GUEST COLUMN: Democracy is fragile, so push candidates to protect it

Bob Sutton

Canadians are aware that toxic political “debates,” both during and between elections, are causing many of us to disrespect the institution of government and the processes of democracy itself.

Bob Sutton

It’s time we stopped letting platform promises be the sole focus of those seeking elected office. It’s time for us to question candidates directly on the fragility of democracy, and what they would do to revitalize it and re-engage voters.

Winning at all costs wins nothing if caustic conduct continues to erode the system itself.

Thoughtful voters are tired of the continuous condemnation in partisan politics, the demeaning political ads, and the deflection of questions to avoid answers or answers without substance. More and more they feel only disdain toward political figures and campaigns.

During this federal election, let’s take every opportunity to ask the candidates in Sarnia-Lambton some important questions.

For example, about 90% of Canadians do not belong to a political party, and among that huge majority, 64% say they would never consider joining one. What’s more, almost 60% of us think politicians want only our votes and donations, not real engagement. So let’s ask them, what specific things would you do to regain trust and encourage Canadians to feel they belong and are wanted in the political process?

Research also shows many MPs can’t figure out ways to have thoughtful discussions and effective personal contact with constituents. So let’s ask, what specific ideas do you have, beyond the typical mailbox flyers we all get, to engage more effectively and personally with constituents?

Several non-partisan citizen groups in Canada have identified the critical need for real civic literacy, not only among students, but also among adults. In 2020, journalist Patrick Chalmers noted that if we don’t understand how our democracy works we’ll never be able to fix it. So let’s ask, what do you see as the key things people need to understand about our democracy, and what would you do at the local level to promote civic literacy?

Two-thirds of MP’s agree that the behaviour we see in the House of Commons during Question Period is a “gong show.” So what would you do to promote better behaviour in the House and earn the respect of Sarnia-Lambton residents?

Democracy is fragile. Less than 6% of the world’s population live in a full democracy – 24 of 165 countries studied – and only 11% have full access to freely presented journalism.

In essence, it’s time to challenge the candidates with questions about sustaining our democracy long-term, and not just about platform promises to win votes in the moment.

Otherwise, although we might continue to vote every few years in the brief and frenetic tsunamis of campaign rhetoric, the core of our democracy will continue to erode into a hollow façade of pretention.

Bob Sutton is a Camlachie resident and long-time volunteer with the Samara Centre for Democracy, a non-partisan charity dedicated to promoting greater citizen participation.