As a Canadian-born citizen living in Montreal, Quebec, I am incredibly privileged. I was born in a small rural town in Northern Quebec in the 1970s. The benefits of living in Canada are so vast that we seem to fail to see them, much less fully appreciate them for their incredible value. This goes for all democracies.
Here are the only 20 countries out of 167 that are rated as “full democracies”, from “highest democracy” and on:
Norway, NZ, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, Ireland, Taiwan, Switzerland, Australia, Netherlands, Canada (number 12), Uruguay, Luxemburg, Germany, South Korea, Japan, UK, Austria, Costa Rica.
Note the absence in the list of “fully functional democracies”: France, Israel, Spain, Chile, USA, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Belgium, and the MANY others. Out of the 167 rated countries, 45 have a score above 7/10, which is typically the cutoff for relatively OK democracies. Hence 122 countries are either bad, really bad, or a hell of repression and authoritarianism.
What IS “Democracy”?
I hear and read lots of people saying “it makes no difference, because in the end you just live your life, work, and none of that “repression / oppression” really makes a difference in your daily life.”
People who think like this have a very poor understanding and appreciation of WHAT “democracy” is and what are its benefits.
China has a democracy ranking of 148 out of 167, with a score of 2.2/10. Russia sits at position 124 out of 167 with a score of 3.2/10, while Iran has a score of 1.95/10 and North Korea has a score of 1.1/10. For comparison, my country (Canada) has a score of 8.9 and the USA has a score of 7.9, while the top spot is Norway with 9.8.
I am sure the average person in China may not “see” their lack of freedom on a daily basis, in the sense that they “just go to work and live their normal life.” This is precisely what authoritarian regimes WANT: work, stay under the radar, don’t criticize or “ask” anything, and everything will be just FINE. This is true: if you totally “fit in”, you work, and you don’t criticize the State OR suggest changes in the ways things are done, you will be fine. You can also generally indulge in all the “fun” you want… you can “party and have fun” in many very authoritarian regimes, such as Russia or China, for example.
So what’s the problem?
Freedom and democracy is like health and vitality: you tend to underestimate their value until you don’t have them.
All democracies have major flaws OR “blame to carry” about past or present atrocities and injustices. I could write a book about the “historical burden” my own country carries, and we all know the very long list of blame to put on the USA, the UK, France, and all other modern democracies. But still, we do have merits and strenghts. Lets focus on the benefits of freedom and democracy for this text… Here are aspects of Canadian life and politics that might not seem like a big deal, but are a big deal in most countries of the world:
- There are opposing political parties that propose very different ways of organizing life: how much and how to tax and spend State funds, the extent of State power and intervention, “redistributive” policies, etc. The competition between parties is real. Politicians answer to the public every 4 years, and if the majority of the population finds that politicians are streering the country in the wrong direction, they may well get kicked out.
- We can freely and openly criticize any of these parties and their representatives, without consequence for our safety or that of our family and friends.
- Everyone can vote and this vote system is overseen by all parties as well as reviewed by international external auditors who ensure that ALL Canadian citizens have simple and easy access to voting, including legally-required time off to vote on election day, as well as voting by anticipation (casting your vote before the date). The votes are overseen by all 3 major parties and overseen by various workers. The process ensures that 1) all votes are counted and 2) that all those who want to vote can vote. There is no intimidation or meddling in counties to reduce voting bureaus.
- The electoral process is extremely credible and efficient. The institutions and policies making this happen are solid and credible.
- You can protest peacefully, within certain reasonable limits, and the Constitution guarantees this right. THIS IS FUNDAMENTAL to freedom and to the evolution of society. Racism, sexism, extreme inequality / unfair odds to succeed, opposing war, etc. All these are forged by social norms, and protesting can make and HAS made a big difference in History. For the better. You can oppose social norms or policies or whatever you feel like. I know this firsthand, as I have done and will continue doing “animal rights activism” (yes I am “vegan”).
- Police can’t just stop you and throw you in prison or kill you or make you “disappear.” You always have fundamental rights. Again, these are almost never “used”… until you are glad you have them.
- Property rights are enforced and legally binding. The State or your violent neighbour can’t just grab your business, house, car, etc.
- The Central Bank is NOT the governments puppet. Our monetary authorities do what the deem required to keep inflation roughly around 2% in the long run, as well as preserve the credibility of the payments system, the value of our currency in the long run, etc. Our elected officials can’t and don’t interfere in this process.
- Statistics Canada is independent and our official statistical data on all the subjects you can imagine are credible and free of political influence. This may seem like not much but it actually IS a very big deal.
- The media are free to do and say what they want, they are not puppets of our elected officials. The very often criticize the State and specific elected officials. The mainstream media outlets have rigid codes of conduct to follow in terms of veracity and credibility of information and sources.
- Taxation is progressive (we tax higher incomes more) and we have collective financing for healthcare and education, both of which are excellent, although healthcare has the typical “central planning issues” of long waiting lists and general inefficiency.
- We have a built-in mechanism to reduce inequality of opportunity via the Federal Transfers, which seeks to limit overly extreme differences in quality of education, access to healthcare, freedom and mobility, and much more. This is directly written in our Constitution and we put our tax money where our constitution words are with explicit policies to ensure shared prosperity.
- Corruption is RELATIVELY low. Corruption exists everywhere. Anywhere you have humans, you have corruption. BUT it is at a relatively low level here, which means MOST of our tax dollars DO get “transformed” into education, healthcare, public infrastucture, etc. Compared to elswhere in the world, corruption in Canada is almost inexistent.
- You can start a business and the process of officially registering it is simple, cheap, straightforward, and available to ANY Canadian citizen.
- The justice system is highly credible, independent of politics, and functions on the core principles of Rule of Law. This is a BIGGIE. Although all humans have biases, our judges are highly qualified and evaluate each case based on credible evidence and the core principles of justice and fairness.
- Canada seeks to advance freedom and prosperity for all citizens, along with the right to benefit from your efforts, risk, and economic value creation.
- Our public service is generally independent of politics and efficient, as much as this type of service can be!
- We ackowledge that a free market decentralized economy poses chanllenges and risks to the individual, and we supply a reasonable safety net as insurance for shocks on individiuals: unemployment insurance, public pensions, etc.
- We embrace immigrants and help them integrate society, socially, culturally, and economically.
- Internet is a free place that is not surveilled by the State, other than hate speech (and even then!). You get news and social media feeds from anyone, from anywhere on the planet, on any subject. It is not policed (or banned outright!) like what is seen in China or Russia and so many other places.
- We can trade goods and serices and freely and transfer funds between countries.
- LBGTQ+ people have rights and are fully protected by laws and institutions and the social norms are of tolerance and respect, even if we also have racism and all those issues here as well.
- Our State tends to eventually “admit wrongs” and correct them. We did this with indigenous peoples (still lots to do here) and many other historical issues.
Most of these aspects of democracy “go under the radar” and tend to be under appreciated. Each one individually may not be that much of a big deal, but the WHOLE PACKAGE IS A VEEEERY BIG DEAL. The whole package often means prosperity, freedom to be who you want to be, to do what you want to do, to grow, to express yourself, to criticize, to change things that you find unacceptable, to influence, and to be part of a society that grows towards “better” in the long run. Can any of this be said of the brave and honest citizens stuck in low-democracy places like Russia, China, Iran, and the 100+ others that do NOT have these aspects of democratic life and culture?
But democracy is hard work and may not be our natural state, but we MUST fight for it. OPEN YOUR EYES to the extreme value and fragility of democracy and freedom. SEE IT. Defend it. Nurture it. Study History. Read. Debate.
How do you LOSE democracy? Generally, democracy does not “just disappear” overnight. It starts to crumble little by little. The points mentioned above start to lose their vitality. Voting rights or voting processes erode. Trust in information erodes. Truth, facts, and science get overshadowed by conspiracy theories and parallel realities that are disconnected from reality or facts. Corruption creeps in. Nepotism advances. Equality of opportunity gradually decreases. Fake news take hold of large swaths of the population. Social division becomes more and more intense. Scientists are denigrated, people start feeling they’d rather have one beloved dictator than all this complicated self-education and responsibility, and on and on and on.
Don’t undervalue Freedom and Democracy.