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Democracy is retreating everywhere, including in Canada


This whole episode is a good illustration of the deterioration that democracy has undergone in recent years. A trend amplified by the pandemic, according to the Democracy Index in 2021, published on February 10 by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

Canada is no exception to this erosion. The country fell seven places, slipping from 5th to 12th place, with a score of 8.87 out of 10, compared to 9.24 out of 10 in 2020.

If our country remains a full and complete democracy (according to the definition of the EIU), the decline is still worrying, says Andrew Potter, associate professor at the Max Bell School of Public Policy at McGill University. How does he explain this deterioration?

What has happened over the past two years is that the Prime Minister has basically shut down Parliament for a long time and has been keen to limit the opposition as much as he can, believes the researcher. The House sat for a historically low number of days, he recalls.

When those who disagree with government decisions can no longer express themselves within the framework provided, they will seek other means of being heard, in the streets if necessary. By taking the decision to eliminate the expression of the opposition within the institutions, Mr. Trudeau is therefore directly responsible for what happensbelieves Mr. Potter. His attitude towards Parliament was contemptuous and dismissive, argues the researcher. What is happening on the streets of Ottawa today is, to a large extent, a direct result of that. When people feel that their opinion is ignored or disregarded, it is likely to breed anger.

If you deliberately wanted to make Canada a less democratic country, it would be difficult to do anything other than what the Prime Minister has done for the past two years. »

A quote from Andrew Potter, Associate Professor at McGill University’s Max Bell School of Public Policy

Various polls over the past few months reveal frustration with pandemic restrictions, declining trust in political parties and rising support for undemocratic alternatives.

Americanization of Canadian Politics

Another trend noted in the report is a growing Americanization of Canadian politics.

Canada’s deteriorating score raises questions about whether it could begin to suffer from some of the same afflictions as its American neighbor, such as extremely low levels of public trust in political parties and government institutions.write the authors of the report.

People hold up a poster with the faces of Justin Trudeau and François Legault crossed out.

People demonstrate in front of Parliament Hill in Ottawa on January 30, 2022.

Photo: TurnedNews.com / Ivanoh Demers

Is polarization, considered the greatest threat to American democracy, lurking in Canada too?

Certainly, answers Jennifer Wolowic, head of the Strengthening Canadian Democracy initiative at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, who believes that this trend is already very present here.

For some people, politics saturates their entire daily experience. My vote is no longer just one aspect of my identity among others; now [le parti pour lequel je vote ] is my team.

Polarization, she points out, isn’t just about having different ideas, it’s more about the animosity we feel toward those who don’t think like us.

When one group doesn’t like another because of their ideas, that’s polarization. This idea that we can’t talk to each other because of our differences is growing. »

A quote from Jennifer Wolowic, of the Morris J. Wosk Center for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University

When we only talk to those who share our ideas, we fail to develop our critical thinking, she believes. Right now, we’re siled and only talk to people who agree with us, so we lose our ability to unpack the bases of our beliefs and compromise.

According to François Gélineau, holder of the Research Chair on Democracy and Parliamentary Institutions at Laval University, the most worrying thing is radicalization. There’s an inhibition that fallshe says, citing threats of gun violence at the Quebec City protest.

Is this manipulation? Is it true? In either case, it is worrying because, in a democratic society, it is a gesture that should be impossible. »

A quote from François Gélineau, holder of the Research Chair in Democracy and Parliamentary Institutions at Université Laval

Even more alarming, according to him, is to see political actors exploiting the feeling of exclusion experienced by certain citizens for partisan ends. There are people who do not feel represented by the institutions at all. But does that mean that the institutions should be brushed aside?he asks himself.

A bearded man with makeup is waving different flags while shouting.

The anger is palpable among some protesters.

Photo: Getty Images/Scott Olson

The myth of Canadian exceptionalism is outdated, believes Andrew Potter. We had this idea that those things didn’t happen here. Well, we’re realizing that we’re not that special.

There is nothing unique to Canada or Canadian values ​​that prevents us from following the same trends [que nos voisins du Sud]. »

A quote from Andrew Potter, Associate Professor at McGill University’s Max Bell School of Public Policy

A global phenomenon

The erosion of democracy is not new, here as in other Western societies, recalls François Gélineau. For several years, there has been a decline in trust in institutions and elites, as well as a decline in satisfaction with democracyhe remarks.

The measures taken to combat the pandemic have accelerated this process, the EIU report points out. In particular, last year we observed an unprecedented withdrawal of civil liberties, for example restrictions on movement and the introduction of proof of vaccination to access certain services. The pandemic has also led to normalization of emergency powers […] and accustomed citizens to a huge extension of state power over vast areas of public and personal life.

The sharp decline that began in 2020, during the first year of the pandemic, continued in 2021.

A poster depicting Jair Bolsonaro with half of his face as Adolf Hitler.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro is known for his attacks on democratic institutions.


The pandemic has had a negative impact on the quality of democracy in all regions of the world, writes the EIU again. This is particularly true in Latin America, where several countries have experienced regressions, particularly in terms of political culture. This reflects public dissatisfaction with the handling of the pandemic, coupled with growing skepticism about the ability of democratic governments to deal with the problems facing the region, and increased tolerance for authoritarianism. Figures like Jair Bolsonaro, in Brazil, Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, in Mexico, and Nayib Bukele, in El Salvador, are the illustration, underlines the EIU.

Less than half of the inhabitants of the planet live in one of the 74 countries considered more or less democratic and less than 10% in a true democracy.

The global average is 5.37 out of 10, the lowest score since the index was created in 2006.

The Scandinavian countries remain at the top of the ranking, while Spain and Chile join France and the United States in the category of failing democracies. Is Canada likely to find itself there too?

Andrew Potter fears the persistence of some problematic behaviors that have emerged during the pandemic. One of the problems with the Canadian system is that there is very little written, he believes. Once a certain institutional floor has been reached, neither the party in power nor the opposition has much interest in returning to normal. So standards tend to erode, but not to rebuild, he laments.

Once you have established standards that Parliament does not need to sit for most of the year, that after an election you do not have to be in the House for two or three months and that it is not necessary for ministers to be in the Commons to meet, what arguments do you have for returning as before?

Vigilance will therefore be required so that this exceptional situation does not become the new normal.

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