Doug Saunders reprises Canada’s role in promoting and nurturing democracies around the globe, adding a caution that “Democracy is in trouble, these days….”

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

History, social studies, current events

Key Question to Explore:

  • What kinds of actions can Canada take to help support and strengthen democracies around the world?

New Terminology:

Zimbabwe, regime, populist, disproportionately, linchpin, Euromaidan, illiberal

Materials Needed:

Globe article

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

The rise in populism has raised concerns about the stability of some democracies. In its extreme form, populism gravitates toward mob rule, which often tends to result in dictatorships. In the past, Canada has played a role in strengthening democratic institutions, but these efforts waned over the past dozen years. Writing in the Globe and Mail, Doug Saunders argues for greater Canadian involvement in supporting democracies, claiming that our country can have a “disproportionately influential effect on the fate of the world.”

Students can benefit from a lesson that reviews Canada’s previous and current policies in this regard, with an emphasis on the fragility of democracies and their potential to slide into autocracies.

By organizing students into three groups to address three different pieces of Mr. Saunders’ article, you can compress the lesson into a relatively short exercise. When groups report, they share their work, and all students come away with a more comprehensive knowledge of the subject matter.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Engage students in a short discussion about democracy. Ask: What does democracy mean to you? Note that most Canadians tend to define it in terms of the system through which we elect governments. Point out that this is, perhaps, not the most important aspect of the democratic system. Equally important—perhaps more so– are the creation and preservation of democratic institutions, such as our systems of justice, and social policies of inclusivity that address some of the challenges of a pluralistic population.

Organize students into three groups and provide each with a set of tasks specific to the article. Each group is to report orally to the class.

Group One:

  • Describe, in basic terms, how Robert Mugabe was removed from office, and why this is relevant to Canada’s role in the “democracy business.” Include:
    • Which countries played the biggest part in this transition;
    • What role Canada played in the past, and how this changed over the past 12 years;
    • A definition of dictatorship, and how it contrasts with democracy;
  • In Mr. Saunders’ opinion, in which countries is democracy in peril these days, and due to what kinds of forces?
    • In very simple terms, how do the Russian and Chinese versions of democracy differ from our own ideal?
    • What are some dangers of populist movements?
    • What does Mr. Saunders see as the dangers currently facing the American system of democracy?

Group Two:

  • Describe Canada’s historical role in promoting democracy.
    • How was Canada involved in the creation of the UN and NATO? In what way did the final forms fall short of the Canadian government’s goals?
    • What event in 1956 established Canada’s role as a peacemaker-keeper? Who led this initiative and how was this person rewarded?
    • When was CIDA created, what was its purpose, and what happened to it in 2012?
    • How has Canada helped Venezuela and Ukraine since 2012?
    • Which organization did Mr. Trudeau’s Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion replace, and what is its role?
    • What is the purpose of the Peace and Stabilization Operations Program?

Group Three:

  • Describe three key ways that Canada can support democracy abroad, and the ways in which they are different from previous policies and strategies.
    • What was Canada’s “soft” approach, and how does it need to change and why?
    • What dangers were avoided by Ukraine and South Korea, and how were anti-democratic forces thwarted?
    • Why should Canada focus less on promoting democratic institutions, and on what should it place more emphasis and funding?
    • Why is such an approach more risky? Where are examples of this playing out?
    • If Canada’s democracy is “flawed and imperfect,” how can this be used to advantage in promoting democracies abroad?
  • Do you believe that “Canadian democracy could become one of our most significant service industries – one that could save the lives and livelihoods of millions of people”?

Consolidation of Learning:

  • When students have submitted their assignments, discuss their reports with the class. Ask: Do you believe that “Canadian democracy could become one of our most significant service industries – one that could save the lives and livelihoods of millions of people”? Note the degree of consensus.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • In simple terms, students can describe Canada’s potential role in fostering democracies around the world, and the value in doing so.

Confirming Activity:

  • Students report on news about democracies in trouble, the rise of dictators and any stories on Canadian assistance in fostering democracies around the world.