In terms of sustainable governance, Canada’s performance is, overall, very good.
Strong, sustainable public policies; new income-support measures; challenges for environmental policy
The country’s public policies are generally strong and sustainable. On the economic policy front, the pandemic brought the most severe and rapid economic decline since the Great Depression. An array of fiscal measures and income supports were quickly established as a bulwark against even greater losses and, by the third quarter of 2021, the economy had recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Nevertheless, a new wave associated with Omicron has begun to threaten those gains and may well require the continuing need for targeted measures. The country’s social policies are generally successful in reducing inequality and promoting inclusion. Its education and pension systems are particularly strong. During the pandemic, the federal government developed several new temporary measures of income support, most notably the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. The pandemic exposed the weakness of the country’s employment insurance program and debates over reform have since been reignited. Healthcare offers very good coverage but the provincially-run healthcare systems are perpetually strained, a situation compounded by the pandemic. The pandemic also exposed the long-term care system in several provinces, most notably Québec and Ontario, as massive failures and the federal government is considering imposing national norms, a rarity in the Canadian federation. Environmental policy is challenging to formulate and implement. In July 2021, the federal government committed to cutting the country’s greenhouse gas emission by 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030. Ambitious climate change policies (such as carbon taxing) are typically opposed by the oil producing provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, sometimes causing serious intergovernmental conflict in the Canadian federation.
Robust rule of law;
The quality of democracy in Canada is high. There are many opportunities to participate in politics in several different ways. The rule of law and rights protection are robust. There remains significant issues. Social movements, such as Black Lives Matter Canada, have challenged the notion that Canada is free of discrimination and argued there exists systemic racism, an idea endorsed by most of the Canadian political class (including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau). Indigenous peoples, who have historically been oppressed and marginalized by the Canadian state, argue that they are in a colonial situation, and several high-profile instances of racism and discrimination against Indigenous Canadians unfolded in 2020-2021. Mass graves of Indigenous children stemming from so-called residential schools (meant to assimilate Indigenous youth) were discovered in British Columbia and Saskatchewan in these years, prompting renewed horror in the country. The federal government’s commitment to “reconciliation” with Indigenous peoples is one of the most fundamental challenges of democratic life in the country.
Governance strong during pandemic; strong executive with few effective checks
Governance defined as executive capacity is strong and has proven relatively adept at weathering the challenges of the pandemic. Both the federal and provincial levels of government have, for the most part, availed themselves of both expert scientific and economic advice. Moreover, there has been a renewed vigor in federal/provincial/territorial communication and even First Ministers’ coordination, although significant tensions remain over issues of resources and provincial jurisdictional authority. Even rollout of IT infrastructure, despite significant past challenges, has proven remarkably adept in providing new programming and supporting a federal workforce that has moved offsite. In terms of executive accountability, governance in Canada is good. There exists several effective supervisory bodies; the media allows for a diversity of voices from civil society to be heard, and legislators are given adequate resources to do their work. This being said, the strength of party discipline combined with frequent majority governments (the result of the uninominal majoritarian electoral system, or first-past-the post) create a very strong executive on which there are few effective checks. The upper house, the Senate of Canada, is appointed rather than elected, and it lacks the legitimacy necessary to exercise its considerable constitutional powers. Political parties tend to have a hierarchical structure that protects the leader, and therefore the prime minister, against internal challenges. This being said, the existence of a constitutionalized Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the federal structure of the country represent effective checks on the power of the executive.