Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

Canada and the Struggle for Democracy Abroad

Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

Canada and the Struggle for Democracy Abroad

Article excerpt

Canadian legislators have been reconsidering the means of supporting democracy around the world. Last year the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Canadian House of Commons investigated Canadian democracy support programs and declared that Canada can and should do better. 11l the fall of 2007, the Government replied, saying that it would put a new focus on democracy support and build the capacity of governmental and non-governmental organizations to deliver high quality Canadian assistance. The Government will also appoint a panel of experts to assess current Canadian capacity and recommend ways in which it can be strengthened. This article looks at the Canadian record of support for democracy abroad with the aim of dispelling the myth that Canada does little in this area. It then turns to the Canadian approach, suggesting that there are certain distinctive characteristics about Canadian cooperation in democratic development. Finally, it reports on the recent stock taking of policy and programs by the Parliament and Government of Canada, and concludes with some thoughts about the way ahead.

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The world has entered the democratic doldrums. Democracy supporters now write articles about freedom stagnation. According to Freedom House, the number of new electoral democracies has ceased to grow while the number of backsliders has increased. Countries like Thailand and Kenya which only a few years ago seemed safely in the democratic column have sunk into political crisis and uncertainty. There is also growing pushback against democracy, with countries like China and Russia becoming increasingly assertive about pursuing their own political paths at their own pace. Meanwhile, in the advanced democracies like Canada and the United States, citizens are increasingly dissatisfied with the way in which their democracies work, and in growing numbers are choosing not to participate at all. All of this leads one to question whether the democratic moment has passed. Instead of coming to the end of history when we all become liberal democrats, are we entering a post-democratic era?

I would argue that the period we are now entering is more genuinely characteristic of democracy than the one we are just leaving. After a period of democratic arrogance and smugness, we are beginning to confront the true difficulty and complexity of building democracies, and of sustaining them once they are built. After the end of the cold war, there appeared a new conventional wisdom that democracy was more or less inevitable, and that once established it could be run on auto-pilot. This explains the missionary zeal with which democracy was promoted abroad and the general indifference with which it was reformed at home. We are beginning to see just how stupid and neglectful of the lessons of history this so called third wave of democracy truly was. Rather than roll to shore of its own volition, democracy is and always will be a struggle.

It is time to recognize there are no sudden democratic miracles. There are wonderful days in the history of democracy, such as people power in the Philippines and the orange revolution in Ukraine. But we now know that days like that are always followed by mornings after filled with conflict, trade offs and progress mixed with failure. Inevitably, a point is reached where people begin to wonder whether the results justify the struggle. Some tire of the effort and opt for the apparent but deeply misleading certainties of authoritarianism. But just when you fear that people are giving up on democracy, they may launch a comeback, as Venezuelans did recently in declining to give their President a blank cheque.

The Canadian Record

Our first task is to dispel the myth that Canada does little or nothing in supporting democracy abroad. In fact Canada does quite a bit and has done for the better part of twenty years. The odd thing is that many Canadians believe the myth, suggesting that those who do work in this area have done a lousy job of educating their fellow citizens and the political leadership of the country. …

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