Canada’s civically disengaged citizenry



The stunning news isn’t that New Brunswick’s citizens comprise the second-most civically engaged population in Canada (only Prince Edward Islanders are more inclined to head to the polls). 

The stunning news us that we manage to pull off that feat with a score of only 5.2 out of 10 relative to other regions in an international assessment of voting habits. 

The tidings come courtesy of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s new “interactive” website which lets users compare and contrast their region’s performance according to eight indicators of “well-being”: Civic engagement, access to services, safety, health, income, environment, jobs, and education.

According to the Paris-based group of countries established in 1961 to promote world industry and trade, P.E.I. ranks 6.6 in its fondness for the polling station, followed by New Brunswick and, then, in shamefully descending order: Quebec, 4.5; Nova Scotia, 4.3; Ontario, 4.2; British Columbia, 4.0; Manitoba, 3.8; Alberta, 3.0; Northwest Territories, 2.6; Newfoundland and Labrador, 2.3; and Nunavut, 0.9.

This puts New Brunswick in the bottom 47 per cent of the entire OECD. Still, that’s nothing compared with Canada as a whole. Among the OECD’s 34 member countries, ours ranked 26.

Moreover, “concerning inequalities across regions in civic engagement, Canada is in position 25/33.” That’s doing just slightly better than Chile and Mexico. Meanwhile, Estonia, Poland and the Czech Republic continue to eat our lunch at the ballot box.

Of course, the news isn’t all bad. 

 The OECD says, among member regions, New Brunswick occupies the top 31, 29, 10, 33, 39, and 33 per cent, respectively, for access to services, education, environment, income, health, and safety.           

The province’s mortality rate is eight deaths per 1,000 people. The murder rate is one in 100,000. Life expectancy is 80 years. Meanwhile, in Canada, only Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador boast cleaner environments.

As for dear, old Canuckistan, compared with the rest of the OECD pack ours is the fifth-richest, eighth-cleanest and eight healthiest nation.

Naturally, not everyone is buying what the OECD is selling. “If people think, as a result of this, OK now we’ve got the definitive statement of where New Brunswick ranks in Canada, well then they’ve really got it wrong and that’s actually dangerous,” Ronald Colman executive director of the Genuine Progress Indicator for Atlantic Canada, told the Telegraph-Journal this week. “Everyone likes simplicity, everyone likes quick results. . .but it can be a little bit tricky if you run roughshod over some of the more detailed and important evidence.”

In fact, regarding the OECD’s definition of civic engagement, Mr. Colman wonders whether the organization is missing some useful nuance. “I would go so far as to say if you have very poor choices at the polls – if you have two bad choices – maybe not voting could be a sign of the poor quality of the candidates rather than voter apathy. . .You can’t just use one indicator to demonstrate something.”

With respect to Mr. Colman, that dog won’t hunt.

A poor field of candidates is never a legitimate reason for not voting. If it were, then citizens of this country would have had to resign themselves to their ill-fitting, authoritarian yokes long ago. 

Besides, in the parlors of party politics, one man’s poutine is another man’s poison. I’m not especially enamored of regressive, scare-mongering right-wingers. My neighbour, with whom I get along just fine as long as we don’t discuss his theories about roving bands of juvenile delinquents, thinks they’re swell. 

Who’s right? Who knows? Does any of this curtail our choices in this democracy to the point of nullification?  

Inasmuch as any respected, 52-year-old economic development organization’s statistics are trustworthy, I’m prepared to take the OECD’s findings about Canada’s comparatively poor showing as a civically engaged society at face value.

More’s the pity. 

In a world where wars and sectarian savagery have turned 50 million men, women and children into refugees – the largest number since the end of WWII – the right to vote is an increasingly precious commodity.

Certainly, it’s no mere bauble for tossing away when irked.


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