Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Canadians Don't Think Politicians Debate Important Issues Well.

The fundamental underpinning of an effective democracy is debate amongst citizens as well as their elected representatives. The belief is that an informed and engaged citizenry will make for better democracy and better governance because, as the theory goes, the quality and substance of the public debate will create these preferred outcomes.

According to an April 11, 2008 Ipsos Reid release of on-line survey results 77% of Canadians think this is not happening in Canada. Only a third believes our politicians are doing a god job of debating the important issues facing Canadians. Ouch…considering that is a large part of why we elect them. And, just as bad, 79% of us think that we Canadians are “too reserved” as a people when it comes to debating important issues.

These findings are at the heart of some of the reasons why citizens are not participating in elections and the political culture of the country. On the up side, 86% of Canadians “enjoy being exposed to people and ideas that challenge the way they look at the world.” Perhaps our political parties, our public intellectuals and thought-leaders need to get out more and start talking to people where they live, work and try to raise a family.

The media is seen as doing a good or great job on thinking about the issues by 65% of Canadians, but 66% see NGO’s in this positive light. Not bad but 73% see more awareness and thoughtfulness about important issues coming from friends and family and 72% see universities as thoughtfully engaged in the issues of the day. The church is no seen as a source of thinking on issues – 63% say they do a poor to terrible job in this area.

In a time when it is hard to find an institution in our society that has not lied to us or betrayed our trust in some significant way it is not surprising to see these result. The gut-check most of us political activists do around civic engagement and political participation is confirmed by this survey. This authentication of the collective intuitive sense of what is happening to and in our body-politic does not alleviate the problem but it sure brings it into a sharper focus.

A comprehensive and contentious citizen engagement initiative that is not a tepid tinkering with the electoral process is an idea whose time has come. I hope the Stelmach government with consider such a genuine trans-partisan effort to understand why our democracy seems to be failing our citizens and our society and adding to cynicism as the default political position of so many people