(Alice Zhang / The Peak)

Written by Nathaniel Tok, Peak Associate

While Metro Vancouverites value democracy, many of them have become disengaged with it, according to a recent public opinion survey.

This survey was done in August 2018 by SFU’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, and it polled 1,506 participants. As part of its mandate of understanding and engaging in key Canadian issues, the dialogue centre has embarked on a two-year initiative titled Strengthening Canadian Democracy. The initiative tests public intervention strategies in the hopes of encouraging Canadians to be more engaged in the democratic process. As a first step, the dialogue centre used this survey study to gauge how Canadian citizens perceived democracy and to measure how deeply they participate.

The survey found that although most Vancouverites (73%) believe in the importance of democracy in Canada, 41% did not feel that voting in elections gave them a voice in government, and 65% do not believe that elected officials listen to the people.

Survey results show that 65% of respondents did not feel that their elected officials cared about their constituent’s opinions on local issues. (Photo courtesy of SFU University Communications)

In an email interview with The Peak, Dr. Daniel Savas, a visiting professor at SFU School of Public Policy and one of the figures behind the survey, noted that citizens with such perspectives are less likely to vote, follow the news, attend consultation events, contact elected officials, or get involved in their community. Trust is also falling in many types of institutions such as businesses, universities, and governmental bodies such as Parliament.

“This research hints at an underlying sense of unease and frustration with the way government works in Canada,” says Robin Prest, the dialogue centre’s acting executive director, in a SFU Communications and Marketing press release.

“Metro Vancouver residents believe strongly in democratic values, but feel their democratic institutions and processes are not living up to the core set of values and principles they feel are so important to a healthy and functioning civil society.” – Robin Prest, acting executive director of Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue

The second phase of this initiative is a two-year-long democracy demonstration project. This project builds off of the survey by tackling some of the problems the survey brings to light, such as anti-democratic trends, loss of faith in the government, lack of civic education, and polarization of Canadian issues.

Phase two will comprise various approaches. Community building will be carried out through neighbourhood projects and the use of community civic engagement hubs such as libraries to reduce barriers to community discussions. Research projects will also be conducted by other SFU professors to look at ways to “promote tolerance and combat misinformation” to strengthen democracy. The National Communications, Network Building and Knowledge Exchange Project will replicate “proven” civic programs across Canada to create “broader, deeper and longer-term effects” on Canadian democracy.

Savas sees the project as a way to “reinforce Canadians’ commitment to democracy.” He hopes the project and initiative will bring “increased awareness and commitment to democratic values and principles” among not just Vancouverites, but Canadians in general, and help Morris J. Wosk researchers understand what types of interventions can strengthen citizen commitment to democracy to address issues related to disengagement in the democratic process.

A detailed breakdown of the survey’s results is available on the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue’s website.