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As fall elections loom, are fears for CanadaSA国际影视传媒檚 state of democracy justified?

Some of the most prominent concerns have emerged from allegations of foreign interference
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023. The Conservative party is maintaining a steady lead over Prime Minister Justin TrudeauSA国际影视传媒檚 Liberals, a recent poll suggests, at a time when Canadians are reporting limited trust in their institutions. The Canadian Press file photo/Sean Kilpatrick

At ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day in France a month ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered a warning about the state of democracy.

It was, he said on Juno Beach, SA国际影视传媒渟till under threat today, SA国际影视传媒 threatened by aggressors who want to redraw borders. It is threatened by demagogy, misinformation, disinformation, foreign interference.SA国际影视传媒

With Canadians poised to go to the polls in at least three provincial elections this fall, and a federal vote due next year, concerns about the strength of democracy are being raised on multiple fronts.

But is CanadaSA国际影视传媒檚 democracy truly under threat? Political scientists say while Canadian politics and institutions are facing a myriad of concerns, the situation isnSA国际影视传媒檛 dire overall.

SA国际影视传媒淔rom a comparative standpoint, CanadaSA国际影视传媒檚 democracy is quite robust, and itSA国际影视传媒檚 quite strong from an institutional standpoint, in the sense that our elections are overall perceived as being fair,SA国际影视传媒 said Daniel B茅land, director of McGill UniversitySA国际影视传媒檚 Institute for the Study of Canada.

SA国际影视传媒淏ut again, it depends on what youSA国际影视传媒檙e looking at.SA国际影视传媒

Some of the most prominent concerns have emerged from allegations of foreign interference.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has accused Trudeau of SA国际影视传媒渁cting against CanadaSA国际影视传媒檚 interestSA国际影视传媒 for his handling of the allegations, while NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Trudeau had sent a message that he is SA国际影视传媒渨illing to accept some level of foreign interference,SA国际影视传媒 weakening democracy and undermining the confidence of Canadians.

Trudeau and the NDP, meanwhile, accused the Conservatives of undermining democratic institutions by trying to oust House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus in May.

There was also an April cybersecurity attack on British Columbia government email addresses, which the province said was likely the work of a SA国际影视传媒渟tate or state-sponsoredSA国际影视传媒 actor.

Premier David Eby asked Trudeau this month for access to information from CanadaSA国际影视传媒檚 spy agency to help protect the people of the province and its democratic institutions.

B.C. goes to the polls on Oct. 19, while the New Brunswick election is set for two days later and the Saskatchewan election is Oct. 28. In Nova Scotia, Premier Tim Houston has cast doubt on whether heSA国际影视传媒檒l stick with a fixed election date next summer, amid speculation of an early election.

Near-perfect score

In a 2023 report by democracy watchdog Freedom House, Canada scored a near-perfect 98 out of 100, losing points only for QuebecSA国际影视传媒檚 Bill 21 that bans some government employees from wearing religious symbols, and inequalities facing Indigenous and black communities.

The German Sustainable Governance Indicators project ranked CanadaSA国际影视传媒檚 quality of democracy 10th in the world, again noting inequality with Indigenous communities as well as SA国际影视传媒渃ash-for-accessSA国际影视传媒 meetings between politicians and donors as areas of concern.

Patrick Fafard, professor of social sciences at the graduate school of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, said while the international rankings are encouraging, it is clear there are areas that must be addressed to maintain a high-quality democracy.

Fafard said one of the most visible changes in Canadian politics is the increasing pressure on politicians to engage in SA国际影视传媒渟hort-term, chase-the-news-cycleSA国际影视传媒 partisan rhetoric, which not only corrodes public trust in government but also can be prone to misinformation.

SA国际影视传媒淚 think I can say quite confidently that ISA国际影视传媒檓 more concerned now than I would have been, say, 10 or 20 years ago,SA国际影视传媒 Fafard said. SA国际影视传媒淭hereSA国际影视传媒檚 a constant challenge that politicians are tempted to engage in sloganeering and simple solutions, but problems are complex.

SA国际影视传媒淭he current controversy over foreign interference is a wonderful example of that,SA国际影视传媒 he said.

The problem SA国际影视传媒渋s not one that can be solved by finger-pointing and trying to apportion blame,SA国际影视传媒 he said.

SA国际影视传媒淚t requires that politicians think in the medium to long term and ask, SA国际影视传媒榳hat can we do to first address the problem but also maintain the publicSA国际影视传媒檚 confidence in elections?SA国际影视传媒

SA国际影视传媒淎nd that is a different question than, SA国际影视传媒榟ow can I turn this to my short-term advantage?SA国际影视传媒橲A国际影视传媒

University of Toronto professor emeritus of history Robert Bothwell said angry, almost vitriolic, language in Canadian politics shouldnSA国际影视传媒檛 be concerning. It isnSA国际影视传媒檛 a new phenomenon, he said, and other periods have experienced even more contentious rhetoric.

SA国际影视传媒淚f you look back to First World War, Canadian politics were incredibly confrontational and very nasty,SA国际影视传媒 Bothwell said. SA国际影视传媒淧eople accusing each other of treason, and cartoons appeared in papers that I think could reasonably be described as racist.SA国际影视传媒

Election denialism south of the border

Fafard agreed that rhetoric and misinformation driven by populism isnSA国际影视传媒檛 new SA国际影视传媒 what is new is that it is being SA国际影视传媒渃o-ordinated and funded in a way that weSA国际影视传媒檝e never ever seen before.SA国际影视传媒

Such trends elsewhere SA国际影视传媒 especially NovemberSA国际影视传媒檚 U.S. presidential election SA国际影视传媒 are also influencing the Canadian political landscape, he said.

Donald TrumpSA国际影视传媒檚 bid to return to power has coincided with election denialism in the U.S. Congress.

A new report released last month by States United Action, a group that tracks election deniers, said nearly one-third of the lawmakers in the U.S. Congress supported in some way TrumpSA国际影视传媒檚 bid to overturn the 2020 presidential election results or otherwise cast doubt on the reliability of elections. Several more are hoping to join them, running for election this year to the house and senate.

SA国际影视传媒淚t is an incredibly troubling phenomenon in the U.S. context, SA国际影视传媒 where politicians are going out of their way to raise public doubt about the elections and electoral interference,SA国际影视传媒 Fafard said.

He noted, however, that Canada does not appear to have anywhere near the same level of cynicism about public institutions, and similar strains on democracy shouldnSA国际影视传媒檛 appear in the short and medium term.

SA国际影视传媒淚n the long term, ISA国际影视传媒檓 not sure,SA国际影视传媒 Fafard said. SA国际影视传媒淭he more this goes on in the United States, the more influence you will have over time. But at least in the short term, I think weSA国际影视传媒檙e somewhat insulated, at least from the extreme argument that says our elections canSA国际影视传媒檛 be trusted.SA国际影视传媒

Fafard said it is important for Canada to address SA国际影视传媒渞oot causesSA国际影视传媒 of mistrust. He said angry political rhetoric during the First World War and before the Second World War was driven by economic dislocation, and policymakers should address current economic vulnerability felt by many in the country.

B茅land said while there are concerns about democracies abroad, solutions may also come from beyond CanadaSA国际影视传媒檚 borders when it comes to maintaining democracy.

He said compulsory voting in Australia was an example of the type of electoral reform that Canada could examine.

SA国际影视传媒淲e should look at the reforms that have been adopted in other countries to address the democratic deficit or the apparent democratic crisis, and see whether these policies are working or not,SA国际影视传媒 B茅land said.

SA国际影视传媒淎nd if they are working, we can look into maybe adapting some of these policies so that we should not really start from the perspective that we are unique and our problems donSA国际影视传媒檛 exist elsewhere.SA国际影视传媒

SA国际影视传媒擝y Chuck Chiang, The Canadian Press, with files from The Associated Press



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