Last Sunday SALON Theatre had the privilege of welcoming our first guest host, Jane Hilderman, Executive Director of Samara Canada, to speak at In Sir John A’s Footsteps. Afterwards, SALON’s Pamela Simpson, the chance to sit down with Jane and speak about her work with Samara, democracy in Canada, and the future of Canadian politics.
What follows is Part 1 of Pamela’s interview with Jane where she talks about Samara Canada. Don’t forget to check out Part 2, where we get a bit ideological, talking about why the work she’s doing is so important.
Pamela: So what is Samara in a nutshell?
Jane: A samara, sometimes referred to as a key, is a winged seed that falls from [maple] trees and is carried by the wind. From this seed, big things grow.
We see ourselves planting this seed for future generations. We are a media company that puts out original research, which is something people can read and respond to and discuss. We also spend a lot of time on social media and hosting twitter chats, and we see ourselves as a convener of people, whether that’s online or at events.We think invitations are incredibly powerful and we try to extend them to people whenever we can.
Jane goes on to explain that democracy is not just created by holding an election every 4 years…
Jane: Its good to remember its not just about voting, although important, it’s mostly the time in-between that’s most important. That’s why the Everyday Citizen Project is so important, it lets people frame what it means to be political, and make it something to celebrate.
You can visit the Everyday Citizen Project online. The project helps to celebrate positive political role models with the aim of building a culture around positive politics in Canada. You can participate by submitting nominations for individuals you think fit this description.
Jane also brought up another Samara project, Vote PopUp
Jane:One project Samara is heading is the Vote PopUp, which is essentially a kit that will be given to community groups and the people volunteering at the booths would have all sorts of information on how to vote, such as registration etc.
The kits were created as a tool for combating the decline in voter participation by helping to demystify the voting process for first-time or infrequent voters, and educating people who are not yet able to vote because of age or citizenship status.
Finally, we talked about Democracy 360, which Jane spearheaded during her time as Research Director for Samara, before becoming the Executive Director.
Pamela: What is Democracy 360 and why did you give Canada a C (also what’s the criteria)?
Jane: If you look at where Canada stands on these charts like Freedom House and The Economist, Canada is generally in the top 10. So it’s like, great, what do we have to worry about? But that doesn’t square with most Canadians. A lot of Canadians think we’re falling short in terms of democracy and we could do more. [Democracy 360] is something in Canada, made for Canadians.
Coming up with the idea is one thing, however, as Jane explains, figuring out the details is a lot trickier…
Jane: There’s no right or wrong way to measure democracy, if you take a broad view, people think judiciary, the media, the public service, in addition to officials and citizens. So we honed in on the relationship between leaders and citizens, because we believe that is the heart of representative democracy.
We thought about inclusiveness, representativeness, responsiveness, and organized the information into three buckets, communication, leadership, and participation. This helped us get a structure, and then we could have indicators in each bucket. That’s the method side of creating something for everyone to understand because democracy is such an abstract idea. That’s why we also sorted the grading like a report card because people understand letter grades.
And finally, applying the framework of Democracy 360 to real life is the most important part, especially when the project is intended to make the complexity of democracy simpler.
Jane:Benchmarking…there’s no perfect way to do it, so we consulted with people in the space and academics, and we determined what the ideal democracy would be, (an A) and then worked our way backwards.
How did it work out for Canada?
Jane: Communication scored highest, with participation dwindling and leadership the lowest grade. So we’re not failing! But we’re not as strong as we could be, and hopefully it’s a warning signal that we may be approaching something less desirable.
Jane had some final thoughts on this subject…
Jane: …democracy has been a huge part of Canada’s success, over the last hundred years or so… I would argue it has been through political leadership, like Sir John A MacDonald, to name one important figure among many, [that we have built] an amazing country that beat the odds. So how will we sustain that for the next 150 years?
What do you think? How WILL democracy look in the next 150 years? Are we on the right track, or is there work to do? What do you do to contribute to the democratic health of our nation?
Don’t forget to check out Part 2, where we talk about bigger themes like democratic participation and the role of Arts in Politics.
Check out Part 2: HERE
Interview and Transcription by Pamela Simpson
Blog written by Allison Ferry