The House: ‘Our democracy remains a work in progress’


Eight years ago, Stephane Dion delivered a speech on the “state of Canadian democracy” and quibbled variously with certain popular laments and remedies. He concluded with a nod to what he saw as one of the primary problems.

Let us return to the very worrisome example of declining voter turnout, a trend which is affecting democracies whether their regime is presidential or parliamentary, whether their electoral system allows for proportional representation or not. In Canada, this decline has been found to be statistically verifiable only among young people, that is, voters born after 1970, in particular among less-educated youth: “On the contrary, turnout has remained fairly stable among those who were born before 1970.” The same phenomenon seems to be occurring in the United States…

What is it then with our ability – or inability – to connect with and interest young people? We would all like to know the answer, but allow me to venture one hypothesis. Samuel Huntington has written that democracy bears within itself an anti-establishment ethic. The more the values of deference and respect for authority lose their hold on people to the benefit of the democratic values of liberty and equality, the more people tend to mistrust those who govern them. I believe it is primarily this values dynamic that is at the source of the “democratic malaise.”


The House: ‘Our democracy remains a work in progress’

  1. Of course, when Dion said it it sounded like this:

    lettuce redun to de vewy worsome…….

  2. I guess we can count you as one of the "less-educated youth"…

  3. Because the world is changing faster than our institutions can cope with.

  4. And this underlies why the CPC is so successful…they have willfully reduced parliament to gluttonous mouthpieces and have fortuitously become the primary source of income for many media outlets.

    The real issue is how to convey to these 30/40+ that we will be the ones paying out of pocket the policies (and lack thereof) instituted by this government that ironically wraps itself with the mantle of "conservative".

  5. Here's the troubling conclusion of the recent Library of Parliament study of youth voter turnout in Canada:

    A precipitous decline in electoral participation of those eligible to vote in their first one or two elections began after the 1984 federal general election. Analysis of trends in voter turnout and research into the non-voting behaviour of Canada's youngest eligible voters suggests that simply aging will not increase their propensity to vote, as might have been the case with past generations. Further, as these youngest non-voting generations do age, they are replacing older generations who have displayed a much higher propensity to vote than their replacements. The implication of this trend is that the overall voter turnout in Canada will continue to drop.

  6. You stay classy, San Diego.

  7. This is one of those social science studies that needs to be done over and over to test each possible hypothesis that arises from the results of the study previous.

    I'm not sure we can even get there directly. If you asked a 22 year old why they don't vote, I'm sure you would receive 12 different answers depending on when you ask them. Without an actual experience of having the motivation to vote, how can you come up with an internally rational answer to why you don't have it?

  8. OK, so let's hear you say it in your impeccable French…

  9. One day, Mr. Chrétien asked me if I liked working with him. I replied: "Not always". He asked me why not. I told him: "Because you don't always do what I ask you to." Which shows you just how unrepresentative my judgment is in this regard!

    lol…hadn't realized Dion could be that witty.

  10. The more the values of deference and respect for authority lose their hold on people to the benefit of the democratic values of liberty and equality, the more people tend to mistrust those who govern them.

    Monsieur Dion, you have just eloquently justified the USA's Declaration of Independence and Constitution. OF COURSE we should not trust our elected officials. That's why we need checks and balances, and why we need the ability for the citizenry to throw da bums out from time to time.

    How did we get from mistrust of elected officials to unwillingness to vote, though? I just read the whole speech (and it was well-thought out with a whole lot more useful remarks than what's clipped out above), and I cannot follow the logical leap in the conclusion (quoted above by Aaron) between mistrust and disengagement among young people. Does anyone seriously think older Canadians trust our elected reps much more?

  11. There are few political writers in Canada that I find more engaging and thought-provoking than Stephane Dion (Tom Courchene comes closest).

    We really missed a golden opportunity to elect a PM that holds parliament, federalism and democracy in the highest regard..and that's a damn shame.

  12. And yet proportional representation does give a significant boost in voter turnout (in general and on average). Not surprising. People are more likely to vote when their vote actually makes a difference.

    It also needs to be said that the rise of negative advertising, fueled by our winner-take-all voting system, creates widespread cynicism and distrust of politics and politicians. That’s what it’s for.

  13. Interesting question. I think people my age (okay, me) maybe trust until the trust is proven to be unfounded. But trust as the initial default position. I think people my daughter's age maybe don't do that the same way. I think they maybe need some sign of trustworthiness first, before they form any default position.

    And any of us here on these boards can point to signs of untrustworthiness among pretty much any politician. Now, my trust would question how much of those signs was 'spin' before defaulting to not trusting, but that may be all that's needed for my daughter's generation to default to not trusting and waiting from there to be proved wrong. And maybe until they get their 'proof' they disengage. But its just a theory.

  14. I don't think distrust is the issue. I vote precisely because I DON'T trust them, any of them. Perhaps younger people don't vote because they have an inappropiate level of optimism that "all that government stuff" will be looked after by someone else.

    It's not too much suspician, it's too little.

  15. Unless one of the main parties supports proportional representation, I will not be voting in the next federal election. I will not participate in an election that is not fair, nor leads to fairness.

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