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, February 23, 2014

Political Participation and Perception

In their latest report “By Invitation Only:Canadians’ Perceptions of Political Parties” Samara, the measuring democracy people, identified six key roles of political parties’ functions in three main areas. In a survey concentrating upon the areas of Elections, Engagement & Policy they asked their respondents to rate the performance of Canadian political parties on each of them. The results indicate that political parties are not doing well in any of these areas.
  1. Recruiting candidates and competing in elections - 43% grade
  2. Encouraging people to vote – 46% grade
  3. Hearing ideas from party members – 54% grade
  4. Reaching out to Canadians so their views can be represented – 50% grade
  5. Coming up with new policy ideas and solutions – 49% grade
  6. Explaining what the party stands for – 53% grade

There was little difference in the grades from the approximately 10% of respondents who were members of a political party. The only surprise to me was that they scored so high! This is not to say that all political parties are doing this bad in outreach to the voting public but that the public perception is that they are not doing a good job. I suspect that a great deal of this is brought on by the various governing parties, provincial and federal, who increasingly seem to be ignoring public opinion and needs in favour of international and corporate needs and wants. This leave the average citizens with the feeling that anything they may say or do has no impact upon the politicians and thus they ignore any attempt to have dialogue about these things. You may draw you own conclusions by reading their PDF report here.

In their conclusions Samara says
The survey results show that Canadians value engagement, suggesting that those parties that genuinely try to hear, involve and represent them will be rewarded in the form of votes, fundraising
dollars and party members. But to see themselves involved in a party, Canadians need an invitation that will get them past that closed door. At the moment, parties’ operations and priorities are often
opaque, even to those arguably inside the system, such as MPs.
This transformation will take time and will not be easy, yet there are simple first steps parties could take to open that door and let in some light.“

One such suggestion they make is that the dates and locations of local riding association meetings be more widely available, and presumably open to the general public. As a member of one such EDA who holds and advertises such open meetings, has an online forum where members can voice their oppinion and a facebook page where anyone can post I can say with a fair degree of certainty that its not that easy. Despite the opportunity to become 'involved' neither those who were interested to become members or the general public show much interest. In broad terms and using figures from around the time of the 2011 election less than 5% of those who supported our particular party during the election ever 'joined' the party, and that figure declines considerably between elections, of that number less than 10% regularly attend a meeting or otherwise join in the activities of the EDA and even then it is rare that fresh faces are seen. Likewise it is rare to have interested members of the public to show any interest despite efforts to include them during meetings. The members forum is largely unused and only one or two individuals actually contribute to it, the parties national site which provides similar opportunities for members to participate is similarity little used, the percentage of the general public who actually WANT to have input seems to be VERY small. I cannot say if this is typical as such numbers from the various parties are not generally available, something which Samara says would “allow Canadians to see the quantity and diversity of party members.”

I suspect this is all brought on by Canadians being sick and tired of beating their heads against an uncaring brick wall, a situation being encouraged by the current federal regime with their ever expanding attacks upon our democratic institutions and practises. Citizens are becoming increasingly disengaged, a situation that Samara has studied before and one which I have reported upon here some time ago. Its hard to 'measure' democracy particularly when its equally hard to define democracy but these folks are trying and I recommend that you read some of their earlier reports (see the pull down menu under 'research') even if they do confirm what most of us know intuitively. I have earlier made some suggestions as to some of the things that perhaps they should be measuring on an ongoing basis to more clearly see the changes taking place and hope to see such data in future reports.

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Owen Gray said...

The Samara report is disturbing, Rural. The question is, "Do the parties get the message?"

Rural said...

As I say in the article it is indeed disturbing that so few citizens actually 'participate' when they do have a chance to do so. How we can change this is the other question, democracy requires more input that simply voting every few years.