Skip to content

MARC’S SPIN: Democracy versus Individualism: it’s time to think about others

Canada is slipping down the Democracy Index, but we can turn it around
Canada scored 8.87 on the EIU Democracy Index for 2021, but we’ve slipped since last year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

We all need to cool it a bit.

Maybe it’s just because my job is basically to be on top of the news, but it seems like things are heating up quite a lot these days. It’s a trend that is worrying me. It’s like all the things that we once thought were not OK are suddenly becoming a normal part of society.

This week, the 2021 Democracy Index was released by Economist Intelligence, an annual report that puts countries on a scale between zero and ten where zero is a purely authoritarian state (the lowest ranked country this year is a 0.32), and ten is a perfect democracy — which can have various definitions depending on who you are.

Generally, it means the country does well in electoral process and pluralism, political participation and civil liberties. While there are critics about the index, it is generally thought of as one of the main indicators of how countries are doing democratically.

Turns out, it’s not so great.

While there are still some high-scoring countries, Norway took the top spot with a 9.75, the average score fell from 5.37 in 2020 to 5.28 in 2021. Canada is not doing as well as I’d hoped either, we’re actually helping drive the average score for North America down.

Our score fell 0.37 points to 8.87, from fifth place to twelfth place. The EIU report says that there is a trend of “disaffection among Canada’s citizens with traditional democratic institutions and increased levels of support for non-democratic alternatives, such as rule by experts or the military.”

“Canada’s citizens feel that they have little control over their lives, a sentiment that has been compounded by pandemic-related restrictions on individual freedoms,” it says.

We need to turn this around.

In her new book “How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them” Barbara F. Walter talks about what happens when countries slide away from pure democracies towards the grey space between democracy and dictatorship.

While her analysis relies on the Polity Scale, which was most recently updated in 2018, there’s a reason she published her book this year. Democracies are trending downward, and the world is getting more dangerous.

The thing is, democracies are about the people. We need to be working together, talking to each other and actually listening. We need to think about what it means to protect our communities, and that isn’t done by getting angry and honking horns. That’s the opposite — individualism.

Real democracy means coming together, protecting one another (which may entail doing things that are uncomfortable to you) and ensuring that there’s a community left to protect at the end of it.

Living in a community means taking responsibility and stepping up when things get hard. It means protecting people who can’t protect themselves, and making sure that everyone’s around when the bad thing is done.

I get that the government has been frustrating. But giving in to divisive rhetoric is only taking us further down this dangerous path. We have a lot of things stacked against us in this fight. It is hard to talk to somebody who doesn’t share your beliefs. The systems we have set up are trying to keep us all divided and in our echo chambers. Facebook loves it when we fight, that means they get more money.

Bad actors love it when we fight, they want things to get chaotic.

Authoritarianism can creep in, in fact it’s the only way it’s ever shown up.

It takes advantage of divided peoples, turmoil and infighting. Before you know it, you can wake up in a world that is very different than the one you grew up in, and then you’ll get a real taste of what having no freedom means.

When I see the recent polls about how Canadians feel about what’s happening in Ottawa, I feel a bit better. According to Abacus Data, two thirds of us are opposed to the protests and their divisive nature, and two thirds of us still think we should keep health measures designed to protect the community.