Canadians becoming more suspect of their politicians and government.

These results are not surprising. Fortunately, Canadians are finding new methods of expressing their political views and influencing public opinion. The party operatives will be kept busy finding ways to co-opt these new methods and most likely turn them to their partisan advantage. This is from the Star.

Canadian political disconnect 'growing'

Tonda MacCharles




OTTAWA–A new study, on the heels of public clamour over the suspended parliamentary session, claims Canadians are jaundiced about the state of democracy here.

The report, to be released Wednesday by the Institute of Wellbeing, says Canada is experiencing "a huge democratic deficit, with trust in Canadian government and public institutions on a steep decline."
These results are not too surprising. Fortunately, it seems that Canadians are finding new ways to be involved in politics and influence public opinion. No doubt this will present a new challenge for party operatives to co-opt and neutralise or more likely to use for their own partisan purposes.



"The disconnect between Canadians and those who govern on their behalf is deep, wide, and growing," said the institute's Lynne Slotek.

"At a time when people are demanding greater accountability and transparency, they see their government institutions becoming more remote and opaque."

The report on "Democratic Engagement" comes coincidentally amid protests over Prime Minister Stephen Harper's New Year's decision to halt the last parliamentary session and reconvene only in March. A review of 10 years of data, it does not take into account the reaction to the government's move.

National opinion surveys in recent weeks suggest that Canadians, rather than being disengaged, have reacted strongly to Harper's decision to prorogue. It has cost the federal Conservatives, whose support in polls has dropped to an almost statistical tie with the Liberals.

Slotek said in an interview the public's obvious dissatisfaction with that decision "is an affirmation of what our report says – that people are interested in politics, they want to find ways to participate, and if they can't, they'll look at other activities such as signing petitions, Facebook or the Internet."

The report says while voter turnout has declined from a high of 69.6 per cent in the 1993 federal election to the historic low of about 59 per cent in 2008, it does not mean Canadians are uninterested in politics. Hard data on "voter interest" in the 2008 election isn't yet available, but the group looked at other indicators over 10 years, she said.

It says the volunteer rate for "formal political activities, such as participating in law, advocacy and political groups" has been low – around 2 per cent – over the years, but the volunteer rate for "informal ones, such as, protesting, signing petitions and boycotting, has been relatively high." The report cites a 2002 study that found 54.6 per cent of Canadians said they participated in one political activity, either "traditional or non-traditional."

Citing results of past Canada Election Studies, it said an "overwhelming" majority of Canadians feel the policies of the federal government have not made their lives better. Only 12 per cent said their lives had been improved by federal policies when last surveyed in 2006.

Since 1997, women have held about 20 per cent of the seats in Parliament, a "low and flat" figure that Slotek says shows there is a "clear problem in terms of engagement of all Canadians."

Slotek said the study found that in Nordic countries, and in a growing number of European countries, that percentage is higher. But the study did not investigate whether democratic satisfaction is higher in those countries as a result.

The report is one of a series being released by the institute, an independent and "non-partisan" organization that launched last June to gauge the well-being of Canadians on the basis of eight broad social indicators, not just economic ones.

It recommends ways to increase the influence of citizens' voices in politics, including greater use of citizen assemblies to shape public policy; more civics education in the core school curriculum; making voting easier and accessible; and mentoring programs for "promising leaders from diverse communities" to learn how to organize political campaigns or run for office.

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