Canada’s democracy is growing stronger thanks to robust engagement in politics among Canadians, but the global outlook is more troubling, according to a new report.
Canada rose to fifth place in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest democracy index, up from seventh place in 2019, marking the country’s highest ranking on the list since it began in 2006.
The report cited several surveys that suggest Canadians are relatively plugged in to the news and interested in politics, both domestically and the U.S. For instance, more than three-quarters of Canadians said they were either very or somewhat interested in the 2020 U.S. election, according to a poll by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies.
Voter turnout in the 2019 federal election was 67 per cent, the second-highest figure in the last seven elections, just shy of the 2015 turnout at 68 per cent.
But the report also cited the WE Charity scandal as a weak spot for Canada. The Liberal government faced intense scrutiny after awarding a contract for up to $43.5 million to the charity, which had ties to the families of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former finance minister Bill Morneau. Morneau resigned in the wake of the scandal and an ethics probe was launched.
COVID-19 appeared to have the strongest impact on Canada’s democracy score, according to the report, which cited government restrictions as dragging down Canada’s score for functioning of government. While lockdowns and public safety measures such as mask-wearing were adopted on the advice of public health experts, the report suggested that attempts to “censor” sceptics present serious problems.
“The withdrawal of civil liberties, attacks on freedom of expression and the failures of democratic accountability that occurred as a result of the pandemic are grave matters,” the report said, referring to worldwide concerns.
Modelling throughout the pandemic has repeatedly shown how targeted lockdown measures have directly reduced the number of people infected by COVID-19, and in turn, the number of deaths.
Globally, democracy is going through a difficult moment, according to the report. Nearly 70 per cent of countries recorded a drop in their total democracy score. Canada was an outlier, among the 22 per cent of countries that saw an improvement.
The report ranks countries on a scale of one to 10, and the average global score fell to 5.37, down from 5.44 — the worst global average since the index began. There are several reasons, but the report’s authors say government-imposed restrictions on personal freedoms to prevent the spread of COVID-19 played a large role.
Only about half of the world’s population lives in some sort of democracy, and only 8.4 per cent live in what is considered a “full democracy” — a label that reflects countries with stable political cultures, independent and diverse media and effective systems of checks and balances.
The United States fell from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” in the wake of the 2016 election and has yet to regain its spot. A flawed democracy is a state where free and fair elections are held but there remain significant weaknesses in other areas, such as problems in governance. Other “flawed democracies” include France, Israel, Italy and Greece.
In dead last on the list was North Korea, which scored zero points for electoral process and pluralism and civil liberties, with a 2.5 out of 10 for functioning of government.