The democracy deficit in canada

Joseph Heath
University of Toronto, St. George
The past decade has seen intensified calls for the reform of democratic political institutions in Canada, on the grounds that there is a “democracy deficit” at the level of federal politics. Some commentators have even begun to describe the country as a “banana republic,” or a “friendly dictatorship.”1 Yet any attempt to assess the state of democracy in Canada must naturally presuppose some theory of what democracy is – how to identify it, and how to tell whether it is performing well or not. Unfortunately, there is no widely accepted theoretical account of what makes democracies democratic – or more specifically, there is no account of precisely how democratic institutions serve to confer legitimacy upon the power of the state. Public debate in Canada over the “democracy deficit” has been implicitly dominated by the populist tradition, which identifies democracy with the practice of voting. Thus most of the proposals for correcting the democracy deficit involve having more people vote on more issues, more often. Yet democratic societies function through a complex set of institutions and practices, which include but are not limited to the practice of voting. Democratic societies are also characterized by the rule of law, the protection of individual rights and liberties, the freedom of assembly and debate, a free press, competitive political parties, consultative and deliberative exercises, and a wide variety of representative institutions. If any of these elements were absent, we would hesitate to say that the society was fully democratic.
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