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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.

Michel Venne, director general of Institut du Nouveau Monde in Montreal, was interviewed on June 27 by Adam Kahane, chairman, North America, of Reos Partners.

Kahane: Is Quebec an egalitarian society today?

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Venne: We are the most egalitarian society in North America. You can find the same welfare state in other provinces, but if you compare us to some American states like Texas, we live in paradise.

Still, compared to 20 years ago, there has been an increase in income inequality. It's increasing more slowly than in other regions in the world, but it is increasing nonetheless, especially between the richer and the rest of the society. We have also seen other gaps growing – a smaller part of the population goes to concerts and museums, sends their kids to private school. Who drops out of school? It is not rich people.

This dollar issue concerns me but I am more interested in the access to power. Poor people and young people tend to vote less than other groups. This has an influence on the way government policies are made. When you have fewer and fewer people voting in elections, decisions are made by a small group of privileged people who protect their own position and power.

Kahane: What do you see as the long-term impact of this trend?

Venne: If we continue as we are today, in 20 or 30 years Canadian society will be even more fragmented along economic, social and cultural lines. I am not a maniac of consensus, because it is possible to have debate in an integrated society. So it is not about unanimity, because unanimity would lead to dictatorship. But we need at least a common core, things that bring us together.

Why do we allow for a good portion of our salary to be taken from us? To pay for collective services. When we are unaware of the link we have to others, and we don't trust that those around us are going to play their part, and we lose faith that we are all going to help each other, then we reject things like paying taxes.

In our society right now, we don't trust the people with power, and we don't trust those without power. We live in a state of insecurity. And when we are insecure, we can decide either to turn our backs on each other or to stick together. I hope that we in Quebec and in Canada will choose to stick together.

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Kahane: What impact might fragmentation have on our political system?

Venne: I see our parliamentary form of government cracking, but I do not yet see what will replace it. Institutions were made to die and be replaced by new ones. For me, the real challenge is how will we make decisions in ways that continue to serve our common needs.

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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