Harold G. Fox lecture will focus on Canada and the crisis of global democracy

Photo of Michael Pal

 Michael Pal

February 13, 2023 – Thunder Bay, Ont.  

Democracy is fragile and we should not be complacent about it in Canada.

Michael Pal, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa, will discuss the state of Canadian and global democracy in his Harold G. Fox Distinguished Speaker Series on Thursday, Feb. 16 from 7 to 8:30 pm.

Lakehead University cordially invites you to this talk in the Paterson Auditorium at the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law (PACI) at 401 Red River Rd.

“The risks to democracy globally have evolved,” said Pal, who primarily researches the law of democracy, comparative constitutional law, and election law.

“The idea of military coups and so on from the history books are not the main risk today. Instead, what we see around the world is the gradual erosion of free and fair elections and the institutions that support democracy.”

Called “Could it happen here? Canada and the Crisis of Global Democracy,” Pal will outline some of the challenges faced by democracy in Canada and around the world. He said there are definitely signs that democracy is in crisis.

“The health of elections is the primary one. They need to be competitive, open, and free and fair. Laws that restrict political competition and free and fair elections are a clear sign of trouble,” he said.

Attacks on the legitimacy of criticism of the government or on the legitimacy of the institutions that hold governments accountable are another sign. 

“The judiciary is another potential check on misuse of state power. Attacks on judicial independence tend to be front and centre as well where democracy is under threat.”
Pal pointed to some events from Donald Trump’s time as president to suggest that individuals can cause problems that deepen into a crisis in democracy.

“The Trump years do show us that the impact of particular leaders can be significant, especially if democracy has already been weakened. But the U.S. had long-standing issues, including gerrymandering, voter suppression, and partisan election administration that pre-date Trump.

“January 6 was obviously a low point for American democracy. The attempt to copy it in Brazil recently shows how anti-democratic movements and ideas can have global impact from their point of origin.”

Pal said there are some common themes that can occur in countries where democracy is in crisis.

“We shouldn't over-generalize from the U.S. experience, which is unique among long-standing democracies. But there is a global crisis of democracy that has some common threads.

“Governments win power, but then shift election law so that elections are no longer truly free and fair. Constitutions are amended in ways that harm minorities but also further entrench the governing party.

“Entities that hold governments to account - the Opposition, the media, universities, and independent agencies like election commissions – are undermined or disempowered. This is the ‘playbook’ of would-be authoritarians,” he said.

“Canadian democracy is stronger and more robust than many of our peers. But it would be folly to assume it will always be that way.” 

Pal believes complacency is the biggest threat to democracy.  

“Voter turnout and other measures of participation in democracy are down. Some – though not all – opinion polling of people's faith in democracy show worrying trends, so we need to give people a reason to renew their belief in democracy and their desire to be involved, as well as open up new pathways for people to participate. 

“We need to learn from what other countries have done in trying to protect their elections and democratic systems.”  

Pal hopes this discussion will not make people feel pessimistic, but instead renew their commitment to preserving democracy.

This lecture is made possible by the Harold G. Fox Education Fund.

To register for this free lecture click here: https://tinyurl.com/bdcrxndv.





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Lakehead University is a fully comprehensive university with approximately 9,700 full-time equivalent students and over 2,000 faculty and staff at two campuses in Orillia and Thunder Bay, Ontario. Lakehead has nine faculties, including Business Administration, Education, Engineering, Graduate Studies, Health & Behavioural Sciences, Law, Natural Resources Management, Science & Environmental Studies, and Social Sciences & Humanities. Lakehead University’s achievements have been recognized nationally and internationally, including being ranked in the top half of Times Higher Education's 2023 World Universities Rankings for the fourth consecutive year, and the number one university in the world with fewer than 10,000 students in THE’s 2022 Impact Rankings (which assesses institutions against the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals). Visit www.lakeheadu.ca.