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The Kingston Whig-Standard
Friday, June 16, 2000

Democracy on the ropes, prof warns


By Jen Ross
Although the number of democracies around the world has grown to 117 in 1998 (up from 37 in 1980), many are unstable.
"Parties and their politicians have had little choice but to go awhoring for funds, bending and skirting the law in ways which make similar sins of earlier decades look petty in comparison."

-- professor David Law.

An international relations professor warned yesterday that a decay of democratic institutions at home is making it hard for Canada to push a human security agenda that promotes democracy abroad.

"If Canada de-democratizes then ... internationally, there is the danger that the democratization process will slip and slide, with disastrous repercussions for regional and global security," warned David Law, an adjunct professor at Royal Military College, speaking at a conference on Canadian-American security in Kingston.

Law said many factors are eroding democracy in Canada: a broken party system with powerless and demoralized backbench MPs; governments commonly elected with less than 50 per cent of the popular vote; the devolution of decision-making to non-government actors such as NGOs; and a campaign financing system with loopholes that bar the public from knowing where parties are getting certain contributions.

Law, program director for the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, a training program for diplomats in NATO's Partnership for Peace initiative, said that although the number of democracies around the world has grown to 117 in 1998 (up from 37 in 1980), many are unstable, and the the pillars of democracy, including Canada, are weakening.

He suggested one solution would be for Canada to modernize its democratic institutions and increase spending on them.

Law said North American politics are vastly underfunded by the public. He said Canada currently only spends one per cent of its GDP on financing parties and elections (the U.S. spends only two per cent) and the public sector cannot compete with private funding.

As a result, he said "parties and their politicians have had little choice but to go awhoring for funds, bending and skirting the law in ways which make similar sins of earlier decades look petty in comparison."

In this sense, he added that Canada has become more like the U.S. by becoming a slave to private interests.