Adams and Parkin: Are Canadians losing confidence in their democracy?

Good counterpoint to some of the narratives circulating:

While views on the economy are mixed, the general trends in Canada, especially on attitudes towards democracy and diversity, remain positive.

There are few certainties heading into an election campaign; the outcome is up for grabs. The one thing many do feel certain of is that it is Canada’s turn to be buffeted by the winds of populism. As we prepare to cast our votes, we are feeling increasingly left behind economically, are becoming less welcoming of immigrants, and are losing confidence in our democracy.

The problem with this narrative is that it is, on the whole, not true. Consider how Canadians view their democracy. Three in four are currently satisfied with the way democracy works in Canada, a figure slightly higher than earlier in the decade. Seven in 10 say they have confidence in the honesty of our elections, a level of confidence that places Canada in the top tier of OECD countries. While confidence in elections has declined by 22 points since 2009 in the U.S., falling to 37 per cent, it has been holding steady in Canada.

When it comes to immigration, the trend is even more clear. While 35 per cent of Canadians say there are too many immigrants coming to Canada, far more – almost three in five – disagree. Most importantly, the proportion agreeing that there is too much immigration is close to the lowest figure ever. Twice as many felt that way 25 years ago.

Seven in 10 Canadians say they have confidence in the honesty of our elections, a level of confidence that places Canada in the top tier of OECD countries.

It is no doubt true that many Canadians prefer highly skilled immigrants over refugees walking over the border, and that some worry about whether new immigrants are integrating quickly enough into the Canadian mainstream. But the proportion holding these views has been trending downwards over time. At no time in the past 25 years have fewer Canadians felt that too many refugees are not legitimate, or that too many immigrants are not adopting Canadian values.

Earlier this year, a Gallup survey showed that immigration was the number one issue on the minds of our neighbours to the south.  At the same time, our Focus Canada survey showed that only three per cent of Canadians cited immigration as the biggest problem facing the country.

On the economy, the picture is more nuanced. Overall, Canadians are becoming more positive, with steady increases in the proportions saying that both the country’s economic situation and their own personal one is in good shape. The proportion saying that now is a good time to find a job is higher today than at any point since the recession hit in 2008.

The pattern, however, differs across the country, with dramatic improvements in Quebec’s economic outlook masking growing concerns in Alberta. And a generally more positive take on the economy is also combined with a weakening in satisfaction with our standard of living, particularly among younger Canadians (although satisfaction still remains high). The proportion of younger Canadians dissatisfied with the availability of good, affordable housing has doubled since the beginning of the decade.

While the messages on the economy are more mixed, the general trends in Canada, especially on attitudes towards democracy and diversity, remain positive. This is hardly an excuse to paper over other problems, for problems are it not hard to find. A growing number of Canadians are worried about climate change, and large majorities support action on reconciliation, including finally ensuring Indigenous communities have access to clean drinking water, adequate housing and quality education.

The purpose of questioning the narrative that Canada is getting sucked into the populist sinkhole is not to deflect attention from such issues, but precisely the opposite. It will be easier to devote the necessary energy to tackling the problems that we face if we remind ourselves of our strengths as a society and the civic resources we have at our disposal.

An election is the time for citizens, parties and leaders to set their sights on challenges, old and new.  We should be approaching this election more with confidence in ourselves as a civic society than with trepidation that we are losing faith in our democracy.

Source: Adams and Parkin: Are Canadians losing confidence in their democracy?

We’re speaking more languages, but is our landscape more diverse? – Andrew Parkin

Thoughtful questions by Parkin of the Mowat Centre regarding the apparent lack of interest in foreign language learning:

For those who see linguistic diversity as contributing to the vibrancy of society, there are several census results that stand out as positive developments. The first is that the number of Canadians who are bilingual in terms of English and French reached a record in 2016, at 18 per cent. The other is that a number of Indigenous youth are picking up an Indigenous language as a second language, even if they did not learn it as infants in the home. This is a promising sign for the preservation of Indigenous languages in Canada.

It is also encouraging that the proliferation of languages other than English and French has not come at the expense of an ability to communicate in one of Canada’s official languages. More than 98 per cent of Canadians say they can converse in either English or French.

The census numbers, however, also raise a couple of questions about how evenly our linguistic diversity is distributed across our society. In the first instance, our “increasingly diverse linguistic landscape” is mostly driven by immigration – by the arrival in Canada of adults who speak languages other than English or French, and the passing on of these languages in the home to their Canadian-born children. It is less clear that Canadians born to English-speaking parents are learning additional languages, whether out of personal interest or to gain an advantage in the global economy.

The bar for this internationally is set pretty high. In the European Union, for instance, two-thirds of working-age adults can speak a language other than the one they learned from their parents in the home. This means, in most cases, acquiring a second (if not a third) language at school. It helps, of course, that this second language is often English, the learning of which is made easier by its ubiquity in popular culture. The point remains that the focus on foreign languages in school pays off. European societies by and large are less ethnically diverse than Canada’s, but more multilingual in terms of the ability of most adults to speak more than one language.

The other cautionary note concerns official bilingualism. The proportion of Ontarians who can speak both English and French rose between 2011 and 2016, to just more than 11 per cent. The fact remains that among Ontarians who grew up in English-speaking households, only one in 12 can speak French. In an era where anyone aspiring to hold a position of national (and, increasingly, provincial) leadership must be bilingual, too many Ontarians are selecting themselves out of contention. It is not only math or coding skills that will open doors for young people – language skills will, too.

By all means, then, let’s celebrate our growing linguistic diversity. But in an officially bilingual country nestled in a globalized world, it is important to ensure that this diversity does not end up as a thick layer of multilingual icing on top of a unilingual cake. The ability to communicate in more than one language is something that can benefit everyone, and not just those with immigrant or French-speaking parents.

Source: We’re speaking more languages, but is our landscape more diverse? – The Globe and Mail

Canadian students are excelling: Don’t get complacent (OECD PISA)

Good overall assessment of the latest OECD PISA results and Canadian students and schools by Bonnie Schmidt and Andrew Parkin:

Canadians can be proud of our showing in the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment report, released Tuesday. We are one of only a handful of countries that places in the top tier in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in each of the three subjects tested: science, reading and math.

Canadian students not only exceeded the international average in science performance – they were among the best in the world in this subject. This is a positive result, given the diversity of our education systems and of our student population. Canada was also near the very top in reading, and remained in the top 10 in math. The OECD even singled Canada out for our ability to combine high achievement with a commitment to equity in education.

There is no gender gap in science performance in Canada, nor is there a gap between immigrant students and those born in Canada. Parents should welcome these findings.

Not only do Canadian students perform well in science, but they are also more likely than the OECD average to expect to have STEM careers (in science, technology, engineering and math) – 34 per cent of Canadian students have this expectation, compared with an international average of 25 per cent. This is good news for Canada and a testament to the many organizations across the country that help schools connect the dots between classroom science learning and the world of work.

But significant gender differences remain in terms of the specific types of STEM careers that boys and girls expect to have, with girls much more likely to expect careers in health sciences (29 per cent versus 10 per cent) and boys much more likely to expect careers in engineering (18 per cent versus 7 per cent) and information and communications technology (3.7 per cent in the ICT field versus 0.3 per cent).

While the PISA results do warrant celebration, we can’t become complacent. Challenges continue, not the least of which is figuring out how to continue evolving learning opportunities for Canadian youth so they can participate as citizens and in the labour market in a rapidly changing world.

And even though Canada stands out for its record in equity, some students still struggle to get the necessary attention. For example, PISA makes no reference to indigenous students. In addition, girls continue to significantly outperform boys in reading (though the gap narrows with digital reading) and, in some (but not all) provinces, boys outperform girls in math. Minority language classrooms (i.e. French learners outside Quebec and English learners in Quebec) also continue to lag behind.

Source: Canadian students are excelling: Don’t get complacent – The Globe and Mail