Here’s a surprising truth about democracy in Canada

I wrote just last week about how international public opinion on democracy is in decline. Canadians are more concerned about democratic trends than they are about the deficits in their democracy and I am not surprised. However, the latest Good Governance Survey conducted by the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto shows that Canadians aren’t the only ones who are concerned. Five-hundred ten Canadian and international experts on democratic governance, including myself, were surveyed in early November. (See accompanying story.) The survey reflects concerns that we as an electorate have about the fairness of electoral laws and public governance in Canada, and in particular, that our political parties have too much control and should be subject to stricter rules.

Not surprisingly, Canadians are the only set of nationals (at least by country of origin) that view their fair representation in Parliament as being more positive than Canadians’ democracy. A solid majority of Canadians say their “time spent in [a] parliamentary democracy” is more positive than their time spent in “everyday democracy.” Canadians also have the lowest confidence in their own electoral laws as compared to the other countries in the survey. How democracy in Canada stacks up to other democratic systems remains questionable. For example, Canadians are more likely to believe their parliamentary democracy is worse (43 percent compared to 38 percent) than their country’s general democracy (14 percent compared to 19 percent).

The positive findings from the survey also provide a historical benchmark. In the 1960s and 1970s, Canada shifted away from British parliamentary systems of government. Voters then asked for more provincial governments, which they eventually got. And in the 2000s, the Canadian majority wanted a federal form of government (reflecting a recent, historical trend, I have argued elsewhere, away from federal-state politics in Canada). Today’s higher rates of post-war peace in Canada and continuing declines in partisan extremism reflect, at least in part, the fact that a larger proportion of Canadians want to see Canada grow in a more federalist direction, rather than slide back into federal-state politics.

This doesn’t mean that all Canadians want Canada to become more federalist. Among Canadians, post-war peace and even recent declines in inequality and income mobility all continue to be important issues.

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