Columnist Andrew Coyne addressed standing-room only crowd at 2013 Merv Leitch Q.C. Memorial lecture

Katherine Thompson - 08 November 2013

"Democracy - real democracy - is slipping away from us."

Andrew Coyne, columnist with Postmedia News, visited the University of Alberta Faculty of Law on Monday, November 4, 2013, to participate in the 2013/14 Merv Leitch QC Memorial Lecture*, which was established in honour of C. Mervin Leitch Q.C., who passed away in 1990. Leitch served in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War. He was a colleague of the Hon. Peter Lougheed in the Conservative election victory of 1971, and served as a member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta from 1971 to 1982. After his retirement from politics, he became a partner at Macleod Dixon LLP (now Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP).

Amid Senate scandals and the mayor of Canada's largest city confessing to drug use, Coyne addressed a standing room only crowd about how broken Canada's democratic system really is.

"No democracy is perfect. People in every country complain about faults in theirs, but somewhere along the way, I believe ours crossed the line," he said. "Democracy - real democracy - is slipping away from us."

A graduate of the University of Toronto and the London School of Economics, Andrew Coyne has written for a variety of Canadian publications including Maclean's magazine, The Globe and Mail and The National Post, and his journalistic career also extends to the U.S. Known for his watchful eye on federal politics, he focuses on social, political and economic issues in his column.

Coyne cited many reasons for Canada's failing state of democracy including, low voter turnout, first-past-the-post system of determining a majority, and the danger of campaign attack ads, to name but a few.

"When the prospective voter votes for the candidates in his or her riding, what do they see? They see creatures of the parties," he explained. "When voters watch the election campaign, what do they see? Campaigns dominated by attack ads, photo ops, news coverage heavily focused on polls, gaffes and strategizing - often about attack ads."

Coyne also acknowledged the media's role in hurting the issue, and the need for the media to step up to the plate and take a role in revealing better political practices. He told the crowd that the media was getting in the way and not helping people get the information that they actually need in a campaign.

"Media is more concerned about why a candidate is behind in the polls rather than sharing information about the real issues and campaign platforms," he said. "It's a cycle that is tough to break. Politicians attempt to learn from their mistakes and journalists do as well. After every election, we retire, defeated, to our newsroom post-morgues and each time we vow, 'Never again'."

"And then we go out and do it all over again!"

Coyne offered several suggestions as to how we could begin to repair the state of Canada's democracy, including:

  • Increase trust and let politicians opt-in to some sort of legal liability, to make a promise to citizens that they will be trustworthy. There will be penalties if trust is broken.

  • Organize political campaigns around debates. Have one every week during the campaign. Have different people debating a specific topic at each debate, about the issues voters really want to know about it.

  • Create set rules for debates in the election laws.

  • If voting is considered to be a civic duty, make voting compulsory as in Australia. This will help to create a system in which every vote counts equally and candidates need to work to earn the public vote.

As the rousing sound of applause rose from the crowd, Coyne concluded, "We need to restore the public faith in the political process. It is broke, let's fix it."

To view the Andrew Coyne Leitch lecture please visit the Faculty of Law's YouTube site

To view photographs of the Andrew Coyne Leitch lecture visit the Faculty of Law's Flickr site

* The Merv Leitch QC Memorial Lecture series was established by friends and associates of Mr. C. Mervin Leitch, Q.C., B.A., LL.B., to honour the significant contributions he made while serving his fellow Albertans and Canadians in general. After serving in the Navy, Mr. Leitch attended university and pursued a career in law before entering the world of politics. He was a member of the Alberta Legislature for Calgary Egmont and also served as Attorney General, Provincial Secretary, Provincial Treasurer, and Minister of Energy and Natural Resources. Mr. Leitch passed away in 1990, but his legacy lives on through the Merv Leitch QC Memorial Lecture.