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Elements of Democratic Governance


									Elements of Democratic Governance

         Discussion Paper*

             June 2006
                 Elements of Democratic Governance – Executive Summary

The promotion of democracy has become an explicit focus in aid activities and international
relations to an extent that was largely unforeseen prior to 1990. These trends, and Canada’s own
involvement in international democracy promotion, have been the subject of an informal
dialogue amongst Canadian practitioners and officials. The following paper, which emerged from
these informal discussions, revisits some basic questions concerning the nature of democratic
governance, its value, and some of the contemporary challenges in promoting democracy. It
concludes with some preliminary considerations about identifying a distinctive approach and
points of comparative advantage for Canada.

Canada has traditionally approached ‘democratic governance’ by emphasizing two of the main
pillars of the liberal democratic tradition: citizen participation in the determination of
government itself and in the broader decision-making processes by which communities are
governed; and a rights ‘platform’ that supports and protects the role of individuals and minorities
in the governance process. Canada has an interest in promoting liberal democratic governance for
different types of reasons: for the benefits this may bring to citizens abroad and Canadians alike
(in terms of peace, security, prosperity, and development dividends); and insofar as some core
liberal democratic values are taken to have intrinsic merit and to be universal in scope. In
particular, the participation and protection of individuals as basic elements of governance are
taken to be valuable in their own right, and are increasingly perceived as key components of state
legitimacy in international relations.

However, the contemporary challenges facing democracy are many. In regions where democracy
is relatively ‘fresh,’ concerns about its ‘depth’ or quality are often linked to doubts about its
ability to deliver much-needed goods, such as equitable prosperity, development or security. In
other cases, the challenges are different in kind: the values at the heart of liberal democracy may
be rejected or seen as problematic. In some fragile states, where the main ‘fault-lines’ are ethnic,
racial or religious in nature, democratization may be undertaken in ways that exacerbate pre-
existing tensions. Electoral democracies may be characterized by authoritarian tendencies and an
incomplete commitment to the rights of some, or all, of their citizens.

Attempts to undertake reform in the context of foreign political institutions and processes must
therefore be acutely sensitive to local context. This includes the need to understand local
institutions and “change agents” within their national and regional contexts; to effectively select
and train those delivering democracy assistance; to consider carefully the sequencing of aid; to
have local “buy in” as a necessary condition of success; to consider the ways in which local
institutions or indigenous customs might serve as ‘bridging elements’ for democratic practices;
and to look for areas in which Canada has a comparative advantage or “niche” expertise to offer.

* This paper reflects discussions amongst the Democracy Council including: Elections Canada,
International Development Research Council, Parliamentary Centre, Forum of Federations, National
Judicial Institute, Rights and Democracy, Canadian International Development Agency, and Foreign
Affairs and International Trade Canada.
It is clear that Canada has some well-established expertise in promoting some of the key
elements of democratic governance, and that Canadian democracy itself has some unique
strengths – e.g. the promotion of tolerance and the forging of a common identity across major
cultural, linguistic and regional differences in Canada – to which some of our ‘niche’ expertise
may be well placed to speak internationally. Canada is also perceived in manner that may, at
certain times and places, make it a more trusted partner in delivering assistance that can be
sensitive and highly political in nature. This would be further encouraged by an approach and
largely demand-driven style in which Canadian organizations seek, in the main, to facilitate
reform processes and to assist local actors in achieving their own agendas for democratic change.

                             Elements of Democratic Governance

1        Introduction

.1 The extent to which the promotion of democracy has become an explicit focus of aid
activities – if not an organizing concept or force in the conduct of international relations – is
significant in a way that was largely unforeseen prior to 1990. In the last decade, there has been
an increase in ‘political’ aid dedicated to the promotion of democracy; an increase in the number
of groups and agencies working in this area; the emergence of new international and regional
initiatives organized around the promotion of democratic norms and states; a larger role for
multilateral organizations in‘validating’ domestic elections and in attempting to build democratic
institutions in weak and failed states; and so on.

.2 The relative newness and scale of this enterprise is encouraging many democracy
practitioners to reflect on the experiences of the past decade and beyond. With this in mind, the
following paper revisits some of the basic questions about democratic governance, chiefly: (1)
What are some of the essential elements of democratic governance? (2)Why is such governance
desirable? And (3) what are some of the key challenges that arise in promoting democracy abroad
and adapting Canadian models? Discussion of the latter includes some preliminary comments
about identifying comparative advantages for Canada.

2      Elements of Democratic Governance

.1 A theory or definition of ‘democratic governance’ and conclusions about its applicability in
different contexts faces a number of large challenges. A definition might be derived from a
number of sources: from Canada’s own democratic experience; from international standards and
the growing normative architecture that surrounds multilateral efforts to define and promote
democratic institutions; from theories of democracy which reflect, and have informed, the growth
of Western democracy itself.

.2 This paper does not purport to offer a comprehensive definition of democratic governance.
Rather, it attempts to capture some of the key elements of democratic governance; to identify
some of the relevant considerations concerning its adaptability in different contexts; and to
outline some of the areas and ways in which Canadian expertise might suggest a distinctive

contribution to the promotion of democratic governance.

.3 In 2005, International IDEA (Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance) published a
ten-year retrospective that includes a succinct discussion of the trends in international democracy
assistance and a summary of the principal veins of Western thought with respect to characterizing
democracy itself. The following section draws from IDEA’s summary, from some of Canada’s
own statements on the promotion of democracy, and from reflections offered by some of
Canada’s own practitioners.

3       Conceptual Issues

.1 Two issues that are not always explicitly addressed in discussions of democracy assistance
are ones about the nature of democratic governance and its value. What are the essential elements
democratic governance and why are they desirable? Cast more broadly: what do we mean by
"democracy" (as a ‘system-wide’ type of governance) and what good is it? The answers are not
easy to formulate, though they have important implications, including for the kind of
programming a country undertakes in this area and for the way in which aid and other programs
are categorized and reported as “democracy assistance.” They are also germane to the larger
objectives that frame or orient such programming, and, ultimately, to the kinds of public
justifications that are given for democracy assistance.

.2 The core ‘procedural’ elements of democratic governance are often not contested: there needs
to be both competition and popular participation in the determination of government itself. This
yields a ‘procedural' conception of democracy about which there is significant consensus in terms
of the minimal conditions that would have to obtain in order for the basic governing institutions
and practices of a state to be considered democratic.1 Competition, or "contestation," occurs most
publicly in the form of multi-party elections, which presuppose freedom of expression and
association, and a party and electoral system in order to determine government on the basis of a
peaceful, public expression of options and differences. Popular participation gives meaning to the
notion of ‘popular sovereignty' or collective self-determination, and hinges crucially on the right
to vote.

          International IDEA summarizes the main trends in these terms (IDEA, Ten Years of Supporting
Democracy Worldwide, 2005, chapter 1). There are other semantic debates not characterized here and the
above is a very cursory explication of the concept of democracy within the Western tradition. A number
of one-party states would maintain that they are also democratic, and that the relevant distinction is not
between democratic and undemocratic governance, per se, but rather between different kinds of
democracy, e.g. between ‘representative' and ‘participatory' democracies. A number of one-party states
would be "democratic" according to the conceptual boundaries for which they argue, though they would
not satisfy the minimal procedural requirements for democracy in the terms noted above. One might
continue this debate at the semantic level – about what is actually meant by "democracy" – but at a
certain moment the semantic arguments can be sidelined by talking more directly about the value of free
speech and multi-party politics, or those aspects of governance that separate liberal democratic systems
from others, including one-party states.
.3 Most of the key differences over definitions of "democracy" arise with respect to how
robustly the concept of democracy should be characterized beyond its core procedural aspects.
"Liberal" and "social" definitions maintain the core procedural content but adopt more expansive
accounts of the rights and institutions by which a democracy is defined.2 Liberal definitions
emphasize civil, political, property and minority rights; they also place increased, explicit
emphasis on institutional checks and balances, accountability to citizens, and equality with
respect to representation and participation. “Social” definitions of democracy adopt the
procedural and liberal content (and the inherent constraints on the exercise of majority rule),
while expanding the notion of what it means for a state to be democratic to include the protection
and promotion of social and economic rights.

.4 In brief, Canadian practice has been not simply to promote democracy in its procedural form,
but rather liberal democracy, with its emphasis on the enshrinement of rights and protection of
individuals and minorities. Some of Canada’s initial forays into the promotion of democratic
development were aimed largely at fostering greater participation in decision-making and
political processes. The report that led to the creation, in 1988, of the International Centre for
Human Rights and Democratic Development underlined this approach:

       ...The notion of democracy we have adopted, and which we believe must define and
       inspire Canadian assistance in this area, is quite simply the participation of citizens in
       decision-making which affects their lives...The ultimate objective is to assist the
       population to develop the ability to intervene on its own behalf in the decision-making
       process at the local, regional and national level and to assist the public powers to create
       institutions to safeguard the rights and liberties of citizens.3

.5 The decision to focus on the rights and political engagement of citizens was anchored not in
the promotion of a particular Canadian brand or model of democracy or development, but rather
in principles contained in the International Bill of Rights. This unites the two principal strands of
the liberal democratic tradition: on one side, the centrality of participation in shaping and
legitimating decision-making processes and the formation of government itself; on the other, a
rights ‘platform’ to support and protect the role of individuals in the democratic process.

.6 A tentative and simple matrix that captures some of the key aspects of constitutional liberal
democracy might include the elements shown below. It should perhaps be re-emphasized that the
following list is provisional and is not intended as a definition; by no means does it offer a list of
individually necessary and jointly sufficient elements, including the relations between them, that
would serve as a formal definition of liberal democratic governance. The undertaking is far more
modest and is simply meant to capture some – but not all – of the basic ingredients of democratic
governance; and some – but not all – of the key points of engagement between formal institutions

        As quoted in Gerald Schmitz, “The Role of International Democracy Promotion in Canada’s
Foreign Policy,” IRPP, Vol. 5, no. 10, November 2004.
and civil society actors.

 Democratic Element         Institutional Aspects                 Civil Society Aspects

 Elections                  - Independent electoral               - Political Parties
                            commission(s)                         - Citizen and Youth
                                                                  Engagement organizations
 Possible Indicators:       - Free, fair, and regular elections   - Rules governing the creation,
                            - “Free” if substantive rights are    funding, and administration of
                            protected, contested by multiple      parties
                            parties                               - Functions fulfilled by political
                            - “Fair” if procedural guarantees     parties and other organizations
                            are in place                          - Effective representation of
                                                                  interests, including those of
                                                                  women and minorities
 Human Rights               - Courts                              - Human rights organizations
                            - National and sub-national           - Groups representing thematic
                            human rights institutions             rights issues (e.g. women’s
                            (commissions and ombudsmen)           rights, environmental groups)
                            - Government departments with         - Groups representing
                            mandate for promotion and             vulnerable members of the
                            protection of human rights            population
                            - Arms-length institutions with       - Academics and universities
                            mandates for promotion and            - Primary and secondary
                            protection of human rights            educators
 Possible Indicators:       - Constitutional/legal protections    - Range and effectiveness of
                            - International commitments           civil society groups
                            - Independent commissions and         - Mechanisms for interaction
                            other institutional mechanisms for    with political process
                            redress                               - Legal standing
                            - Political/economic/social/          - Role of education
                            cultural barriers to effective
                            implementation/enjoyment of
 Court/Judicial system - Judges, courts                           - Bar associations
                       - Law Commissions                          - Law firms
                       - Arms-length institutions with            - Law faculties
                       mandate to support and train               - Legal Aid

Possible Indicators:   - Well-trained and independent       - Adequate training for legal
                       judiciary                            experts
                       - Rules governing appointment        - Access to judicial system for
                       and terms of office                  citizens
                       - Relations (formal/informal) with
                       executive and legislative branches
                       - Rules governing due process and
                       judicial decision-making

Media                  - Institutions/organizations/        - Groups dedicated to the
                       businesses dedicated to the          protection of journalists/free
                       dissemination of information,        speech
                       including national and sub-          - Education and institutions
                       national networks                    dedicated to the professional
                       - Relevant government                training of media personnel
                       departments and agencies,
                       regulating/promoting the flow of
Possible Indicators:   - Regulations/policies governing     - Limitations on/protections of
                       communications and technology        free speech
                       - Ownership and control of media     - Treatment of journalists/CSOs
                       and means of communication           - Legal standing
                       - Impediments to free flow of        - Support for programs to train
                       information                          and enhance media
Legislature            - Legislature (upper and lower       - Political parties
                       chambers)                            - Associations of legislators
                       - Legislative committees             - Associations of former
                       - Arms-length institutions with      legislators
                       mandate to support legislators       - Lobby groups

Possible Indicators:   - Size, composition, powers          - Effectiveness of parties, lobby
                       - Governing rules and relationship   groups
                       with executive                       - Insertion in the political
                       - Mechanisms for accountability      process and rules governing
                                                            financing and operation
                                                            - Legal standing
Executive              - Executive office and advisors      - Lobby groups

Possible Indicators:   - Size, composition, powers        - Effectiveness of mechanisms
                       - Governing rules and relationship for citizen interaction with
                       with legislature                   executive
                       - Mechanisms for accountability
Civilian oversight     - Auditor General                    - Media
mechanisms             - Courts                             - Human Rights Organizations
                       - Police, secret service and
                       military complaint and review
                       - Ethics commissioner

Possible Indicators:   - Powers, mandate                    - Rules governing access to
                       - Relations with executive and       information
                       legislature                          - Extent of critical review of
                       - Terms of office                    oversight
Public sector          - Professional civil service         - Public service commissions
management,            - Auditor general                    - Ombudsmen
including public       - Comptroller                        - Ethics Commissioner(s)
finances               - Administrative courts and
Possible indicators    - Mechanisms of accountability,      - Rules and practices governing
                       including anti-corruption            advancement/promotion
                       measures/agencies                    - Reviews conducted of
                       - Codes of ethics and rules          institutional performance
                       governing malfeasance
                        - Relations with executive and

Constitution           - Levels of government               - Associations of officials at
                       - Key branches of government         national and sub-national
                       (executive, legislative, judicial)   officials
                       - Key documents establishing         - Political and legal advocacy
                       basic rights of citizens and         groups
                       institutions/procedures of           - NGOs, CSOs

 Possible Indicators       – Clearly defined levels and           - Platform of constitutionally-
                           branches of government, including      protected rights and procedures
                           relationships between                  by which citizens engage with
                           - Effectiveness and interaction of     different levels and branches of
                           different levels of government         government
                           - Entrenchment of basic rights and
                           procedures by which government
                           and key offices are filled
                           - Definition of procedures for
                           amending constitution

.7 The design of the matrix is intended to suggest that many of the elements of democratic
governance have both (a) an institutional dimension and (b) a public interface that provides for
citizen engagement with the formal institutions themselves. For example, as political institutions,
democratic legislatures are filled on the basis of elections, and governed according to rules set
out in legal and constitutional provisions, along with conventional rules. But their functioning
also depends on the existence and operation of groups – such as political parties, lobby groups
and other associations – through which citizens’ interests are aggregated, represented and
ultimately reflected in the work of legislatures.

.8 This approach also coheres with some of the original thinking that defined Canada’s
approach to the promotion of democracy abroad. It is motivated by the consideration that, as
one Canadian practitioner suggested, “...democracy should be understood both as a political
structure, as well as a space within which citizens can participate meaningfully in the decisions
that affect their lives. In this optic, building an enduring democratic system involves building the
trust between government and governed and strengthening the nexus between institutions and
citizenship.” In terms of assisting the development of democratic practices and institutions, this
approach also suggests that there will be a variety of entry points with respect to a particular
element: assisting with the development of a new constitution might, for example, be approached
both as an exercise in system design and as one in which the capacity of local stakeholders to
inform the design process itself are both seen as integral parts of democratic governance.

.9 The inclusion of “possible indicators” is highly provisional and not meant to be exhaustive
or exclusive. Rather, they are simply meant to indicate some of the assessment criteria that would
be relevant to a determination of the existence and quality of democratic governance. The criteria
by which the formal institutions are assessed would include the rules governing the functioning
of the institutions themselves, their composition, the creation of mechanisms of accountability,
etc. Those pertaining to civil society would include the rights platform which supports citizen
engagement, and the composition, functioning, and effectiveness of such groups, etc. Even then,
such a ‘snapshot’ would at best help to capture some of the key formal and informal elements of
democratic governance. It would be subject to the important caveat that many ‘exogenous
factors’ not reflected in such a matrix – e.g. the economic, social, cultural and other country-
specific realities that surround the political process itself – will bear intimately on the quality of
democracy that is, in practice, achieved.
.10 Democratic governance, in whichever terms it comes to be defined, need not be taken as a
synonym for ‘good governance,’ though it will often be considered as a necessary (but not
sufficient) condition of the latter. Certainly, not all democratic governance will, in fact, be good –
either in design or in output – and it perhaps remains an open question if all good (political)
governance is necessarily democratic.4 At any rate, the kind of distinction between governance
that is good and that which is democratic is a clear one in principle: it is one between the quality
and the type of governance.

4       Normative Issues

.1 With respect to the larger objectives or reasons for which democracy and good governance
ought to be promoted, three types of justifications might, in broad terms, be offered. In the first
instance (and from the standpoint of development agencies in particular) fostering governance
that is both good and democratic in nature is primarily a question of promoting the best ‘enabling
environment’ for the effective use of aid money: good governance is taken to be a necessary
condition of the optimal use of development funds with a view to reducing poverty and achieving
the Millennium Development Goals.

.2 In much the same way that good governance is pursued in order to achieve developmental
goals, democratic values and institutions are, secondly, pictured as means to the achievement of
desirable political or economic ends, such as security, peace, or prosperity. In other words,
democratic political systems are instrumentally valuable in the realization of other goods or
objectives. Some, if not many, of the goods in question – such as peace or prosperity – can be
both intrastate (good for their citizens) and interstate (good for the international order) in nature.
The "Democratic Peace Proposition" – that mature democratic states do not go to war -- is
perhaps the most common thesis regarding the international utility of democratic states.5 The
security agenda of many Western states is predicated on similar reasoning: efforts to promote
inclusive, accountable, democratic structures are ultimately good for the security of individuals,
for particular states, and for international security more generally.

.3 Thirdly, some core liberal democratic values are taken to have intrinsic merit and to be
universal in scope. This is the sense in which democratic governance might be promoted as an
"end in itself," that is, for reasons that are not solely contingent upon the added benefits that
governing democratically may achieve. This is a stronger claim, different in kind, and is the more
controversial and difficult case to make. The core idea can be articulated in different ways, but
invariably turns on the notion that what is intrinsically valuable about liberal democracy is the

         USAID views democracy and good governance as “mutually reinforcing” yet distinct in nature.
For instance: “Democracy as reflected in free, fair, and competitive elections is not strictly necessary for
good governance. And it is quite possible to have bad governance under the formal structures of
democracy....” (USAID, “Promoting Democratic Governance,”
           However, particularly where democratization and state-building take place concurrently, such
as in failed and fragile states, the proposition likely fails to reflect the tenuous nature of democracy and
the proximity of potential conflict, be it conflict with a neighbouring states or within a single state.
central importance it attaches to the protection and participation of individuals in the very
definition of the system itself.

.4 A few cursory remarks might be added concerning the relationship between democratic
governance and legitimacy. Legitimacy within a democratic system of governance is often also
seen to be a function of some of the basic principles and procedures of the system itself. Those
wielding power are accountable to citizens through the regular holding of free and fair elections;
government is “legitimate” insofar as it arises from the consent of the governed. More robust
characterizations of “legitimacy” are possible. Liberal democrats will posit that legitimate forms
of government not only arise from the consent of the governed but also protect basic rights and
freedoms and thereby recognize inherent limits on the exercise of the state's own power.

.5 The concept of legitimacy – and, in practice, what it takes, subjectively, for citizens to feel
that their governments are ‘legitimate’ – may, in the end, require more yet. It may hinge not
simply on the processes and restraints according to which the use of power is authorized, but also
on the aims and performance of government itself. But whatever the formula for ‘legitimacy' may
be, the participation and protection of individuals in the basic design and workings of a political
system might be seen as some of the essential ingredients not just of democratic but also of
legitimate forms of government. In this account, the two are closely tied.

.6 Internationally, at least two developments are striking in this regard in the post 1989-1991
period: the extent to which the international community has come increasingly to treat "free and
fair" elections as a more fundamental constituent of legitimate government; and that there is now
an expanded international role in legitimating the elections by which (some) governments are
formed – i.e. this is no longer necessarily taken to be a strict matter of domestic competence.
Both might be seen, in part, as a natural outcome of greater international involvement in the
management of intrastate conflicts, post-1990. The UN and other regional organizations have
been drawn not simply into the business of state- and institution-building, but also into
‘validation' exercises such as the monitoring of domestic elections.

.7 A corollary to these trends has been a greater focus in international and regional fora on the
‘normative architecture' that underpins multilateral efforts to promote ‘free and fair elections' and
democratic institutions. One implication seems to be that international legitimacy is coming to be
seen perhaps far less in terms of sovereignty in the traditional sense, involving a national
government’s ability to exercise effective control over a given territory, and more in terms of a
government’s ability to meaningfully demonstrate that its rule is based on the will of those it
claims to represent and legitimately govern.6 The holding of free and fair elections is often seen,
in this interpretation, as a sine qua non condition of legitimate government based on popular

         For example, the argument in favour of an emerging ‘democratic entitlement' in international
law is covered in Democratic Governance and International Law, Fox and Roth, 2000, chapter 1.

5          Context: Challenges to Democracy

.1 A list of contemporary challenges facing democratic governance is likely to be extensive and
to include considerations that are different in kind. The following sections identify merely some
of the different kinds of relevant challenges, along with others that arise in adapting our own
models and knowledge to suit foreign contexts. The ultimate goal of an extended treatment of
this topic would be to arrive at a clearer notion of the elements or principles of a distinctive
Canadian approach to the provision of democracy assistance and to confronting some of the
current challenges facing democracy.

.2 Concerns about the efficacy and quality of democratic governance have, roughly speaking,
kept pace with the rise in the sheer number of democratic states. The concerns are certainly not
unique to the South or to ‘transitional’ states where democracy is new. The notion of a
“democratic deficit” has variously been applied to some of the well-established institutions of
older democracies, and, as well, to some of the international institutions, non-state actors and
others that have come to play a more predominant role in a globalized world.

.3 Concerns about the ‘depth’ or quality of democracy in states or regions where democracy is
relatively fresh are often linked to doubts about its efficacy – about the extent to which
democratic governance is robust or substantial enough to adequately address fundamental
problems. Where democratic governance is promoted as a means to the achievement other
important objectives, such as peace, development or security, it may be seen as ineffective if the
desired results do not obtain. This is a challenge the likes of which is not unfamiliar in many
contemporary criticisms of democracy, with some arguing that it does not deliver, or does not
deliver enough, or does not deliver quickly enough – be it equitable prosperity, development,
security or other goods.

.4 Latin America is instructive in this regard. Conclusions contained in a 2004 UNDP report on
the state of democracy in Latin America were re-confirmed and extended in reports concerning
public perceptions of democracy in the region, issued after the UNDP survey.8 A main
preoccupation, reflected in both public perception and empirical data, is about the extent to
which democratic governance can effectively generate equitable prosperity throughout the region.
Real GDP per capita did not significantly increase over a 20 year period, while the absolute

         The international acceptance of a state’s “responsibility to protect” its citizens reflects
convergence around the norm that sovereignty implies not just effective control but also the will and
capacity to provision some of the basic public goods that are essential to individual security and well-
being. Similarly, the above interpretation suggests that sovereignty is fundamentally anchored in, and
should be responsive to, popular will – it does not simply arise from, nor merely aim to achieve, the
wielding of effective control within the boundaries of a given territory.
       See in particular Oxford Analytica reports of November 4, 2005, “Strong economy does not
help democracy,” and of May 13, 2004, “Doubts over democratic development.”
number of Latin Americans living in poverty increased, in a region that registered significant
democratic gains but maintains the highest levels of inequality in the world. Findings suggested
that politics and political parties were not well-regarded; they were seen as largely irrelevant to
addressing fundamental issues of social rights and justice. It was found that over half of Latin
Americans would favour authoritarian rule if it were to solve economic problems.

.5 A separate set of challenges concerns the values of democratic governance themselves and
the ways in which they are put into practice. In some cases, there may be a fundamental aversion
to governance based on liberal democratic values (an aversion that may at times be rooted in the
maintenance of elite or partial interests); in others, governance may be democratic in many of its
formal and procedural aspects, but fail to achieve a substantive commitment to a form of
governance that is, in practice, inclusive and tolerant with respect to all members of society.
Governance may be “democratic” in its formal or procedural aspects yet retain authoritarian and
illiberal tendencies.9 In some weak and failed/fragile states, democratization can be undertaken in
ways that, while incorporating some of the essential attributes of democracy – such as free
speech, the formation of political parties, and the holding of elections – serve to exacerbate pre-
existing tensions along ethnic, racial or religious lines.

.6 Democratic governance might, then, be rejected or resisted, or seen as undesirable, for
different sorts of reasons, ranging from the values on which it is based or its perceived
ineffectiveness in producing other benefits, to the way in which it might negatively impinge on
the interests of local actors or elites. Part of the challenge in ‘selling' democracy is to show that it
can be flexible and sensitive to local circumstance; that it permits of ‘degrees' or ‘grades' in
implementation over time; that it can be effective in achieving other goals; and that, at its core, it
is persuasive and powerful in its appeal to the democratic empowerment and protection of
individuals. As the views of Canadian practitioners also suggest in following section, a clear
sense of which indigenous actors favour enhanced democratic governance, and on what basis,
should inform any effort to support indigenous efforts to promote democratic governance.

6       Canadian Practice

.1 In addressing the many challenges inherent in democracy promotion, accepted doctrine is that
an understanding of local/national context is fundamental, including analysis of the way in which
such factors as economic wealth, institutional history, ethnic divisions, social class, etc., affect

         Thomas Carothers argues that most so-called ‘transitional’ states are located in a democratic
‘gray zone’ characterized by considerable diversity in political patterns: “...what is often thought of as an
uneasy, precarious middle ground between full-fledged democracy and outright dictatorship is actually
the most common political condition today of countries in the developing world and the post-communist
world.” (T. Carothers, “The End of the Transition Paradigm,” Journal of Democracy Volume 13, Number
1 January 2002). Carothers offers a basic typology of states that occupy that democratic ‘gray zone’
based on the “syndromes” they exhibit: those which suffer from a static and ineffective pluralism; and
those in which a single party, personality or movement has come to dominate. In both cases, states are
weak and, though perhaps democratic in many formal aspects, the quality or depth of democratic
governance is poor.
the formal political process. One objective is to ensure that the design of democratic assistance
is informed by an appreciation of the structural features that impinge on democratic governance.
Perhaps more fundamentally, democratic assistance comes to be seen -- by some, at least -- as
less about building a fixed set of democratic institutions and more about assisting the process of
altering political relations within a given society.

.2 Reflections from some of Canada’s practitioners confirm, at a practical level, the importance
of a number of aforementioned considerations in undertaking democracy programming:

       – They underscore the importance of understanding local institutions and “change
       agents,” and the need to connect such an understanding with an appreciation of more
       general dynamics at play in the reform and political processes.

       – The effective selection and training of those delivering assistance is critical,
       including the study of local contexts in order to adapt and translate Canadian experiences
       in the most appropriate fashion. The importance of determining a sequence of aid
       delivery that is appropriate to local circumstance is often emphasized.

       – Local “buy in” is a necessary condition of success. As one Canadian practitioner
       emphasised: “Every evaluation of democracy development programming has shown that
       without the precondition of local commitment and engagement, outside assistance, no
       matter how badly needed, is likely to be ineffective or of marginal benefit.” Local
       institutions or indigenous customs might serve as valuable ‘bridging elements’ for
       democratic practices, particularly where democracy assistance is conceived fundamentally
       to be the kind of activity that should respond and adapt to local demand and custom.

       – The most useful types of Canadian engagement often occur in areas where Canada has
       a comparative advantage or “niche” expertise to offer.

Local Knowledge

.3 Many Canadian organisations active in promoting democracy are relatively specific in the
institutions or themes which comprise the focal point of their work. In this respect, the type of
‘local knowledge’ that is required varies both according to the nature of the institutional or
thematic focus and the time-frame for engagement. For instance, some types of assistance, such
as that undertaken to support electoral processes, is more short-term in nature, and characterized
by a need for higher volumes of time-sensitive information in order to deliver electoral
assistance. Longer-term engagement might, by contrast, require that a more detailed
understanding of the workings of a host institution be assembled and modified over time.

.4 At least three types of information are of particular relevance with respect to local
institutions. First, practitioners need a thorough understanding of the essential characteristics of
the institution in question, including such things as its performance, organizational capacity,
culture, prevailing values, previous efforts to reform or strengthen the institution, etc. Such
information should be collected from different sources or ‘angles’, including local actors from
inside and outside the institution in question. (In practice, ‘inside’ actors have a propensity to
exaggerate the degree of commitment to change and to downplay the impediments to reform.)
Information of this kind is useful, among other reasons, in determining where change can occur
within an organization – possibly, as separate from where it is most badly needed or sought.
Promoting change in surer or ‘safer’ areas can build confidence and have positive effects on
other parts of the organization.

.5 A second type of information pertains to the environment surrounding a particular institution,
including the political system, socioeconomic conditions, other stakeholders and international
actors. As one practitioner noted: “The commonest weakness of democracy programming has
been to treat the institution in question as an island unto itself, unconnected to the surrounding
environment....The institutions that most need strengthening (like judiciaries and legislatures) are
often too connected to the surrounding environment to be able to develop the institutional
autonomy necessary for effective functioning.” Situating particular democratic institutions in
their broader political context helps to identify the extent to which there is real will and capacity
for change – or impediments to change in other parts of the system itself.

.6  Third, those who deliver assistance need to identify key partners, including those who favour
change within the organization and those on the outside who might act as local/national capacity
builders and deliver programming in their own right. The latter involves learning more about
indigenous capacities for training and education, and is motivated, in part, by a recognition that
building local capacity helps to enhance direct stakes in reform – and to avoid suspicions
concerning the hidden agendas of those working in this area. “By helping people achieve their
own agendas for democratic change rather than exporting our own,” noted one expert,
“Canadians can and often do earn a rare degree of trust in democracy promotion.”

Canadian Approach and Comparative Advantages

.7 The suggestion has been made that the latter – that is, an approach in which Canada seeks to
facilitate reform processes and to respond to demands for democratic change that exist
independently of external involvement -- might, in fact, be one of the defining elements of a
distinct ‘Canadian approach’ to democracy assistance. It would reflect a demand-driven approach
to assistance, and implicitly builds on a number of the previous conclusions, including the
importance of establishing local ‘buy in’ and agents of change, and the greater likelihood of
success in assisting or facilitating – as opposed to driving – indigenous processes of change.

.8 Identifying Canadian strengths or areas of comparative advantage might be done in different
ways. One might ask: (1) what sort of experience and expertise has Canada accumulated through
its aid programs and arms-length and other institutions, and where, in that regard, has Canada
built expertise that perhaps distinguishes it from other countries? A second question might be:
(2) What are the unique aspects or strengths of the Canadian democratic system itself and how
are these aspects reflected or focussed in the kinds of assistance that Canada delivers? Another
approach might be to ask: (3) Are there particular geographic regions or institutional fora in

which Canada has particular strengths or advantages, or a history of positive engagement on
which to build?

.9 Canada’s arms-length (and other) institutions have accumulated considerable experience with
respect to delivering assistance focussed on some of the key elements of liberal democratic
governance. By way of one example, one organization suggested the following five broad
clusters as among the potential areas in which Canada would have a comparative advantage:
public sector management (broadly conceived to include public administration reform, financial
management and the interface between public and private corporate sectors); sub-national
governance, including fiscal federalism; the participation of civil society in public decision
making; legal and judicial reform; and anti-corruption. Other potential strengths could be added.

.10 In addressing strengths within Canada’s own system and the institutional fora in which
Canada might have a special role to play, a number of answers might also be given. Multicultural
and linguistic policies have often been suggested as areas in which innovative approaches have
been taken to promoting tolerance and common identity across major cultural and linguistic
differences in Canada. Federalism in the Canadian context also works in a number of unique
ways to accommodate – within a single nation – vast spaces and important regional differences.
With respect to arriving at a more comprehensive assessment of the particular countries, regions,
or institutions in which Canada may have a special role to play, a fuller discussion is clearly
warranted, and would also need to be informed by consideration of Canadian priorities and
capacities for increased engagement and how these might connect with, or reflect, niche expertise
for Canada.


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