Canadians need lesson in civics, poll shows
Many citizens flunk the post-'prorogue' test
Published On Mon Dec 15 2008
D'oh Canada! We hardly know you.
The prime minister is not our head of state. We are not a representative republic. We do not elect our prime minister directly.
A new survey for the Dominion Institute taken in the aftermath of this month's political crisis in which the word "prorogue" was dusted off political science textbooks suggests a woeful ignorance of our system of government.
For example, results of the Ipsos Reid survey show 75 per cent of Canadians asked believe the prime minister, or the Governor General, is head of state. Bzzzz – wrong.
It's actually the Queen. Only 24 per cent answered correctly.
Marc Chalifoux, president of the Dominion Institute, said he decided to commission the survey after an opposition coalition threatened to topple Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government, and Harper responded by asking Governor General Michaëlle Jean to shut down Parliament until late January. Chalifoux wanted to gauge people's understanding of what had transpired.
"Canadians certainly were interested by what was going on in Ottawa, but lacked in many cases the basic knowledge to form informed opinions," Chalifoux said.
The four questions asked "aren't just trivia," he said. "These are part of the basic tool kit of knowledge that citizens need to function in a democracy."
A question 90 per cent did answer correctly was about the Governor General's power to refuse to call an election at the request of a prime minister who no longer has majority support. She has the power.
The Dec. 9-12 survey of 1,070 people found the lowest knowledge in Quebec – 70 per cent of Quebecers, for example, wrongly believed Canadians directly elect the prime minister.
Only 35 per cent of Atlantic Canadians made that mistake. The survey is said to be accurate to within 3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20.