Frank Graves' latest poll confirms the conventional wisdom: Canadians are losing trust in their democratic institutions. Trust in Canadian democracy has been on the wane for thirty years; but it has continued to decline during Stephen Harper's time in office:
So while the Harper government is by no means responsible for the poor democratic health of the country, it certainly hasn’t managed to slow the trend — let alone reverse it. The rating of Canada’s democratic health has been on a straight line downward and is now at a historical nadir. Other polling from 2013 suggests that the public considers both the Senate spending scandal (the cover-up, rather than the initial infractions) and the vote suppression ‘robocall’ scandal to be more serious than the ad sponsorship scandal which crippled the Liberal Party of Canada.
The man who roared into Ottawa vowing to put an end to Liberals corruption is now seen by most Canadians to be more corrupt than the Liberals -- with the exception, of course, of his own supporters:
The only striking division is across partisan boundaries. Nearly two-thirds of the remaining Conservative base rates democracy as ‘healthy’; across all other parts of the political spectrum, the average ‘healthy’ rating of healthy is around 15 per cent.
Graves, however, says that there is good news. There is strong support for Michael Chong's democratic reform package -- and for the idea of mandatory voting:
Although it includes other measures, the most notable would give sitting MPs the power to replace a leader who has lost their confidence. The idea enjoys broad public support — particularly with men and the university-educated. The only group which doesn’t express clear support for Chong’s plan is Conservative supporters — and even with them the proposal produces a pretty even split.
As for mandatory voting, "although it’s a little more controversial than Chong’s bill, the idea of compelling all citizens to vote is supported by a clear majority and opposed by roughly one-third."
Australia has instituted mandatory voting, and the idea seems to work well:
Voter turnout in Australia is around 90 per cent; those Australians who fail to vote face fines, not jail time, and the measure enjoys the support of around 80 per cent of the country. Mandatory voting doesn’t seem to favour any particular party in the long run — and may have the added benefit of forcing parties to craft platforms and campaigns that address the needs and aspirations of all voters, rather than just narrowcasting to eke out a majority (a strategy ably described by Susan Delacourt in her recent book).
I suspect Harper and his acolytes will claim that mandatory voting is an assault on personal freedom. But the real threat to the Conservatives -- or any other party -- would be that no party could form a majority government with the support of 25% of this country's citizens.
So, in the end, there are two rays of hope amid the gloom.