After learning and practicing democratic citizenship, the next critical steps are representation and governance. Democratic institutions are key elements. They shape the norms and incentives for active citizenship and they link citizens and their representatives in ways that foster accountability, legitimacy and representation. In Québec and Canada, as well as in other countries, confidence of citizens toward the institutions is low, as many dislike the way that members of parliaments behave and consider that politicians don’t honour their promises, hence various political endeavours to reform these institutions. Research on this axis will focus on the role of electoral systems, parliaments, parliamentary debates, and political parties.
THEME 3.1: Linking Citizens and Democratic Institutions in a Reform Era
Political institutions create incentives (and disincentives) for people to vote and to be active in politics (Hadenius 2001). They structure the party landscape and define how political representation and accountability are achieved. Canada is in the middle of a wide-ranging effort to reform parliament and the Senate to reduce the democratic deficit. Electronic voting technologies and online platforms are considered to make more people voting or deliberating. Centre members have made important contributions to this debate, but several critical research questions remain.
THEME 3.2: Debating Citizens’ Choices: Parties and Parliaments
The decreasing relevance of parliament is widely recognized and distrust in political institutions and political alienation is rampant (Armingeon & Guthman 2013). Researchers are debating why. Do these trends reflect the declining influence of citizens in the political process or the growing political polarization of political elites (Aucoin & Turnbull 2014)? Centre researchers will take advantage of advances in computational processing powers to collect and analyze large datasets of parliamentary speeches, election records, party platforms, and the legislative behaviour of members of parliaments to address these questions. The goal is to enhance understanding of party behavior and polarization in parliament and the changing linkages between citizens and their representatives.
THEME 3.3: Responding to Citizens: Responsiveness, Representation and Accountability
Government accountability is a cornerstone of representative democracy. As the dramatic decline in citizens’ political trust attests, many polities face a serious accountability crisis (Cross 2010; Gidengil & Bastedo 2014). Whereas most studies of accountability have focused on elections and the government’s management of the economy, we are broadening the scope by looking at the composition of elected assembly and the government’s capacity to deliver on its election promises, as well as extra-electoral mechanisms of democratic accountability.
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