Democracy Talks Dispatches: Does Canada have a "political culture"?

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Participation Tuesday, April 30, 2013 View Count = 2035

Democracy Talks Dispatches: Does Canada have a "political culture"?

 Democracy Talks is a community-based discussion series that brings people together to discuss politics and share ideas for improving civic and political engagement in Canada. Lately, we’ve been chatting with groups of youth and new Canadians about their experiences with politics and sharing their ideas and insights on our blog.

Now introducing…Gina Foley

Occupation: Independent information management and technology consultant.
A bit of background: Originally from Ireland, Gina has lived in cities all around the world and recently chose to settle in Canada. She’s been a citizen for just over one year.
Where we met: In Edmonton, at a talk organized with the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.
What we talked about: Political culture in Canada.

After living in 14 cities and 4 different countries, Gina Foley finally decided to give Canada a special place on her list and applied for citizenship. Just over a year ago, she officially became a Canadian citizen. During our Democracy Talks discussion, Gina told us how “emotionally touched” she was to gain that status.

      "I had not been able to vote for, I guess, twenty years, it was nice to be able to
       vote.It was nice to be an insider instead of an outsider… after the citizenship I felt
       more able to identify with Canada and feel [I was] a part of it." 

Despite feeling like a bit of an “outsider” Gina's knowledge and contributions to the talk  made it clear she has been paying attention to Canadian politics for some time. So we asked – where did that political interest come from? “I have always had some level of engagement,” she told us,

       "…There is no escaping political discussion in Ireland. It’s like discussing the 
       weather. As a child it was everywhere, as school, at home, in friends’ houses.
       From an early age, having a political opinion was important to feel included."

Given her natural affinity for politics, we couldn’t help but ask Gina how the political culture in Canada compared to that of the other countries where she’s lived.

       "All walks of life in Ireland and Germany openly discuss and debate religion and   
       politics, from very early age right through adulthood… The level of political
       discourse is significantly less in North America, people are afraid to offend or
       appear disrespectful. In North America patriotism is encouraged."

Still, Gina added, there are aspects of Canadian politics and culture that are much more engaging than she’s experienced elsewhere. “I like the emphasis the Canadian citizenship process places on volunteering,” she said. “Volunteering helped me integrate and feel engaged.” She added, “each month on CBC radio the mayor of Edmonton has a ‘phone-in’ and tries to answer whatever questions the public throws his way. I’ve never experienced this in any of the cities I’ve lived in.”

When asked what advice she’d give to Canadians to encourage us to speak about politics more, Gina suggested teaching civics and political science at all school levels. Particularly, she suggested Canadian students should learn “to express different opinions” and that “it’s actually OK to disagree openly.”

Interested in civic education? More on Samara's blog:

Making the personal political through civics

Why should you care? Terri Chu and the case for civic engagement

Stephen Young and the Civic Education Network

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