The Samara Centre's Highlights from 2020

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Happening Now Tuesday, December 22, 2020 View Count = 1734

The Samara Centre's Highlights from 2020

As governments around the world struggled to contain the pandemic, 2020 was the year that democracies learned to work from home.

It was also a year that saw widespread protest against racial injustice and a highly fractious US presidential election. It was undoubtedly a tough year for you and your loved ones as well.

In case you missed how the Samara Centre pivoted to monitor Canada’s democracy in a time of emergency, and to bring Canadians together while staying physically apart, here’s how we fought for democracy in a year unlike any other:

1. Examined the state of democracy in a state of emergency

Months before the pandemic struck, the Samara Centre released the first in-depth and objective examination of the 42nd Parliament. House Inspection sheds light on the last Parliament’s scrutiny of Government, extent of partisanship, and quality of debate, and offers lessons for current parliamentarians.

Then, recognizing that major crises pose immediate threats and often produce lasting change, we focused our efforts on safeguarding against the erosion of democratic representation, legislative scrutiny, and public accountability in the government response to COVID-19.

In a series of seven reports, the Samara Centre’s Democracy Monitor tracks how public leaders and institutions reacted to the crisis and passed emergency legislation, how elected representatives engaged with constituents and upheld their responsibilities as parliamentarians, and how Canadians’ democratic attitudes shifted with the arrival of the pandemic.

2. Advanced evidence-based recommendations and non-partisan analysis

The Samara Centre does research to drive action. In dialogue with policymakers, and in media reports and editorial columns, we offered informed commentary and practical solutions to pressing issues of the day—including how to sustain democracy during a pandemic.

As the House of Commons got set to reconvene in January, we shared five (and a half) suggestions for new MPs in the 43rd Parliament. Then, as MPs were forced to return home and forgo in-person contact, we called on elected leaders to experiment with technology that enables constructive, two-way conversations with their constituents.

Appearing before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, we outlined principles to guide the creation of a virtual Parliament. Following the first federal election under the Leaders’ Debates Commission, we were asked to submit our reflections on its work and recommendations for the future. Passed in 2014, The Reform Act sought to give MPs more independence from their parties, but we found that it has largely failed to live up to its billing.

With the US primary system leaving Canadians a bit smug about how we do things up here, we pointed out that the way our political parties select their candidates is nothing to brag about. Turning to how parties select their leaders, we noted that criteria such as fundraising prowess offer a poor basis for assessing a candidate’s viability or commitment.

Finally, with politicians campaigning for various bold visions for a post-pandemic Canada, and Canadians feeling like they don't have a say in what governments do, we proposed that Parliament become the first national legislature to institute citizens’ assemblies. And while democratic renewal requires public deliberation, we argued that it still requires leadership from the 338 individuals we send to Ottawa.

For more, check out a selection of our news coverage and opinion pieces.

3. Published the long awaited sequel to our #1 bestseller Tragedy in the Commons

For anyone who has ever imagined offering their career and life to public service, the Samara Centre offers a how-to guide, an inspirational account, and perhaps a warning.

Based on our latest round of MP exit interviews, Real House Lives uses the stories and experiences of past parliamentarians to understand what’s going wrong with our national politics. Laying out a vision of democratic representation that is independent, thoughtful, engaged, and empowered, the book traces a path toward a stronger Parliament, better local engagement, and healthier parties. Order your copy now.

To celebrate the book’s launch, co-author Mike Morden sat down for a candid discussion with former MPs Peggy Nash, Robert-Falcon Ouellette, and the Honourable Lisa Raitt at The Royal Cinema in Toronto—in what would be our last in-person event before the lockdown began.

We were also invited to share insights from the book at an orientation session for new MPs in January, and to moderate a discussion on what life would be like in the 43rd Parliament, featuring journalist Susan Delacourt and former MPs James Rajotte and Megan Leslie.

4. Convened citizens, scholars, journalists, and elected leaders… virtually

Like much of the world, our team quickly got accustomed to connecting over webcam, participating in virtual events that reached national and international audiences.

We were delighted to co-present Canada’s democracy summit, DemocracyXChange, for a second time. This year, we organized a panel on how to build resilient and authentic democratic institutions, featuring researcher Brittany Andrew-Amofah, community builder Veronika Bylicki, pollster David Coletto, political strategist Tiffany Gooch, and our very own Mike Morden. We also hosted a conversation on party discipline in Canada with award-winning author Alex Marland and former MP Megan Leslie.

As part of our Democracy Monitor series, we explored the potential benefits and challenges of virtual parliaments with parliamentary expert Cristina Leston-Bandeira, and examined how provincial and territorial legislatures were adapting to COVID-19 with MLA Julie Green, political scientist JP Lewis, and reporter Sabrina Nanji.

We also hosted a group of parliamentary interns to talk about the ideas and challenges highlighted in Real House Lives, and to answer their very thoughtful questions.

For more events and videos, visit our YouTube channel.

5. Collaborated with a variety of publicly-minded organizations

The Samara Centre was only capable of producing this timely research and programming thanks to a host of incredible partners.

Working with individuals and groups from across the country, we would like to acknowledge the following collaborators:

In addition to these partners, the Samara Centre couldn’t have made such an impact this year without our amazing community of supporters, volunteers, and donors, whose support helped fuel this work. We're so proud of everything we've accomplished together. Thank you!

With critical decisions about how to rebuild after the pandemic still on the docket, the coming year will be vitally important for the future of Canada’s democracy.

Here’s a preview of what the Samara Centre has in store for early 2021:

  • To sustain the political conversations that democracy needs, during the pandemic and beyond, we will unveil resources designed to improve the digital public engagement efforts of elected leaders and civil society actors. 
  • For the first time in Samara history, we will turn our attention to the lives and careers of municipal politicians, drawing on data from the Canadian Municipal Barometer survey.
  • To address the online harassment and abuse hurled at politicians, we will host a virtual town hall with elected leaders, in partnership with Friends of Canadian Broadcasting and UBC.

We hope you will join us in making Canadian politics more accessible, responsive, and inclusive in 2021.

On behalf of our team and board, we wish you a joyful holiday season and a happy New Year!

The Samara Centre for Democracy

P.S. As an educational charity, our work wouldn’t be possible without individual donations from supporters like you. After a very tough year, your support is more important than ever. Please consider donating at, or send a cheque to the Samara Centre for Democracy at 33 Prince Arthur Ave., Toronto, ON M5R 1B2. Donate $25 or more by December 31st to receive a charitable tax receipt for 2020.

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