A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Measuring Democracy

I recently caught Alison Loat of Samara, “a charitable organization that studies citizen engagement with the Canadian democracy”, on TVO's The Agenda taking about one of their projects, exit interviews with former Members of Parliament. Whilst it was interesting to hear some of the perspective from former MPs, of more interest was another project with which they “hope to strengthen the health of our democracy and encourage others to do the same”. They are developing a project to “measure democracy” something that, given that each of us sees not only the state of our democracy differently but even exactly what democracy actually is differently, is very difficult to do.

I am told it will take at least a year to develop the protocols to make such a measurement so don't hold your breath waiting for a startling report showing the decline which many of us feel has been taking place of late. I do hope however that you will support their efforts, for we do truly need a measure of where we stand in this regard. This all got me to thinking “how would I measure democracy”, is it the opportunity to have a small say in who runs the country, or province, or municipality, by voting for our choice of representatives in those particular governmental bodies every few years, or is it much more than that? Here then are a few suggestions of other measures that might be good indicators.

  • How closely do the results of an election follow the wishes of an electorate as measured by the number of seats in the various legislatures versus the popular or regional results?
  • Are smaller regions and minority populations adequately represented?
  • Is the pre-election process fair and equal for all candidates, do large partys, incumbents, highly funded individuals or partys have a unfair advantage over independents or small partys?
  • Can or does the incumbent government use public funds for partisan purposes?
  • Is information on government programs, spending, decisions & policy readily available to the general public?
  • What measures are in place to enhance, or suppress, information both public and internal?
  • Is access to information proactive or reactive, how closely do statements by government and political partys match the facts?
  • Are parliamentary processes fully documented and closely followed, how often are processes abused or ignored for political gain or idealogical reasons?
  • What percentage of votes in the legislatures are “whipped” and how often are our representatives free to vote their constituents wishes or personal beliefs?
  • Does the government of the day follow the wishes of the majority of MPs as per vote in the legislature how many passed motions are ignored or shelved by the government of the day?
  • Are arms length boards and commissions free to do their work without political interference, are said bodies open in their dealings and decisions?
  • How much information from government experts, bureaucrats and departments is altered or suppressed by the political arm of government.
  • Are Ministers and staff available to parliamentary committees when requested and free to testify without pressure by the government of the day.

I am sure I have missed some measurable things that give an indication of the state of our democracy so please add any you feel may be useful to the comment section. I will then make the folks at Samara aware of them in their efforts to get a handle on this.

You will note that I put a great deal of emphasis on the availability of accurate information, whilst process may be the the thing that we have to do correctly, information is the thing that allows us to see that it is being done. As James Travers said just this week :-
“Voters and taxpayers are vulnerable in an information vacuum. They have little empirical protection from the spin that away from here is known as lies. We the people have no consistent means of separating fact from fiction, reason from ideology or imminent dangers from imagined threats.”

Is our democracy in imminent danger, its hard to tell, thats what this project is all about.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

GlobalIntegrity.org has already come up with the most comprehensive measurement in the world of the democratic nature of a government, and Democracy Watch has completed two assessments of Canada's federal government.

You can see the assessments at:

Hope this helps,
Duff Conacher, Coordinator
Democracy Watch