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Ukrainians willing to fight for democracy

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  |  Posted: Wednesday, Feb 26, 2014 06:00 am

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Canadians went to bed last Saturday night with visions of gold medals dancing in their heads. In St. Albert, lineups to get in the local bars started at 4 a.m. Sunday morning as fans anticipated toasting Team Canada men’s hockey victory over Sweden. On the other side of the world, the people of Ukraine went to bed Saturday night surrounded by fear and uncertainty as their country faces a political crisis that has it on the brink of all-out civil war.

The contrast between the two countries could not be more stark. Last week Ukrainian protesters donned hockey masks, helmets, shin guards and whatever else they could get their hands on to take on the police in the capital city of Kyiv. More than 75 people were killed and over 500 injured. At about the same time, Canadians were celebrating the nail-biting comeback of the Team Canada women’s hockey team in the gold medal match against the U.S.

The quality of life Canadians enjoy is unparalleled the world over. Our health care and education systems are among the best the world has to offer. Our economy is stable. Our banking system is superior to any other in the world. All of these things we owe to one fundamental – democracy. We are free to pursue our ambitions and build better lives for our families. In the Ukraine, people are fighting for that right against a corrupt government and oppressive Russian influence.

There is, however, an unfortunate and disturbing trend taking place in Canada that will have critical consequences if it continues. Democracy is being taken for granted. Voter turnout is waning in Canada, particularly among youth. In the May 2011 federal election, only 38.8 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 24 years cared to vote. The National Youth Survey, conducted by Elections Canada, showed youth were not motivated to vote. The study revealed one of the driving factors behind the lack of motivation was a lack of knowledge to participate in the voting process. They were generally less interested in politics and apathetic.

Apathy is the antithesis of a strong democracy. We are already experiencing how a minority of citizens can control the political agenda. That will only get worse as we tune out and drop out of the political process. Our lack of political engagement will inevitably lead to governments with weak mandates and public policy that is not necessarily in the best interests of the majority.

The people of Ukraine are only the latest to rebel against autocratic leadership. In pursuing their dream of democracy they are prepared to lay down their lives for it. Our first order of business, short of military action, is to do whatever we can to help them realize that dream. And then we need a deep introspective right here at home. Would we be prepared to put our own lives at risk to preserve our own democracy? We answered that question with an emphatic yes twice last century.

Do we really need to be pushed right to the brink before we act? Or can we learn from our own history and what we see from Kyiv today on our TV sets? As Canadians, we all understand our right to democracy. But too few of us seem to understand that to protect that right we must accept the responsibility to participate in it. If we fail to do so there may come a day when we find ourselves fighting for it – again.


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