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Canadians frustrated by state of democracy, study says

As the country's confidence in democracy has declined, support for populism and anti-immigrant sentiment has risen.

70% of survey's participants feel government doesn't care what ordinary Canadians think

Almost 70 per cent of Canadians feel government officials don't care what they think. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

A majority of Canadians feel alienated by the country's political system, with a rising number turning to populism and anti-immigrant ideology, according to a new study from Simon Fraser University. 

The 61-page study, titled State of Democracy + Appeal of Populism, found nearly 60 per cent of Canadians are only "moderately convinced" Canada should be governed by a representative democracy, a figure that has grown 15 per cent since 2017. 

Close to half of the survey's 3,500 participants told SFU's Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue they don't believe Canada is governed democratically. 

Shauna Sylvester, the centre's executive director, said this latest polling continues a troubling recent trend in Canada, albeit one that is not unique to this country

"Most of us don't think that elected officials care what we think," Sylvester told guest host Laura Lynch on CBC's The Early Edition.

"This says to me Canadians want in. They value democracy. They want it to change. They want in."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offers his hand to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, May 2, 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Support for populism on the rise 

Almost 70 per cent of the survey's participants feel government officials don't care what ordinary Canadians think, and a majority of the respondents said they believe voting offers little influence on how a government is actually run. 

In this climate of disillusionment, Canadians are embracing populism. The survey found that politicians who purport to stand up for the "common people" over "the elite" appealed to 80 per cent of those polled. 

Anti-immigrant sentiment is also on the rise.

A third of the survey's respondents said they believe citizens who immigrated to Canada deserve less say in the country's affairs than Canadian-born citizens. 

Despite some concerning revelations, Sylvester said the study showed a substantial majority of Canadians remain committed to democracy. 

Seventy-seven per cent of those surveyed favour democracy over other political systems, a figure that stood at 65 only two years ago.

Still, Sylvester said, the study reinforced the need to strengthen Canada's support and engagement with democracy. That begins at the local level, she said.

"It's not just about the ballot box. It's about our culture," explained Sylvester.

"The more engaged somebody is in their community, the more engaged they will be with their democracy and the more that they will be a champion for democracy."

Canadians will go to the polls in October. 

To hear the complete interview with Shauna Sylvester, access the audio link below;

With files from The Early Edition