This has been a hard year for democracy. A poll by PEW Research Center in 2020 found that faith in democracy around the world is on the decline, and in some surprising places: More than half of people surveyed in the U.K., the United States, France and Japan said they were dissatisfied with the way democracy is working in their country. The dissatisfaction is highest in places where trust in politicians is lowest.
Similar polls point to higher levels of trust in Canada, but also worrying declines in some parts of the country, notably in Alberta.
We don’t have to look farther than our neighbours to the south to see how quickly poison can spread through a democratic system. When leadership fails to rise to the occasion and politics is seen as a combat sport between enemies, rather than a work in progress between fellow citizens, the shared belief in a seemingly unshakeable system begins to break down.
At the heart of our parliamentary democracy are elected officials. They are supposed to represent the hopes, concerns and priorities of the constituents who send them to work, and they must serve as the targets of blame and anger when things go wrong. During this time of historic crisis—a pandemic that is killing thousands of Canadians, an economic collapse that has taken away the livelihoods of many more—there is much to be angry about. Indeed, a level of skepticism about the work politicians do is a healthy and necessary part of our system.
But politicians are also the people who day in and day out, through endless committee meetings, work in their constituencies and through public debate, do the work of government. Along with dedicated public servants, they have toiled long hours to bring Canadians emergency relief programs and provide the reassurance of a steady hand at the wheel. At the best of times, a politician’s work requires sacrifice—long stretches away from home and family. It is work performed by people who have committed their lives to public service.
That is why Maclean’s believes it important to pause and applaud the work of Canada’s elected officials, as we have done for the past 12 years with our Parliamentarians of the Year awards. The winners of these awards are chosen by Members of Parliament themselves. Those honoured have earned the support from both sides of the aisle of the House of Commons. (Here are this year’s nominees as well as the winners from past years).
As we said in 2006, the first year we held these awards, “It’s the efforts of the MP that make the difference between a system that works, and one that leaves the public alienated and cynical.”
This year that message is more important than ever.