Is Canada's federal government losing its connection with the Canadian people? Are Canadians becoming estranged from those who govern them? Two reports from December, one by Environics, the other from Samara Canada, suggest that Harper no longer governs but merely rules an increasingly unruly and disdainful populace.
"Not only is voter turnout decreasing, but every year fewer Canadians are getting involved in other kinds of political activities, like joining or donating to political parties, signing petitions
or attending protests. If nothing is done to reverse this disturbing trend, those in power will no longer hear the voices of the majority of Canadians."
It could be as easily said that "those in power" have long ago lost all interest in the voices of Canadians. The Environics research showed that, while the Canadian people remain consistently progressive, their political parties have drifted away from them to the right.
Almost without fail, the disengaged we spoke to described themselves as political outsiders. On the basis of their experiences, they described government, bureaucrats, politicians and the media as working for someone else and, therefore, irrelevant to their needs. Some went so far as to say that the political system makes
them outsiders on purpose. For those who feel like outsiders, there is little reason to engage in politics when politics does not engage with them.
In contrast, those who identified themselves as politically engaged describe an insider relationship with politics, believing that the
political system works for them.
The third and final finding of this report proposes that disengaged people become outsiders through their daily experience and interactions with the political system. This finding is a far cry from conventional wisdom that holds that the disengaged simply do not care or that they lack knowledge.
Some became outsiders after seeking assistance from elected representatives and civil servants in government, but ultimately receiving little help. Others, especially younger Canadians,
came to understand very early on that the political system disregards their concerns. Despite these two different pathways to outsider status, there is a common destination: the disengaged
have learned from personal experience that engagement is futile.
Both of these reports, Environic's and Samara's are well worth reading. Both are warnings we need to hear about the disease in Canadian governance. The Environics study found that already a solid majority of Canadians see protest and civil disobedience as an effective and worthwhile vehicle for compelling political change.
So far we've had skirmishes - the Occupy movement, the Montreal students' protests - but we haven't had the sort of head-on confrontation in which the public at large stands defiant against their government. Yet this is one possible outcome from the Northern Gateway pipeline scheme about to be forced on British Columbians. Will Harper be able to maintain the legitimacy of the federal government if he's confronted, and compelled to subdue, a large resistance of otherwise law-abiding British Columbians?