British Columbia is Canada's most civically engaged province, with nearly three-quarters of its population involved in a group, organization or association, according to a new report.
Released this week, the Statistics Canada report found that 73 per cent of British Columbians were members or participants of such a group in 2013 – the most recent year for which there is data available. This compares with 66 per cent in Ontario and 58 per cent in Quebec. (The national average is 65 per cent.)
The report is based on data from Canada's 2003, 2008 and 2013 General Social Surveys, which targeted people over the age of 15 in all of Canada's 10 provinces. Nationally, civic engagement is up slightly from 2003 (61 per cent).
Report author Martin Turcotte noted that civic engagement, along with political participation, is sometimes used to assess the health of a democracy.
"According to some political scientists," Mr. Turcotte wrote, "the higher the number of citizens who participate and the more varied their backgrounds, the greater likelihood that the principle of equality – essential in democracy – will be respected."
Across Canada, the three types of groups people were most likely to be part of were sports or recreational organizations (31 per cent), unions or professional associations (28 per cent) and cultural, educational or hobby organizations (20 per cent).
Young people were most likely to belong to sports organizations or school and community groups, while adults were most likely to belong to a union or another professional association.
The report noted that, in the case of unions, some people can become members of a group without necessarily taking steps to do so. Regardless, that engagement is still perceived as positive.
In 2012, the Vancouver Foundation released a report on community connections and engagement that found people in Metro Vancouver struggle to forge meaningful community connections. Spurred largely by this oft-cited report, the City of Vancouver created the Engaged City Task Force.
Councillor Andrea Reimer, who leads the initiative, called the report an "aha" moment: To get residents to engage with city hall, they first had to engage with each other. The task force identified common themes through community consultations.
"No matter what neighbourhood, what age, what ethnicity, income level or education background, four themes emerged very quickly in every discussion about what makes for good engagement," she said. "They are building knowledge, building capacity, building power and building trust."
To that end, the task force introduced initiatives such as a program that helps residents organize block parties, a pop-up city hall that delivered city services around Vancouver and an annual Doors Open event that invites the public behind-the-scenes at popular City of Vancouver buildings. (This year's Doors Open takes place on Oct. 3.)
Last week, Vancouver's Engaged City initiative earned an honourable mention nod from the International Association for Public Participation Canada in the Organization of the Year category, coming in second to another B.C. city, Victoria.
The Statistics Canada report also found a correlation – though not a perfect one – between civic engagement and volunteering.
"People often volunteer for the groups or organizations of which they are a member," Mr. Turcotte said in an e-mail. "Put differently, people who are civically engaged are more likely to volunteer.
"In some provinces – for example in Quebec – the membership in groups and organizations is lower and so is the volunteering rate."
The report also examined political participation, finding there has been an overall decline in voting at the national level in the past 50 years. In 1963, voter turnout was 79 per cent; by 2011 that had dipped to 61 per cent. Canada recorded an all-time low of 58.5 per cent in 2008.
Canadians' participation in political activities other than voting either remained steady or decreased from 2003 to 2013.