2013 Challenge Winners
We are pleased to announce the winners of the National Democracy Challenge 2013. We received many terrific entries, and it was no easy task choosing this year's winners. We would like to thank everyone who participated in the Challenge. Your hard work, enthusiasm and passion are great examples of democracy in action.
Many thanks as well to our incredible panel of judges: the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Rick Mercer, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and George Stroumboulopoulos.
Adelaide Burrows, age 15, of Windsor, Ontario has won a four-day trip for two to Niagara Falls, sponsored by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, to attend its 2014 Annual Conference. She wins for her entry:
Democracy: It's Our History (submitted in French)
Milan Elliott, age 16, of North Vancouver, British Columbia has won a 32GB Apple iPad and Smart Cover for his entry:
Democracy in Action (Stop-Motion)
Angelica Poversky, age 15, of Richmond, British Columbia has won a $200 Best Buy gift card for her entry:
Erik MacLennan, age 17, of North Vancouver, British Columbia has won a 16GB Apple iPhone for his entry:
Passing the Torch
2nd place (tie)
Shauna Lynch, age 23, of Chesterville, Ontario and Carter Smith, age 14, of Grande Prairie, Alberta have each won a GoPro Hero3 camera for their entries:
Tell Me What Democracy Looks Like – This Is What Democracy Looks Like (Shauna Lynch)
Forum + Filming = Democracy in Action (Carter Smith)
Ivan Sadovsky, age 14, of Surrey, British Columbia has won a $200 Best Buy gift card for his entry:
Meagan Campbell, age 18, of Halifax, Nova Scotia has won a 128GB 11" MacBook Air laptop for her entry:
The Resilience of Our Democracy
If we were to start an alphabetical list of the challenges faced by our democracy, we might get to 'party discipline' by late afternoon, 'voter apathy' by midnight, and 'yes-men' by the early morning. With a decreasing public concern for politics, the integrity and transparency of our democratic system seems to be feeble and dying. However, despite the temptation to give way to cynicism, we have just as much reason to take the opposite approach. Indeed, the resources of Elections Canada, the public's access to technology, and our ability to learn from practices abroad mean that our democracy is wholly and thankfully resilient.
The typical argument that most optimists make states that democracy will survive because it has been ingrained in our value system since the dawn of Canada. However, this reasoning overlooks the fact that values change. Homophobia was arguably ingrained in our society in the 1900s, but we now flood the streets in pride parades each year and unanimously pass legislation that prescribes equal treatment. With this in mind, the fact that democracy is a tradition deserves nothing more than a mention. The real reasons that our democracy is resilient stem from current public and private resources in Canada, as well as ideas we can apply from elsewhere.
Canada invests millions of dollars to ensure transparent and representative polling in each election. In Nova Scotia, where I am writing from, there are twelve ways to vote, including requesting that an election official bring a ballot to your doorstep. We can view these measures not merely as a sign of desperation for democratic participation but rather as evidence of our system's ability to adapt to an older, busier, and less politically focused population. Perhaps the epitome of Elections Canada's efforts is seen right here in Democracy Week (although ideally, we'd have an annual Tyranny Week and dedicate the other 51 to democracy).
Canadians themselves have more ways than ever to hold elected governments accountable. The Internet means that transparency no longer relies on Freedom of Information requests, and voicing our opinions no longer depends on letters to editors. We can constantly stay updated on the decisions of our MPs and can tweet directly at them or the rest of our social networks even while the House is still sitting. As journalist Matthew Ingraham puts it, publishing used to be a business; now it's a click. Canada is also full of organizations and media that promote democracy. We have grassroots initiatives like the Springtide Collective, which hosts panel discussions with politicians, and Equal Voice, which encourages more women to enter politics. Despite the decline in newspaper sales and funding to the CBC, online subscriptions are increasingly contributing to pay for investigative journalism. Considering that the number of Masters of Journalism programs offered in Canada has tripled since 2000, we may have a generation of Snowdens in our midst. As a journalism student myself, I can testify that persistent research and verification is constantly underway.
While Canada's first-past-the-post system ensures that parties appeal to a wide portion of the population, we can look for polling practices oversees that could make our system all the more democratic. Mandatory voting has not proven to be particularly effective in Australia, but we can look at the systems in places like France and Scandinavia, where turnout is among the highest in the world. Perhaps children should learn about Parliamentary structure in school or go to the polling stations with their parents; perhaps members of Parliament should be required to raise an issue in the House if they receive 50 concerns from constituents about the topic, instead of the current requirement that they receive 100. Technology means that we can easily access strategies used elsewhere, and our resources give us the ability to implement them. Though our system faces a seemingly endless list of challenges, it can by all means persist. Indeed, we could just as easily start listing the strengths of our democracy though it would, no doubt, take even longer.
2nd place (tie)
Ikram Mecheri, age 20, of Montréal, Quebec and Margaret Lin, age 17, of Richmond, British Columbia have each won a 64GB Kobo Arc and a $100 Chapters gift card for their entries:
L'émancipation des femmes par la démocratie (Ikram Mecheri)
Internationally, Canada is often held up as an example for its democratic system as well as its laws advocating gender equality. But do Canadians really know the history of their country's democracy? Although democracy seems a given in our society today, this was not always the case, and even less so for women.
To begin with, what exactly is meant by "democracy"? The word "democracy" derives from the Greek word "demokratia," which means "sovereignty of the people." The purpose of this political system is to protect and defend the rights and freedoms of all citizens in society. More than that, democracy cannot be exclusive to the halls of power. It involves not only equality and fairness among all citizens before the State, but also in all spheres of society. The presence of women in the media, recognition of women in literature, and the involvement of women from visible minorities in politics and business are also symbols of democracy. It is therefore important to recognize that this equality as well as this emancipation of Canadian women are to a large extent the result of suffrage.
In Canada, women did not gain the right to vote until 1918, after decades of unrelenting struggle. This movement was the initiative of the first female doctor, Ontario native Emily Howard Stowe, and her daughter Augusta, also a doctor. Through their literary club, the two women began to question the political power granted to men under the guise of democracy. They strove hard for over forty years to raise awareness of their fight in the province. They organized petitions, public assemblies, secret meetings and even demonstrations. The social context at the time did not allow women to express themselves as freely as today, but that did not stop them. They just worked harder. Those suffragettes, as they were called, realized that the only way they could gain recognition in society was though democracy. Without those suffragettes, our society might not have evolved to the point it has from a democratic standpoint or from a status of women standpoint.
Today, in Canada, social democracy continues to show that it works as more and more women assume positions of power. In fact, five of Canada's eleven provinces are currently led by women, which is actually a historic victory! Further, this year, the Nobel prize in Literature was won by Canadian Alice Munro, a woman who is highly respected in the field for her non-sexualized female characters. Whether it be in politics, literature or sports, the presence of women in society is the fruit of a long democratic battle.
I believe that the legacy of the women's suffrage movement was to show Canadian women that they can do anything and that women's contribution to democracy is achieved through more than politics. There are of course the traditional ways of becoming involved, such as demonstrating, sending letters to raise MPs' awareness, volunteering to help out in a campaign, and attending municipal council meetings. But those are not the only ways of getting involved. Today, women's involvement in social democracy takes many forms, such as literature, music, film, entrepreneurship, scientific research, volunteer work with society's most vulnerable members, and more! Emily Stowe died in 1903, more than 14 years before women won the right to vote. A great visionary, Emily knew that the right to vote was not necessarily a symbol of freedom, but rather a gateway for women to achieve power, democracy and, especially, equality.
High Above the Clouds (Margaret Lin)
Early one morning, when the sky was barely tinted pink with sunlight, I boarded a plane to fly to the city cradling the heart of our nation's government. Ottawa hasn't always been Canada's capital, but it has been the scene of some of our nation's greatest strides in democracy. It was in Ottawa that the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, one of the key tenets of our nation's culture, came into existence; it was in Ottawa that laws allowing women, minorities and Aboriginals were passed; and it was in Ottawa that reparations were made for past wrongs. Since leaving Vancouver, the ground below was invisible under the thick shroud of clouds. The plane was quiet but for the rumble of engines. I started sketching as the plane crossed the Rockies: suddenly, jagged peaks began piercing the shroud of clouds.
I suddenly thought about the symbolism of the clouds: when Canada started as a cluster of European settlers and many Aboriginal nations, the colonies' future was shadowed in doubt and fear. The settlers had brought an entirely new world with them, and with the inevitable clashing of worlds came disease, famine, and war. The Rockies fell away, replaced by rolling fields of grain stitched together by roads. Patches of the land below were barren – as if the earth was resting after a hard year's work. The very same fields of wheat had tempted immigrants from their homelands to the harsh Canadian prairies: after all, Canada started as a colony of the British Empire. Its original purpose was to furnish the motherland with raw goods. But seeds of rebellion sprouted, and Canada won its independence. To connect our nation, men of all ethnicities toiled on the railways – many of them calling their workplace their grave – and Canada's democracy was put to the test with the Pacific Scandal. Although there was much discrimination and strife, Canada's identity as a multicultural nation had begun.
Over Manitoba, the clouds began to thin: the fields of wheat became sparse as silver rivers threaded the grey Canadian Shield below. After the Second World War, Canada was no longer mainly a nation of producers, but of consumers as well. Old prejudices slowly began to crack under the march of equal rights. Women had the right to vote, and choose the leaders of their nation. Then minorities gained the right to vote and stand equal before the law as any other Canadian citizen. It was a bleak time, when the world was recovering from the tremendous losses of war and stood on the brink of a new age where weapons could obliterate the entire earth in a matter of hours. It was a time where distrust ran through every level of the community, as searches for Communist spies became commonplace realities. But Canada held together, and began chiseling out an identity free from old prejudices. When two superpowers clashed, Canada tried to become a negotiator and a voice of reason both internationally and in our own home. The lakes and rivers melded together, forming a crisscross map of rivers roaring across the Ontario landscape. With the tail end of the Cold War, Canada had emerged a new nation.
Policies such as the Official Languages Act and the Canada Health Act were controversial at their time, but they slowly crept into our culture until they defined us. Five hours after take-off, we finally began our descent. The orange glow of lights far below shone amongst the grey ghosts of towering buildings. The white lights of a runway guided us down into Ottawa, home of our nation's Parliament. It seemed to me that Canada's democracy was just like the quilt of landscapes I had flown over while en route to Ottawa.
Democracy wasn't clean and straight-cut, like the pillars of the Parthenon in its glory days. Democracy wasn't even fair and equal for the ancient Greeks themselves. It was a mish-mash of different ideas that had all been stitched together into something workable and usable. The airport was quiet: not many people were there at a time when the sky was tinted orange and red. But there was diversity within the few: no two faces and the story behind those facades were the same. In one of the lounges, a small group of friends chatted about politics and policies. Although their opinions greatly differed, they still found time to laugh and poke fun at each other after vicious debate. Perhaps that is the true effect of democracy in Canadian society: not in our healthcare, or justice systems, or even our politics. Democracy may have a different face for each person, but it resides within the heart of Canada.
Mitchell MacEachern, age 26, of Mississauga, Ontario has won a $200 Best Buy gift card for his entry:
The Pericles Factor: Sport, Democracy, and Canadian Political Apathy by Mitchell MacEachern
The Toronto Maple Leafs, not having made the playoffs in nine straight years, managed to electrify the entire GTA for two weeks. Leaf flags on cars were flapping on the Gardiner Expressway, while bars and restaurants changed their menus to accommodate the new-found fanaticism. On game day, the people poured onto the streets to catch the match. From the air they looked like water meandering its way to a new destination, filling every crack of space available in and amongst the Air Canada Centre. Loyalty, sacrifice, empathy, and vicariousness are some of the elements that draw us into sport. But fans are not participants; they are simply passive observers. Why does this surrogate kind of activity promote such galvanization, electricity, and genuine interest? And why does the same not occur in Canadian politics? Unlike the passive experience of watching a hockey game, politics is much more interactive: Voters make decisions and elect representatives that have a direct impact on their daily lives. The reason people are more engaged by sport is because it is more exciting. The entertainment value – the stakes - are higher, so the people are more drawn in by the narrative. And yet, political decisions are of the utmost importance compared to watching a game; if the Leafs lose, no love lost. But if a poor decision is made in parliament it affects the lives of some 33 million people. Unfortunately in Canada, politics does not even come close to garnering the same amount of attention the Leafs achieved in their brief playoff run.
Why does an individual choose this passivity over impact? Why don't they share the same enthusiasm for politics? The answer may be as distant as Periclean Athens, the birthplace of true democracy, where each adult male Athenian had a direct say in the policies of the city. Pericles, leader of democratic Athens, did something that very few political leaders since then have been able to do, and it may be precisely this which seems to be the reason for the political apathy today: He succeeded in inspiring most Athenians to believe in something bigger than themselves, and that the well being of their country was at least as important as their own individual pursuit of happiness. That by being apart of the democracy the individual did not only improve their own quality of life, but the quality of living for each other citizen of Athens. And through this collectivity, Athens herself would grow in beauty along side the citizens. Watching the Leafs play this past spring engaged the population of the GTA because it gave them this same fulfillment. The fans became more than just passive observers, they became a part of something bigger than themselves. They felt more that what they did mattered because, if they weren't the best fan they could be, Toronto might lose.
This is what Canadian politicians need to do for Canada. By allowing the average Canadian to believe in themselves and trust their place in the community, a true democracy like that of Athens could be actualized here in Canada. So, like the Toronto Maple Leafs that inspired the individual to believe in the team, Canada's leaders need to understand that Canadians are searching for that team to believe in, and not the cynicism, corruption, failures, lies and cover-ups that have become associated with politics. That the fans of Canada are here and they are waiting to engage themselves, but are having a hard time empathizing. That if the political leaders could aspire to be more Periclean, and take a page out of the Leafs' book, they could inspire the individual Canadian fan to believe in the Canadian team creating a political activation never before seen in this country. Through the ease of today's communication like Twitter, and a willingness for each person to help the team as a whole succeed, turning Canada a little more Athenian is entirely possible. Canada would walk out of its political apathy and become a shining example of a responsible and empathetic government, a place where the individual matters no more or less than the whole. A true democracy of self-actualized and politically oriented individuals all working together to create a sustainable, hospitable, congenial, and beautiful country that they could call their own.
Congratulations!See the Challenge details