The Problem for Politics and Democracy in 2022

  • National Newswatch

2021 was a year three provincial elections, an array of municipal, territorial and indigenous elections, and the federal election held this past September. These represented dozens of electoral contests that in any other year would signify moments change.It was not to be.  COVID-19 and the Delta and Omicron variants had decimated this past year's political options and opportunities that ingenuity in public policy or needed change.  What the pandemic accomplished more than anything else was to alter the outlook and expectations of Canadian voters.  In its troubling way, it was seismic.  For the first year of the virus, Canadians were adapting to the novel challenge, but in 2021 they began changing.How much?  Though difficult to discern, a report put out by a late-October Pew Research regarding the fate of politics in advanced countries has revealed subtle shifts in public views.  Inclusive of 17 advanced economies (Canada not included), a median of 56% concur that their political system required significant change or even to be completely reformed.  This isn't trite stuff. Instead, it shows that while governments have remained laser-focused on the pandemic,We aren't surprised to note that the three key areas requiring attention are political renewal, economic pressures and healthcare reform.  More troubling to see was that half of those polled expressed sincere doubts that their political structures could effectively address the challenges and overcome their partisan leanings to accomplish it.  In other words – and this isn't new for politics – the trust between citizens and their governments is badly jeopardized.While specific measures of trust in health systems received marginal boosts due to the pandemic demand, it is clear that new capacities will have to be funded and developed to face future pandemics, which epidemiologists inform us are more likely than not.One of the more interesting aspects of the Pew report reveals a growing concern for the prospects of the next generation:“Similarly, optimism or pessimism about the long-term economic future for children is linked to attitudes toward political reform. In the societies polled, those who think children in their country today will be financially worse off than their parents are especially likely to say their political system needs major changes or complete reform.”This sense of growing despair is making its presence felt in nations as varied as Canada and Greece.  The reality that adult children are on a track to continue to fall behind economically will play itself out in increased frustration throughout the western countries, eventually leading to more calls for political and perhaps economic reforms.  In the United Kingdom, subjected to escalating political turbulence this past few years, 61% of pessimistic respondents about future opportunities say the country requires significant political reform.  That stands in contrast to the 34% who feel optimistic about their economic future.  In Germany, 73% expressed their dissatisfaction with their government.The Pew report revealed a direct connection between Covid-19 and the view of citizens towards their governments that shouldn't surprise us.  Attitudes are being shaped towards democracy that will ultimately call on significant reforms.Another fundamental discovery in the Pew report is that citizens in advanced nations believe their countries are becoming increasingly divided due to the pandemic. This reality could lead to political turbulence.  This isn't merely about opinions regarding vaccines, but long-standing or simmering differences that are becoming more prominent.  A recent Carter Centre report noted that rising numbers of voters in the 17 advanced economies see significant partisan and racial, and ethnic conflict in their societies.How does Canada fit in all this?  While not included in the Pew report, numerous other studies which include this country reveal that we continue to be in a more stable position than the other nations we have considered here. The population, in general, remains largely sedate as the country braces itself for a difficult winter. At the same time, many Canadians worry over their prospects after Covid-19.However, one aspect of the Pew report might particularly apply to this country.  Across the board, citizens of the advanced nations expressed concern whether their governments would be capable of bringing about required changes once the pandemic has ended.  While expressing a desire for change, a median of almost 50% across these nations also felt a troubling sense of concern as to whether their governments could deliver on such challenges.  Only 18% felt their governments were up to the challenge.Due to the lack of more vital opposition forces, Justin Trudeau's government, following two successful elections, seems secure for the time being.  But an evolving surge of negative emotions is working its way through the Canadian population.  The Covid-19 effect is wearing them down.The Pew report has helped reveal the state of world politics that is now evolving.  Needed now are governments that can build compromise as they renew their countries instead of waging the same old partisan wars.  2022 will give us an indication as to which side political structures will land.Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario. He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario. He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 35 years. He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“. Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson.