Strengthening Canadian Democracy
Since coming to power, the administration of Stephen Harper has made headlines for undermining government opennesses and accountability, introducing divisive if not outright unpopular laws, and ignoring or intimidating critics, including the fourth estate.
On such foundations dictatorships are built, leading to concerns about the state of our democracy. But how much of that foundation was actually laid by Harper, and how much was there before he even became prime minister?
State of Democracy in Canada
Canadians’ changing commitment to democracy hides their underlying and continued dissatisfaction with the way their democracy is working, and a less than full embrace of representative democracy as the best way to govern their country. Doubts about Canada’s democracy are very much tied to Canadians’ questioning their role in the democratic process or if they can have any influence on what government does. And, they are largely of the view that elected officials are insensitive to their views or interests.
A strong majority of Canadians (77%) prefer democracy as a system of government, up 12-points from 65% just two years ago. One-in-ten feel it either doesn’t matter whether a government is democratic or not (13%), or that authoritarian rule is acceptable in certain circumstances (11%).
Still, Canadians are not completely happy with the way their democracy is working. A majority believes Canada is democratically governed (57%), but few hold this sentiment strongly (10%); and close to half say our country is not governed democratically (43%). Similarly, most Canadians (59%) are only moderately convinced that representative democracy is a good way to govern Canada, a sentiment that has grown from 44% in 2017 to its current level. On a more positive note, a significant majority of Canadians reject rule by a strong leader (77%) or military rule (91%) as a viable alternative for Canada.
Canadians hold mixed views about their role in or impact on Canadian democracy. They are not completely convinced that voting gives them a say about how government runs things (56% yes, 44% no), or that they can influence government (44% yes, 56% no). A solid majority of Canadians (68%) believe elected officials don’t care what ordinary Canadians think, and more than six-in-ten (61%) feel government ignores their interests in favour of the establishment.
Canadians’ views on how democracy is working in Canada impact their commitment. Those who feel voting doesn’t matter or that they can’t influence government are less likely to prefer democracy over other forms of government. Canadians who value voting and think they can influence government are more likely to give positive reviews of representative democracy, and to believe Canada is being governed democratically. And, people who believe elected officials are insensitive to the views or interests of ordinary Canadians are less likely to prefer democracy, to value representative democracy as a good way to govern Canada, or to believe Canada is being governed democratically.
Deliberative Democracy in Canadian Public Policy
Deliberative democracy is a rich ideal. It invokes a democratic system of governance in which citizens actively exchange ideas, engage in debate, and create laws responsive to their interests and aspirations. Canada appears to have good prospects for realizing interconnected sites, forums, and procedures informed by its central principles of citizen participation, inclusion, equality, reasoning, agreement, and empowerment.