Canadian Democratic Traditions

Parliamentary government and democracy are at the core of the Canadian political system. The country boasts long democratic traditions, multicultural approach to human rights and diversity, and politics based on social inclusion and welfare.


In colonial Canada, only affluent men were allowed to vote while some ethnic and religious minorities were prohibited from voting. The political landscape underwent gradual transformation in mid-18th century. It was only in 1758 when the first legislative assembly was formed in Nova Scotia, followed by Prince Edward Island in 1773. In mid-19th century, the principle of responsible government emerged as a result of the work of the Reform movement. Reformers stressed on the importance of reciprocity with the U.S., electoral reform, and accountability. The first responsible government was formed by the Reformers in Nova Scotia in 1848. New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island followed suit in 1854 and 1851. Among the prominent Reformers who helped transform Canada’s political landscape are George Coles (merchant and premier of Prince Edward Island), Lemuel Allan Wilmot (politician, lawyer, and judge from New Brunswick), James Boyle Uniacke (premier of Nova Scotia), and William Warren Baldwin (Reform politician, judge, and businessman from Upper Canada). In 1851, the right to vote was granted to all men aged 21 and over and was no longer tied to land ownership. It was in 1884 when property-owning spinsters and widows were granted the right to vote in Ontario and Quebec. Manitoba was the first province to endorse universal suffrage in 1916.

Democracy in Canada and Core Principles

The core principles that make the foundation of Canadian democracy are citizen participation, the rule of law, transparency and accountability, fair and free elections, and human rights and equality. All citizens of legal age have the right to vote and elect representatives (fair and free elections). All citizens enjoy human rights such as the right to organize, freedom of religion, and freedom of opinion (human rights and equality). Representatives are accountable to electorates and respond to questions and inquiries by the general public and opposition parties (transparency and accountability). All citizens must respect and obey the laws provided that enforcement is consistent and fair (the rule of law). Finally, all Canadians have the right to citizen participation, including protests, serving on jury, holding community meetings and debates, and voting in elections (citizen participation). In Canada, democracy is also about respect for diversity, pluralism, and social integration.


As an umbrella term, multiculturalism acknowledges the presence and co-existence of persons belonging to diverse ethnic and racial groups. With a long history of colonization, emigration, and migration, the Canadian society is truly multicultural and made up of indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians, including visible minorities such as Polish, Ukrainian, Indian, Chinese, and German. In 1982, the country adopted the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, stressing on the importance of the preservation and enhancement of multicultural heritage. Core principles include fairness under law, non-discrimination, and equality.

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Democracy in Canada Is in Trouble

Political correctness refers to measures, policies, and language that are least offensive or discriminatory to certain groups, specifically those characterized and recognizable by markers such as culture, gender, ethnicity, race, and sexual orientation. In Canada, political correctness has become a norm that many seem to be tired of.

How It Started?

As other modern societies, Canada has made active steps to offer reparations, sympathy, and remedy to previously discriminated religious, gender, racial, and ethnic minorities. Political correctness aims to offer remedy for the past mistreatment, persecution, and social isolation of groups on the fringes of society. Some warn, however, that political correctness has become oppressive, and democracy in Canada is already in trouble.

Canadian Heritage

Memorials and statues of historical figures have been removed over the past couple of years because of their legacy of racist policies against Inuit, Metis, and First Nations people. As Sheer and others rightfully note, however, history allows people to learn from mistakes, and it is precisely this series of historic events that have made the country democratic and prosperous. Our past is an integral part of our identity, and acts that aim at reconciliation can be dangerous, resulting in the destruction of our collective identity.

Freedom of Speech

Opponents point to the fact that societies are made up of different groups with diverse lifestyles, traditions, beliefs, and heritage. This means that there will always be individuals or groups that feel offended as a result of official policies or use of language. Feeling offended or diminished, however, is subjective just as being proud, happy, or respected by others is. Restricting freedom of speech and expression may result in inter-group conflict as neither group will be satisfied, the “offending” and “offended”. Political correctness has been described as a weapon of censorship that requires government power. This ultimately means extending political power to silence those who are labelled racist, classicist, homophobic, or sexist. The problem is that expanding government power can be dangerous to democracy. Telling people what to think, believe, and say is not what democratic governance is about. And this is dangerous precisely because there is always risk that people accept without protest the actions of those in power.

But there is more to political correctness and how it can be destroying democratic societies. The term ‘the suicide of the intellect’ has been used to illustrate how censorship diminishes our capacity to reason and deliberate. Free speech is the foundation of democracy. If we lose our capacity to analyze facts, reason, and debate, we won’t be able to get together and coin democratic policies. Some argue that PC is about being bias-free, sensitive to others, respectful, considerate, and multiculturally sensitive. This certainly makes sense unless taken to extremes, thus preventing people from exchanging views and ideas. All groups have certain norms that enable them to function and be productive, whether how to prey, what to eat, or how to dress. Not following the rules may result in being singled out and even ostracized. People with a similar mindset also find it easier to work on common projects, which is known to improve efficiency. At the same time, scholars warn that democracy and the liberal discourse may be in trouble because of political correctness. As Jonathan Chait rightfully notes, democratic debate is not about making people “afraid to disagree” but about discussing and agreeing on policies that best serve societies.