Citizens

Description

214 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
$65.00
ISBN 0-7748-0919-1
DDC 323'.042'0971

Publisher

Year

2004

Contributor

Reviewed by Eric P. Mintz

Eric P. Mintz is an associate professor of political science and
environmental studies at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Memorial
University of Newfoundland.

Review

Political parties that effectively link citizens to government, fair
elections, and a citizenry that is interested, informed, and active are
important components of a meaningful democracy. But do parties,
elections, and citizens in Canada have the qualities that we should
expect in a modern democracy?

John Courtney finds that the electoral system has become fair and
generally inclusive in terms of the franchise, electoral districting,
and election management. The adoption of a permanent voters’ list has
not been entirely positive and should be supplemented with door-to-door
enumeration. On the contentious issue of whether the plurality system
should be replaced, Courtney cautions that changing to a proportional
representation system may reduce the incentive for mainstream parties to
broker different social interests.

Although William Cross finds the traditional “brokerage”
characteristics of the major parties desirable, he attributes much of
the public dissatisfaction with parties to their failure to become more
participatory, inclusive, and responsive. For example, the grassroots
organizations of parties do not generally have a significant role in
policy development, and the regular membership of parties is small and
unrepresentative of the population. Among the reforms he suggests are
allowing all citizens to vote in nomination and leadership selection
contests, involving ordinary party members in developing party policy,
reducing general government funding of parties while providing funding
for party policy institutes, and adopting proportional representation.

Elisabeth Gidengil, André Blais, Neil Nevitte, and Richard Nadeau
raise concerns about the disengagement of citizens, particularly the
young, the poor, and the less well educated, from politics. Not only has
participation in elections and parties declined, but also political
interest and knowledge are low except among an educated elite. Civic
education and media coverage of politics that relates more to citizen
concerns might be helpful. In the long run, the authors suggest that
reducing the high-school dropout rate and increasing the proportion of
persons taking post-secondary education would be most effective in
creating a more informed and participatory citizenry.

These three short books, part of the Canadian Democratic Audit series,
are clearly written and provide an accessible summary of political
science research. They raise important questions about the quality of
contemporary democracy in terms of citizen involvement and provide
suggestions for reforms that are worthy of further discussion. There is
little that is new in these books for those familiar with the political
science literature; however, they would be useful as supplemental
reading for undergraduate courses and for anyone interested in Canadian
democracy.

Citation

Cross, William P. Gidengil, Elisabeth, et al., “Citizens,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 23, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/14726.