the complex relationship between citizens and political leadership and how they interact, especially between elections. It measures three areas essential to a healthy democracy: communication, participation and political leadership.
Canada’s democracy earned a B-, an improvement from its C in 2015.
Communication between Canadians and their leaders increased.
At 68%, voter turnout was up 7 percentage points, the highest it’s been since 1993.
Participation in formal political activities, such as donating to a campaign, was still low.
Canadians awarded above passing grades to MPs and political parties on their core jobs.
Diversity of representation in the House of Commons continues to be a challenge.
The year 2017 is Canada’s sesquicentennial year. This is a moment that encourages reflection about Canada’s past, present and future—and what legacy from 2017 should shape the next 150 years. In 1967, as the country turned 100 years old, the federal government invested heavily in physical infrastructure—such as theatres and arenas—for the public’s benefit. Samara believes 2017 calls for a different type of investment: in our democratic infrastructure.
While the 360 doesn’t show failing grades, there are signs from abroad that democracy is fragile, with the number of “full democracies” in decline. With that in mind, Canadians should consider investing in education and an improved political culture in order to strengthen our democracy. More importantly, a country as rich in resources and people should be striving for “exceeds expectations” rather than the “meets expectations” of a B-. How might Canadian democracy receive its first A?
Samara Canada’s five ideas for strengthening democratic infrastructure:
Civic education, in and beyond the classroom: Good civic education inspires and empowers. In schools, national, coordinated investments should be made into civics education, at every grade level, to inspire active and informed citizens. Ongoing civic education should be a priority in workplaces and community organizations.
Meaningful consultation of the public by MPs: Meaningful consultation pays dividends in connecting citizens to politics, and in solving Canada’s most complex problems. MPs need training, guidance and nonpartisan support on how to effectively and meaningfully consult their constituents.
Increased civility in political discourse: Canada’s current political culture too often risks turning citizens off, rather than inspiring their involvement. Accusations, online attacks and unwillingness to compromise have become embedded in the culture. Everyone involved in politics—from citizens, to leaders, to media outlets—needs to create a more constructive and welcoming atmosphere.
Empowered representatives: Striking a healthy balance of power between parties, party leaders and MPs is at the heart of meaningful and effective Parliament. MPs require the time and autonomy to study legislation and hold government to account, and cross-partisan committees should be empowered and respected.
Increased diversity in representation: Power that is diffuse, representative and diverse can lead to solutions that are innovative and well-suited to the population served. Ensuring a diverse House requires the commitment of parties and electoral district associations as well as party leaders.