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A crisis of confidence

“It is by fortune . . . that, in this country, we have three benefits: freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and wisdom never to use either.”

— Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)

The brilliant writer and humourist Clemens isn’t far from the point if one applied his quip to Canadian politicians today.

Whether it’s due to a lack of wisdom, or politicians who don’t have the insight to recognize they’re slipping in their duties, a recent poll shows Canadians are losing faith in our democratic system.

A recent flurry of political boondoggles suggests some of our governing representatives are not doing their job, spiriting a vote of non-confidence by Canadians.

Scandal-plagued Toronto Mayor Rob Ford vowed he will not surrender his seat without a fight despite an Ontario judge’s order removing him from office after finding him in conflict of interest. The judge found Ford at fault for voting on a matter in which he had financial interest.

Liberal leadership hopeful Justin Trudeau flip-flopped on the long-barrel gun registry, calling it “a failure.” Trudeau’s party authored the $2-billion white elephant, and in 2010 he voted against abolishing the registry.

Besides that about-turn, he garnered no favours in the West with his anti-Alberta remarks in an interview two years ago.

And closer to home, Alberta Premier Alison Redford has been awash in trouble, most recently over the government awarding of a $10-billion lawsuit contract to a law firm in which her ex-husband is a partner. Redford denies she was involved in the decision-making process despite documents provided by the CBC and Wildrose Party to the contrary.

The premier was cleared on Monday of misleading the legislature, but the cloud lingers.

What’s important is what Albertans believe. “The facts, the documents, and the statements by the premier make it very clear that she’s not being honest with Albertans, and I expect Albertans will reach that conclusion regardless of whatever’s decided within the assembly,” said NDP critic Rachel Notley.

In Quebec, there’s the ongoing inquiry into alleged government involvement with the Mafia and the awarding of lucrative construction contracts to the mob.

Can Canadians be blamed for losing faith in their governments?

A poll by Samara Canada, a charitable organization focused on improving political participation through research and education, suggests Canadians are less satisfied with their democracy than they were eight years ago.

Michael MacMillan, co-founder and chair of Samara, calls the loss of confidence “troubling.”

“It might go some way towards explaining the apathy and disengagement we see reflected in Canada’s declining voter turnout,” said MacMillan.

In 2004, Samara conducted a poll gauging Canadian’s confidence in our governments. Asking respondents about their satisfaction “with the way democracy works in Canada,” 75 per cent expressed “some degree” of satisfaction. This year, when asked the same question, 55 per cent expressed some degree of satisfaction — a drop of 20 points from eight years ago.

Of the 2,287 respondents across Canada, five per cent said they were “very satisfied,” 50 per cent said “fairly satisfied,” 28 per cent said “not very satisfied,” and nine per cent said “not satisfied at all.”

The results were consistent across regions except for francophone Quebecers, who expressed the greatest level of dissatisfaction.

Canadians vote in a federal election for an MP to serve their best interests in Ottawa. But are the MPs doing their job?

No, says the poll.

More than 50 per cent were not “totally happy,” saying their MPs spent too much time working on behalf of their parties instead of their constituents.

“MPs are an important link between Canadians and their politics. ... That relationship “seems to be overshadowed by political party messaging,” said Alison Loat, co-founder and executive director of Samara.

Can we rely on our politicians to get the job done?

Increasingly, it appears, the answer for many voters is no.

And if voters don’t trust their representatives to help them, where do they turn?

Rick Zemanek is a former Advocate editor.



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