Can we fortify Canadian democracy?

It is very useful, the confidential report recently obtained by our colleagues in the office Journalism In Ottawa on the state and threats to Canadian democratic institutions.

Posted at 5:00 am

We read for the first time in black and white that there is concern within the federal government about “the erosion of complacency with democracy in much of the world.”

We are concerned about this because we understand, with good reason, that Canada is not immune to this phenomenon. It is pointed out in particular that what happened in the United States after the last presidential elections “should serve as a warning.”

For example, a study was cited by the Cambridge University Center for the Future of Democracy, published in 2020, which “reveals an erosion of satisfaction with democracy in most parts of the world, with a particularly marked decline over the past 10 years.”

Note that the latest assessment of the state of the world’s democracy by The Economist Intelligence Unit – the results of which were published a few weeks ago – goes in the same direction. She asserts that Canada has lost feathers. Over the past year, it has fallen from 5And in 12And Place (from 167, Afghanistan at the bottom of the ranking).

Clarification on the Federal Government Report: Written last year. Long before the study of The Economist Intelligence Unit. Before that, protesters also surrounded the city of Ottawa. Even before some of them said publicly that they wanted to overthrow the democratically elected government a few months ago.

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In this sense, the report was almost insightful. In the wake of the occupation of Ottawa, it is critical that this document does not end up on the shelf.

The Federal Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs, Dominique LeBlanc, to whom the report was submitted, is doing better to disseminate it more widely. Starting with the distribution of copies in Parliament.

Because it contains not only warnings to heed, but also some solutions that would, in some way, have the effect of fortifying Canadian democracy.

The report’s authors say the government must show “unwavering dedication to citizens” and address issues that matter to them.

Then they laid out a list of principles on which government should be based:

  • Focus on issues that Canadians consider a priority;
  • Deliver responsive, high-quality public services that Canadians can trust;
  • Better performance than peer countries in providing key services;
  • Recognize the mistakes made by the institutions, correct them and work tirelessly to prove that mistakes will not be repeated in order to convince the citizens that the government still deserves their trust.

A useful reminder that should be hung with a magnet on every minister’s fridge!

The problem, of course, is that there are also external causes for the democratic crisis and the loss of confidence in our political system.

If the report has a weakness, it is that it does not focus sufficiently on these factors (the concentration of wealth and rising inequality, economic insecurity, the emergence of populist politicians and media figures, the denigration of democracy, and the disinformation that digital giants are eager to contribute, and so on).

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The problem of misinformation – very serious – for example, is already mentioned in the report. But in terms of solutions, we are happy to mention supporting initiatives aimed at countering them. It is very mysterious.

Especially since disinformation and its devastation urgently deserve a stronger response than those currently offered by elected officials.

As political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt pointed out a few years ago, democracies now generally die at the hands of elected leaders “who subvert the very process that brought them to power.”

To avoid this kind of scenario, it is necessary to stop the erosion of complacency with our democracy. Demonstrations in January and February in Ottawa and across the country have shown us that simply being vigilant is not enough.

Our system is certainly stronger than that of our American neighbors, but here, too, democracy is fragile.

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