Friday, 30 September 2011
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Friday, 6 May 2011
It would be a mistake to think of youth in Canada as a homogeneous group; although they share similar challenges, experiences and norms as a result of their age, there are many additional factors that are likely to result in variation in their willingness and capacity to engage in the political and civic worlds. Age is but one element of youth identity; the interplay between the various roles and identities that shape engagement is complex, interesting and worthy of additional research attention. Among these elements are education, income, gender, Aboriginal status, ethnicity and immigrant status, and each has received too little focused attention among researchers who examine engagement.
Tuesday, 3 May 2011
Saturday, 30 April 2011
Of all the issues that have been raised during the federal election campaign – from the economy to the state of Canadian democracy to corporate tax cuts – what has been noticeably absent has been any discussion of Aboriginal issues. This is disturbing, given that, in the words of Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Shawn Atleo, “First Nations issues matter to all Canadians”. Some progress has been made in certain areas; the federal government’s apology for the residential schools policy and its decision to finally ratify the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples are two examples that come to mind. Nonetheless, deep social and economic gaps continue to exist between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada, that in the end weaken us all as a country. Pick any measure – infant mortality rates; incidence of chronic illness; lack of access to affordable housing, clean drinking water and economic development opportunities; high school and post-secondary education dropout rates; unemployment levels; crime rates; poverty – and the figures for Aboriginal peoples far exceed those for the non-Aboriginal population. The “to-do” list confronting Canadians as we work towards undoing two centuries of colonization, assimilation and tragedy not only remains daunting, but serves as a constant reminder of the extent to which our political leaders continue to fail thousands of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples across this country.
Unfortunately, the lack of discussion of issues related to outstanding treaty and lands claims, harvesting rights, self-government, education and economic development to name just a few is only one aspect of the problem. The other concerns the ongoing marginalization of Aboriginal people from Canadian political institutions and processes. While it has been over half a century since Inuit and First Nations people gained the right to vote in federal elections, Canada’s Aboriginal peoples remain some of the most disenfranchised citizens in the entire country. While data on Aboriginal voting rates in Canada is quite limited, with wide variations across provinces and communities, from the evidence that is available it is clear that First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations participate in federal elections at a much lower rate than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. In the 2000 election, for example, the national Aboriginal vote stood at 48%, 16% lower than the non-Aboriginal voting rate, while in 2008, barely 10% of all eligible on-reserve voters cast their ballot.
While Aboriginal people are the fastest growing demographic group in Canada, they also constitute a significant percentage of the population in numerous ridings across the country. According to Elections Canada, over 25 ridings in the country have Aboriginal populations of over 10%. Nunavut, of course, is the riding that most comes to mind with an almost 80% Aboriginal population, but ridings such as Kenora-Rainy River (25% Aboriginal); Athabasca (20%) and Winnipeg North Centre and Regina-Qu’Appelle (both 14%) also demonstrate the extent to which Aboriginal votes could increasingly influence election outcomes now and into the future.
While some challenge whether Aboriginal people should even participate in federal and provincial elections to begin with (given that these represent “white man’s” systems, as opposed to First Nations, Métis and Inuit modes of governance), there has also been a concerted effort on the part of the Aboriginal leadership in Canada to encourage their citizens to vote. Websites of the national organizations representing Canada’s Aboriginal population (the Métis National Council, the Assembly of First Nations and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami) all contain information on the upcoming election and the Aboriginal platforms of each of the major political parties. Facebook sites have also been created encouraging young Aboriginal voters to get out and cast their ballots; an especially important message given that the fastest growing segment within the Aboriginal population are youth under the age of 25.
Whether Aboriginal Canadians choose to participate in this election or not, one thing is clear. As Joseph Quesnel, a Métis policy analyst with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy stated to the Aboriginal blog Media Indigena, “just because you don’t take an interest in politics, doesn’t mean politics will take an interest in you. You become part of someone else’s design for political life.” If we are truly going to build a democracy inclusive of all of peoples – most notably our First Peoples – it is critical that these voices be heard. By casting a ballot on Monday, this is one way in which Aboriginal peoples can help ensure that their issues – which are really Canadian issues – finally get heard.
Sunday, 24 April 2011
As Canadians we hold the values of equal opportunity, fairness, and democracy extremely close to our hearts. Yet when we look at our elected legislatures, we see that women remain vastly underrepresented all across the country. It might shock some people to know that while women make up a majority of the Canadian population (52%), they comprise only 22% of all elected MPs in the House of Commons. This figure hasn’t budged all that much over the past few decades – in 1993, the percentage of female MPs stood at 18%. What does this mean in the broader picture? Canada ranks 48th in the world in terms of the number of female parliamentarians – below most countries in Europe, but nonetheless still better than the United States (which shares the dubious prize of being tied for 67th place with Turkmenistan).
Aside from basic issues of equity and fairness, does this gender gap matter? The short answer is yes. Women bring different perspectives to the decision-making table, as well as different policy priorities based on their own experiences. Studies also show that women tend to “do politics” differently, in terms of their greater likelihood to seek consensus, work collaboratively with others, and to value negotiation, respect and dialogue in their dealings with opposing members.
A number of proposals aimed at addressing the underrepresentation of women in our political system have been advanced, including legislated quotas, a revamped electoral system (from first-past the post to some form of proportional representation), and targeted subsidies aimed at leveling the financial playing field for female candidates. While these measures may help encourage more women to run for office, on a deeper, more troubling level is what political scientist Sylvia Bashevkin calls the “women plus power equals discomfort” equation – the sense that politics in Canada is still a man’s game. That a double standard exists in terms of how female politicians are treated, especially by the media, has been amply validated by numerous empirical studies and research findings. At the same time, many women are turned off from the idea of running by the crass, attack-style kind of politics which has unfortunately come to dominate the political scene in Canada. We thus find ourselves in a catch-22: if we want to change how we engage in politics, we need a more representative and inclusive political system. But in order to get to that point, we need to change how we do politics in this country.
Equal Voice, a non-partisan national lobby group focused on increasing the number of women elected to political office in Canada, reports that a record number of women (407) are running as candidates in the current federal election. This represents 31% of all candidates; a new Canadian high (in the 2008 election, just under 28% of candidates were women). Maybe, just maybe, on May 2 we can begin to crack through the electoral glass ceiling that still shuts out more than half of the Canadian population. And maybe in the process we can also make public office an honourable calling once again in our country.
Kelly Saunders, Brandon University
Tuesday, 19 April 2011
Wednesday, 13 April 2011
Why do we see so many lawn signs during Canadian election campaign? Mostly because candidates and the people that run local campaigns in Canadian elections think they are important. Local campaigners place great importance on deploying more signs than their opponents, and on deploying them strategically around the ridings.
Once the election writs are dropped, these local campaigners immediately start to hand out signs. They retrieve lists of people that hosted signs in previous elections and have volunteers call them to see if they would like to host one in this campaign. Once they have a list of locations, the campaigners plot how to deploy signs throughout the riding, in order to maximize the likelihood that residents will see them. Volunteers are then given the addresses and the signs are pounded into the ground—usually, willing hosts arrive home from work surprised to discover that a volunteer has arrived and planted a sign in their front lawn. Once these are handed out, local campaigns think about how to fill in the gaps.
There are two primary benefits of lawn signs, from the perspective of these local campaigners. First, it lends candidates an aura of momentum. This is why candidates value lawn signs over highway signs: one volunteer can pound in a hundred highway signs, but lawn signs actually signal solid support. Second, lots of lawn signs deflate opposing campaigns. Volunteers can easily feel swamped and discouraged if they see many opposition signs throughout the riding.
In every campaign, the media seizes on stories of defaced signs. This occurred in Ottawa during this campaign, with someone ominously painting crosshairs on signs. However, it’s very unlikely that volunteers from other campaigns were involved, or that they methodically go about defacing signs from other campaigns. They know what an undertaking it is to put up signs, and they also know that the finger will always be pointed at them if signs are defaced.
Thursday, 7 April 2011
Saturday, 2 April 2011
But the bravado and conflict that make up coverage of election campaigns and the day-to-day workings of Parliament obscure another type of important work that Canadian MPs perform: constituency service. Politicians maintain constituency offices and staff so that they can respond to requests for help on a range of issues. In urban ridings, for example, MPs and their staff respond to many requests for assistance on immigration and citizenship issues; for example, one Toronto MP has a staff member who works full-time on these issues. Other MPs provide assistance navigating government regulations, on taxes, for example. You might have even turned to MPs and their staff for assistance in the past.
MPs put a lot of effort into this "social worker" function of their job because, while they're not sure that doing so helps them get re-elected, they are sure that failing to help out constituents can hurt when they run for office again. But that's not the only reason that MPs put so much effort into helping constituents. In his book Mr. Smith Goes to Ottawa, David Docherty reported from interviews that MPs put effort into service because they think that this is the most rewarding aspect of the job. In other words, MPs like to help people in need (more than they like sitting in the House of Commons yelling at each other), and they put alot of effort into doing so.
When MPs and their staff focus on a particular problem, they can make a real difference in the lives of ordinary Canadians. Anecdotes always help drive these points home. Mitchel Raphael has an exceptionally persuasive account (it's only a paragraph long), starring Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan with Conservative Jason Kenney in a supporting role.
It's tough to dislike all politicians after reading accounts like this. This is especially true when you consider that less dramatic but similar scenarios play out every single day in riding offices across Canada. Maybe in this campaign it's time for us to spend less time paying attention to Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff double-dog-daring one another to debates, and more attention to the candidates in our ridings that are going to be playing important service roles after the election (and the debates) are over.
Thursday, 31 March 2011
Is the system performing so well that citizens feel little reason to engage, or are our standards set so low that we demand very little from our leaders, institutions, and ourselves?
On the other hand, provinces with high levels of voter turnout need not feature highly satisfied electorates. On the same types of questions, for instance, Saskatchewan residents reported significantly higher rates of political cynicism. Unlike their eastern neighbours, who seem content to stay home, historically Saskatchewan voters appear willing to head to the polls despite (or perhaps because) they are relatively less satisfied with politics as usual. Again, this raises the question of whether the Saskatchewan political system is performing more poorly than Manitoba’s, or whether Saskatchewan residents have much higher democratic standards.
Join in our discussion with Loleen Berdahl (University of Saskatchewan), Elisabeth Gidengil (McGill University), and Mebs Kanji (Concordia University), as they address the many myths and misconceptions surrounding civic engagement in Canada. Our speakers will also take part in an all-day conference on “Duff Roblin’s Legacy: Civic Engagement in Manitoba”, to be held at St. John’s College on Monday, April 4th. The day culminates in the 2011 Templeton Lecture on Democracy, delivered at 7:30pm by Professor Emeritus Paul Thomas. For more information on these events, please visit: umanitoba.ca/u2011 and mipr.ca.
Wednesday, 30 March 2011
It's often called the "horse race": the leaders of the political parties are the horses, and we are the spectators. The increase in the number of public opinion polls being undertaken and reported on during an election campaign is supposed to show us how the leaders and the parties are doing with potential voters. However, do the polls really accomplish this? Are all polls equal? Is this really a useful thing for us as citizens to pay attention to during an election?
Leading pollsters recently engaged in a very public argument about whether or not public opinion polling really matters anymore for election campaigns - and particularly in horserace situations. Joan Bryden of the Canadian Press did an excellent series of articles (start here) that examined the state of polling in federal elections. Dr. Andre Turcotte from Carleton University (and former pollster for the Reform Party) argues that methodological issues with public opinion polls have become so common that political parties are using more nuanced tools that they can use to gather information (or “market intelligence) about how people may vote, what messaging might influence them in the voting process, and to convey information that the parties (or their supporters) want citizens to have. This makes public opinion polling irrelevant for most. This opinion is shared by other well-respected pollsters, such as Frank Graves of EKOS. However, Ipsos Reid’s John Wright and Darrell Bricker suggest that polling still provides valuable information for political parties and for citizens, as long as the information is reported accurately in the media.
Let's focus on who participates in polls as a starting point. Methods of gathering public opinion - including polling - have been criticized for as long as they have been used. In order for a poll to be scientifically valid, we rely on the people selected to take part in the poll to be representative of people in the country or area to be surveyed and we expect that the people who participate are randomly selected. This means that each person of a target population (for example, the population of Manitoba residents aged 18 and older) should have an equal chance (and only one chance) to be selected to participate. Ensuring that we have that accurate sampling of people in our target population has become more and more difficult.
For example, in 21st century Canada, telephone-based polling has been challenged by a number of developments. First, is the growth of cell phone use, which limits how many people can be reached through the phone while also increasing the number of people who may have both a land line and a cell phone, and those who have only a cell phone. We have seen a decline in response rates - the proportion of people who will participate in a survey or poll - because fewer people will answer the phone to participate in a poll. Third, the exponential growth of online polling -which usually involves pools of people who are willing to participate in a poll without necessarily being representative of the entire population - means that we cannot use traditional methods of calculating whether or not who is interviewed really represents the population.
This means that the people who participate in polls - who provide their opinions to pollsters - often vary. We are more likely to see older people, particularly women, participating in telephone polls. Just think of who you know that won't answer the phone for a survey researcher! And then think about who you know - usually younger people - who do not have landlines, but instead have only cell phones. They are very unlikely to be part of a telephone poll. In online polls, pollsters note that we're more likely to see younger, professional, and well-educated people represented in most online communities.
Having said that, there are strategies that pollsters can use to ensure that the information they provide is solid. Less frequent polls - rather than the ones done every day - can shed some very interesting light on what members of the public are thinking. Focusing on one specific area - such as a province - can also help. For those of us interested in Manitoba's involvement in the election, a recent poll done by Probe Research shows us how 1,000 Manitobans think about federal (and provincial) politics. In national-level polls, Manitobans are often grouped with Saskatchewan people because of the relatively small populations in both provinces, so this is a helpful way to focus in on Manitobans and their opinions.
In addition to the responsibilities of polling companies, members of the media have a tremendous responsibility to ensure that they are reporting the information from public opinion polls accurately and not creating a story where there isn't one. As consumers (and creators) of this information, we also have the responsibility to ensure that we understand what is being reported. I would also argue that if we want better information, we should make an effort to take part in telephone or online polls - particularly related to social, political, and economic issues - when we're called to do so.
Any comments? Do you answer the phone when you know that a survey research company is calling? Do you participate in online polls? Why or why not?