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Opinion Angus Reid on challenges facing democracy: ‘We elect a prime minister who has almost dictatorial power’

In a six-week series of interviews, Canadians with a variety of experiences discuss the major challenges our country is facing and how best to address them. This instalment deals with renewing our democratic institutions.

Angus Reid, chairman of the Angus Reid Institute, was interviewed on Sept. 30 by Monica Pohlmann, a consultant with Reos Partners.

Pohlmann: When you look at Canada today, what makes you feel optimistic?

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Reid: It's a good time to be a Canadian. We have a strong brand that is in very good shape around the world. We are a federation, so we've sorted out how to operate a functioning society with great levels of regional, cultural and geographic diversity. In that sense, we can contribute a lot of new thinking to other countries about how to govern in this extremely diverse and rapidly changing world.

Pohlmann: What concerns you?

Reid: The voting system here is broken. We elect a prime minister who has almost dictatorial power. We have issues with voter turnout and political literacy, especially with young voters. There is an appalling lack of understanding of even some of the most fundamental aspects of our democracy. My new institute is going to take on a major political literacy project, looking at how to bring people into the process and how to use technology to provide for higher levels of participation and engagement.

At the federal level, our recruitment of strong leaders is somewhat diminished by this unwritten rule that top elected officials must be fully bilingual. We basically disenfranchise the majority of English-speaking politicians. We have to understand that it is possible to have a prime minister whose French isn't perfect but who has a lieutenant who is bilingual. That's not a popular idea, but it's one that I care a lot about, because leadership development is critical to the future of the country.

The decline of newspapers and the significant decline of what I call consensus-building media is a big concern. Local newspapers no longer cover stories in the community. When you just rewrite a bunch of news wire reports, how do you cover city hall or local crime or other issues?

Pohlmann: If you could ask a clairvoyant about the future of Canada, what would you want to know?

Reid: How do we cope with the increasing problem of inequality? You see it everywhere. You can't go into an airport without seeing rich guys going through the fast lanes and everybody else waiting in line for an hour to get on an airplane. Factor that across our society many times, whether it's in health care or other services. Our society ended up enriching a lot of people through technology and other changes. We need to figure out how to bring things back into some kind of kilter. Are we going to be a society that is increasingly unequal, or are we going to find some mechanisms to reinvent the middle-class dream?

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What are households going to look like 20-50 years from now? We're seeing massive changes in the definition of family and the legitimizing of all kinds of different arrangements. For some people who see traditional families as the foundation of society, rapid movement in the other direction is of concern. I have other friends who think we should be celebrating the death of the traditional family.

What is life going to be like 20-25 years from now, when my five grandchildren enter the labour force? Are they going to see their lives as a step down from what their parents or grandparents achieved? Are they going to have access to high-quality health care? Will Canada continue to be a fair, compassionate society, or are technology and global forces going to compromise those elements that have created the Canadian experience?

Possible Canadas is a project created by Reos Partners, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and a diverse coalition of philanthropic and community organizations. For longer versions of these interviews, or to join the conversation, visit possiblecanadas.ca

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