(File photo)

COLUMN: Voting by itself is not enough

Not all countries with elections are strong democracies

On Saturday, Oct. 24, British Columbians will cast their ballots in a provincial election.

The results of this election will affect the direction of the province in the coming years. For this reason, it is important to vote.

But voting by itself is not enough.

Around the world, elections are commonplace, but in Canada and a handful of other countries, the electoral process is something special.

According to an annual freedom ranking conducted by The Economist, a London-based news magazine, Canada ranks eighth in the world for the strength of its democracy.

This puts Canada among countries such as Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, Finland, Ireland, Denmark, Australia and Switzerland.

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These countries and others are ranked as full democracies, where elections are fair and free and where civil liberties are respected.

Only 22 of the 167 countries listed in the report were identified as full democracies.

These countries, with a total population of 430 million people, account for just 5.5 per cent of the world’s population.

Much of the rest of the world does not have the level of democracy we enjoy in Canada.

Even the United States, with its emphasis on freedom, is not listed as a full democracy. Instead, it is rated as a flawed democracy.

The country was ranked 25th on the list and its status has been declining in recent years.

Other flawed democracies included India, Brazil, South Africa, Italy, Israel and Japan.

The list also includes hybrid regimes, where electoral frauds are common, corruption is rampant and there is a low level of participation in the political process. This list includes Honduras, Guatemala, Uganda, Zambia, Ukraine and others.

And there are authoritarian regimes – dictatorships or absolute monarchies where the freedoms we enjoy in Canada are nonexistent.

North Korea ranked at the bottom of The Economist’s democracy index.

The country has regular elections, but only one name appears on the ballots in North Korea, and there are penalties for those who do not vote for the sole candidate. Also listed as authoritarian regimes are China, Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Cuba.

The fact that only 22 countries are listed as full democracies is cause for concern.

In Canada, our democracy is solid and our country is consistently near the top of the democracy index.

But it is up to us to make sure it remains strong.

It’s important to get out and vote in the upcoming provincial election, but voting by itself is not enough.

The real work begins after the votes have been counted.

The public needs to keep an eye on governments, whether federal, provincial or regional, to ensure decisions are made wisely and to keep the process transparent.

If there are questions or concerns, whether about an issue on the table or another point of concern, call the Member of Parliament, Member of the Legislature, mayor or a council member to discuss the issue.

These people, no matter what their platform or party affiliation, have a responsibility to serve the public, not just their strongest supporters.

The party platform, or the direction set by the leader, must not trump the needs and wishes of the electorate.

Once the election is over, it is time to put aside the talking points and hot-button issues and get to work on the decisions that affect us all.

Our democracy in Canada is strong. It’s up to us to keep it that way.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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